An Exclusive Conversation with Hyatt Regency Shenzhen Airport’s GM

Earlier this year at Shenzhen Airport, Hyatt Regency opened their first ever airport hotel in the Asia-Pacific region. Although focused on amenities and service, it would be more accurate to say it is a five-star hotel in an airport than an airport hotel.

Shenzhen Party sat down with the hotel’s General Manager, Mr. Billy Yap. During a fascinating evening, Mr. Yap shared with us his vision for Hyatt Regency Shenzhen Airport and told the story of his career in hotel management.

Shenzhen Party: Why is now the right moment to open an airport hotel in Shenzhen?

Billy Yap: The Shenzhen Airport Group signed the contract with the Hyatt Hotel Group for Hyatt Place, Hyatt House, and Hyatt Regency. They are the first owner to sign three brands in one location.

Shenzhen Airport is looking to improve their overall image as an international airport in the region. They are looking into increasing their international flights. That’s where the Hyatt Regency hotel brand comes in. They require an international five-star hotel that provides and maintain a consistent service to international and domestic guests.

Shenzhen Party: What can guests expect in terms of restaurants and features from the Hyatt Regency?

Billy Yap: Hyatt Regency Shenzhen Airport is not an airport hotel. We are a hotel located in an airport.

This hotel is designed to fulfill many features. One of the features is the F&B requirement. We have two main restaurants. One is Xiang Yue, which is our Chinese Cantonese restaurant, and the other is our all-dining restaurant we call The Market Café.

Xiang Yue is our signature Restaurant, offering authentic Guangdong cuisine to our international and domestic guests who wish to have a taste of local cuisine when they arrive in Shenzhen. Our local guests from nearby offices in Bao’an district will queue up for our famous homemade Dim Sum during lunch time. Xiang Yue has ten private rooms, which offer an exclusive private dining experience for business partners

Market Café offers a wide selection of international items. Our grilled lobster, steak and lamb, and not forgetting our famous durian pizza, are dishes that come highly recommended by our guests. Fresh seafood items combined with a mixture of local varieties of Cantonese, Sichuan, South East Asian, and Japanese food make our Market Café one of the most popular dining venues in Shenzhen Airport. Guest can dine at the Market Café and walk to the departure hall to take their flight.

We are located in the Bao’an area, where there is only one other international hotel. Our restaurants are perfect for locals to have the opportunity not only to dine but to socialize and network.

Shenzhen Party: How will Hyatt Regency distinguish itself from other airport hotels in the area?

Billy Yap: This hotel is built and designed for many purposes. We have F&B outlets, which is able to cater for various international and local guests dining preferences. We have huge banquet facilities, which include a 1,680 sqm ballroom with six multi-purpose function rooms and a beautiful 4,600 sqm outdoor area, located on the 5th floor. These facilities make Hyatt Regency Shenzhen Airport the top choice in Bao’an for guests coming for meetings, business, or just for a trip. Currently, none of the hotels nearby can match our hotel facilities.

A lot of people are coming to Shenzhen for exhibitions, to socialize, or for a stopover to Macau, Hong Kong, and Guangdong. This hotel is a perfect gateway to all these international cities.

For business meetings, it’s the perfect location because it only takes eight minutes to walk from the arrival hall to the hotel. For organizers, they do not need to arrange any transportation and they can significantly reduce their costs.

Cross-border buses to Hong Kong and Guangzhou are located in the same terminal. All delegates have the opportunity to travel to Hong Kong or Guangzhou after their meeting. Guest can also take the free shuttle bus to Fuyong Ferry Terminal if they decided to go to Macau.

We also have incentive travel groups that stay over for one night in our hotel followed by a breakfast briefing session before they take a ferry from Fuyong Ferry Terminal to go to Hong Kong International Airport for an overseas incentive trip. By doing this, the group will save more costs as hotel accommodation in Shenzhen is cheaper compared to Hong Kong.

Shenzhen Party: You have over 18 years’ experience in the hotel industry working in various roles, including 12 years of experience in China. What do you believe you bring to the Hyatt Regency in terms of experience? How did your challenges in China vary from region to region?

Billy Yap: I started my hotel career when I was 34 years old in 2000 with Grand Hyatt Singapore.

To start at the age of 34 is not easy. I spent my first six months working 10 to 14 hours a day, 8 to 10 hours on getting business, at least 4 hours a day learning the Delphi system. Grand Hyatt Singapore gave me a good foundation. I’m so proud to say that I never fell out of the top three in sales performance during my time with the greatest catering team that I have ever known.

Subsequently, I moved to the Four Seasons Singapore in 2002, where I was one of the highest paid sales managers in the whole of Singapore.

In 2005, I joined Orchard Hotel as Director of Catering and managed to reorganize the entire catering team with creative ideas and a positive sales approach. In nine months, I managed to lead the catering to achieve the highest catering revenue since the hotel opened.

In 2006, I saw a great development in hotels in China. When I decided to pursue my career in China, I said to my Singapore friends, “I wish to become GM in seven years.” They all laughed. Nobody believed me. My friend said, “You are a mad guy.”

My first career opportunity in China was with Hyatt Regency Hangzhou. I took up the offer as Director of Events in 2006 without knowing how to speak Chinese and what’s worse, I am allergic to alcohol. How does a salesperson survive in China without knowing how to read Chinese, without knowing how to write Chinese, and without knowing how to drink?

The language became my biggest obstacle, and the new culture became a challenge. Instead of asking my team members to learn English and do things according to the Singapore standard, I made a decision to learn to speak Chinese to improve the overall internal communication and make changes to the overall procedures to enhance the team effectiveness.

I implemented a lot of new ideas and events concepts with my team in Hangzhou. I made a lot of changes in how event sales and planning, which resulted in record events revenue for the hotel.

During the economic crisis in 2008, I was transferred to Hyatt Regency Dongguan as Director of Sales & Marketing. The hotel opened in 2006, and after more than two years it had low occupancy. My key focus was to bring in more business for the entire hotel including room and F& B outlets. There were so many creative and great ideas that we implemented during that time. We managed to propel through the crisis with excellent results and continue to hold the No.1 position in Dongguan market until today.

After a great achievement in turning around Hyatt Regency Dongguan, I was given an opportunity to transfer to Park Hyatt Ningbo Resort & Spa as pre-opening Director of Sales & Marketing in 2010. It was another tough property because the hotel was located in the middle of nowhere. After successfully opening the hotel, I make a bold decision to request a change in my portfolio to room division to gain more operations experience. Due to my excellent performance, I was promoted to Hotel Manager in 2013.

My biggest career breakthrough was in 2015 when I was offered the General Manager position for Park Hyatt and Hyatt Regency Changbaishan; a cluster GM for an international resort owned by the Wanda Group. There were six other hotels with three different hotel brands in the same location. My biggest inspiration and support came from my beloved wife. She was the one that wrote all the reasons why I should take up the offer. The initial few months were the toughest of my hotel life.

As General Manager, you have to make almost every final decision, and you will be accountable for all those decisions. Generating the revenue and meeting budget was my key focus at the same time building a good relationship with the owner was equally important. I had to spend endless hours to work with my team members setting the goals and direction for them to move forward as a team in a challenging market environment. Out of 12 months, only five months were peak business. The rest of the time, the hotel had less than 5% occupancy per day.

I always said to my team that nothing is impossible if we have the right attitude and positive thinking. The team’s hard work and dedication resulted in a great achievement in all areas, which included record-high revenue, the best guest satisfaction results, and the lowest associates’ turnover. The great achievement in Changbaishan will always remain in my memory because of what we did. We became the King of Changbaishan Mountain.

Due to my son’s education, I asked to transfer out of Changbaishan. In March 2017, I moved to Shenzhen to be responsible for the pre-opening of Hyatt Regency Shenzhen Airport, but it was not easy because it’s the first Hyatt Regency airport hotel in Asia-Pacific. As I always said, nothing is impossible.

I told my friends and colleagues, I conquered three lakes (West Lake in Hangzhou, Songshan Lake in Dongguan, and Dongqian Lake in Ningbo), one forest (Changbaishan), and now I have an airport, to fly me to the final destination.

Shenzhen Party: The Hyatt Regency Shenzhen Airport is the first Hyatt Regency airport hotel in the Asia Pacific region. Does it give extra motivation to make the Hyatt Regency Shenzhen Airport a success?

Billy Yap: An airport hotel is different compared to resort and business hotels. We don’t have a good idea about how an airport hotel is going to be. During the pre-opening, we started to collate all the flight information, do a lot of surveys in nearby hotels and their operations. We compiled all the data for analysis so that we can come up with the right strategies for this hotel.

After operating for the first three months, we are ahead for our room budget, but we were over-confident about our F&B. We believed that the F&B business will improve with the support from local residents in Bao’an. The product is well-known. People accept our reasonable pricing because they know we offer quality product and services. I have seen the upwards business trend both for rooms and F&B segment. I have this confidence that by the end of this year, our business projection will be more accurate.

Shenzhen Party: How important is the way you treat your staff in creating the correct kind of culture and atmosphere at the hotel?

Billy Yap: In line with our Hyatt purpose, we CARE for our people so that they can be their best. During the orientation, I say, “I need to provide the best accommodation for my staff, the best food for my staff, and the best social life for my staff. As these three elements are linked to guests’ expectation. Good hotel room, good food and places to visit in Shenzhen. My associates will have an open mindset, a good attitude, and provide sincere service. When they talk to the guest, they will be sincere in their service and genuinely care for our guests.

During the recruitment, there was a slogan that we used, “If you dare to dream, we will make your dream come true.” I hope to provide a platform for all my associates to develop their career.

Shenzhen Party: What can we expect in the near future from the Hyatt Regency?

Billy Yap: This hotel is not just a hotel. It’s a great facility that the owner has designed, be it for business, socializing, or for families.

I have many ideas for the future. One of the ideas is to create a program for couples with children. This program will allow the couple to have a nice high tea or a romantic dinner together while providing a safe educational program for their children. Such as a tour of the airport to learn more about how it works or a water painting class for the children and allow their paintings to hang in selected areas in the hotel. Every time they come back, they can see their artwork. These are only some ideas that we hope that to offer to our guests to allow them to be more engaged with our hotel.

Shenzhen Party: How do you predict that Shenzhen Airport will grow in the coming years? And also, how will Shenzhen as a city develop?

Billy Yap: In the hotel industry, there’s going to be many developments. Next year, there will be 900 new room keys coming up from various hotel brands. The new exhibition center in Bao’an will create more opportunities, but at the same time will create more competition.

To stay as one of the top hotels in the Shenzhen Airport area, we need to know what are our guests’ preferences and requirements are. We need to continue to provide quality services and sincerely CARE for our guests. We will try to provide the best experience to all our guests.

For Shenzhen Airport, there are certainly more plans for runway expansions and increasing international flights. If you look at the departure and arrival halls, they are revamping the whole airport.

They are bringing in more high-quality brands to the terminal itself. In my personal opinion, with all the improvements Shenzhen Airport wish to provide quality and consistent guest services. With the ongoing airport expansion, it will definitely position Shenzhen as a vibrant city with top-class transportation infrastructure.