SINGAPORE—Despite the economic downturn and a recent survey revealing that Singapore has become an even costlier city to live in, the island is still the No. 1 choice among Asian expatriates planning on job relocation.
According to Singapore’s Manpower Employment Outlook Survey, many employers in the city are planning to downsize their workforces. However, Singapore’s Labour Chief Lim Swee Say, remains positive, stressing the urgency of combating the problem by focusing on saving jobs.
His call is echoed by newly appointed general manager of Raffles Hotel Singapore, French national Pierre Jochem, who is also the regional vice president of operations for Asia Pacific, Raffles Hotels & Resorts. The Singapore-based company’s president Diana Ee-Tan stepped down in January, but a replacement has not been named.
Raffles Hotel Singapore
“We have not downsized our manpower, but we have frozen our hiring instead,” Jochem said.
All staffs have been asked to clear their annual leave as part of the ongoing efforts to control expenses and manage costs.
“We keep a tight control on expenses and are careful with capital expenditure,” Jochem added. “We also plan ahead to balance cash flow spending.”
Since coming onboard, Jochem has identified specific areas for improvement—one of which is to look into “certain work processes that have been in place for many years” at the hotel.
Some changes will be made to improve the hotel product, service flow and guest experience—guests can expect a new line of duvet and pillows as well as new bathrobes.
Raffles has built a reputation for fine cuisine. Even the young Rudyard Kipling is said to be the hotel’s frequent diner, recommending in his own words to “Feed at Raffles.” Knowing this to be one of the hotel’s strongest points, Jochem said, “We are revisiting all the menus to ensure the restaurants and bars retain their own strong identity.”
Every detail counts
But it is not just about the hotel guests for Jochem. The staff appearance—especially their uniforms—have also come under his watchful eye.
“Quality of service can be improved to be more polished, flawless, friendly and very personalized, he said. “Changes will be made where needed and we will accelerate and improve training efficiency.”
With 23 years of international luxury hospitality experience, Jochem is very much at home playing lead roles in prestigious hotels in Asia. He has spent eighteen years on the continent, with his most recent post as general manager & vice president of The Imperial Hotel in New Delhi, India.
His past positions in senior management positions include luxury hotels in New York City, London and the capital cities of Beijing, Hong Kong and Bangkok.
Jochem also oversees the group’s properties in the region, which include: Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor, Siem Reap, Raffles Hotel Le Royal, Phnom Penh and Raffles Beijing Hotel, China.
“The Asian market is competitive, with very high standards,” he said. “With the arrival of the Integrated Resorts in Singapore, getting good human resources will be a challenge for the customers, who will increasingly be looking for value in their transactions. Therefore, as a hotel operator, the value-for-dollar equation becomes more evident.”
In 2008 the revenue per available room for Raffles Hotel, Singapore was forecast to be between 6 percent and 7 percent higher than 2007. The forecast for 2009, however, is expected to be 5 percent lower than last year.
“We are currently meeting our occupancy forecast, but are behind last year’s as many other companies are,” Jochem said. “But this is to be expected due to the current economic conditions.”
Despite the slowdown, Raffles Hotels & Resorts still had recent growth. In the last quarter of 2008, the company added to its portfolio Raffles Olympia, Greece. This was quickly followed by Raffles Sanya, China, in November and Raffles Taghazout, Morocco, in February.
Jochem commented on the company’s growth: “Building on the image and brand name we will be expanding in the coming years to destinations such as France, Maldives, Morocco, Greece, Russia and Indonesia.”
The Raffles Hotel, Singapore also has several awards to speak of. It was awarded the Best Luxury Hotel in Asia Pacific for the 6th time from the TTG Travel Awards 2008. The 121-year-old establishment also ranked No.11 in the Top 50 World’s Best Hotels list by Travel + Leisure magazine.
“The challenge is to keep the ball rolling and the momentum sustained to bring in the revenue which will allow everyone to keep their heads above the water and to keep the jobs,” according to Jochem. “The opportunities, which are not that many, would be to move into our room renovation plan towards the end of the year. If and when we do that then there will be a plan put up for new (capital expenditures).”
As it is, Jochem sees no immediate changes in their target market over the next year.
“There is good potential in the Russian market while the Australian market is gaining ground. Our traditional markets – U.K., U.S. and Japan – will strengthen once things are better.
“My biggest challenge now would be to keep the business flowing in and increasing the revenue for all the properties under my charge.”