After quiet start, deluxe hotel hits high notesWhen a glimmering glass tower next to the ASEM Trade Tower opened as Korea’s first Park Hyatt, the discreetly located entrance foyer at the rear of the hotel was a lonely place. For months after the grand opening in April 2005, the occupancy rate remained below 20 per cent. Not anymore. With new boss Ernesto A’de Lima, who took the helm in June, 2006, the five-star hotel has sedans queuing at the door and elegant diners crowding the hotel’s two dining facilities, Cornerstone and The Timber House.
And the room occupancy rate has risen to an impressive 90 percent. The haute class has found its home of true luxury.
A self-proclaimed “Hyatt man” of 22 years, Mr. A’de Lima, 47, seems to know how to attract the target clientele that this new hotel in Seoul deserves. One of his marketing tactics includes implementing a special distribution system through the Hyatt International network. “A room here in Seoul can be purchased with a click of a computer key from Florida, for example, and when you purchase something with the Park Hyatt price tag, you know exactly what you’re getting,” said Mr. A’de Lima, “That has helped [sales] a lot.”
Mr. A’de Lima is also using his connection with Japan, where he worked as food and beverage manager and assistant to the general manager for two and half years at Tokyo’s Park Hyatt. The Korea hotel’s packages, “Korean Experience” and “Touch of Seoul” are organized specially for “the upscale clients from Japan, who can identify with the Park Hyatt,” Mr. Lima said, pointing out that the package comes with customized information for those seeking to buy arts, antiques and luxury products in Korea.
The idea has paid off, and now high-end Japanese customers make up 17 percent of reservations. To further increase sales, he’s sending a marketing team to Japan where they will meet with 28 magazine editors.
For the local market, he announced special package deals and restaurant promotions during November and December. To better understand the Korean culture for the benefit of his Park Hyatt clientele, he makes time to go around town. He’s particularly impressed with the way coffee is ground and served in a small cafe near the Blue House.
“It’s probably the most delicious, perfectly prepared coffee I’ve ever tasted, and I come from the country of coffee,” he said, during a dinner meeting with a group of Korean journalists last week.
“Such a refined aspect of Seoul should be known to people who come to visit Korea. And, more importantly, Korea needs to build the reputation it deserves in the international market.”
A native of Mexico City, Mr. A’de Lima graduated from the prestigious Lausanne Hotel School in Switzerland. Right out of school in 1984, he went to work for the Hyatt in San Antonio, Texas. Two years later, his career path took him to Asia, starting in Singapore and then he spent many years in Australia, until he moved to Korea with his wife and two sons earlier this year.
Speaking of his plans to invite star Mexican chefs to Korea next year, Mr. A’de Lima fondly recalled a special promotion he organized in Tokyo. In 1995, he invited a celebrity chef, Diana Kennedy, an Irish immigrant, who is now in her 80s, to the Park Hyatt and organized an exclusive 12-person-only dinner nightly for one week.
“Mexican cuisine stayed underdeveloped for decades, until a new generation of chefs, who had studied overseas and returned home, began to revolutionize the cuisine,” he said, noting in passing that as in Mexico, it may be time for young Korean chefs to revolutionalize Korean cuisine. “You’re going to have some of the world’s best Mexican dishes, whose names you have never even heard of,” he said beaming.
by Ines Cho