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It's a Tall Order Opening a New Hotel . . .
The Ritz Carlton Pudong, Shanghai

by Terence Ronson ISHC

Opening a new hotel is no joke. In theory, every effort should be made so no stone is left unturned to ensure operations from front and back of the house are flawless. In practice, perfection is difficult to achieve but a reasonable semblance of it should not be a difficult task.  With strong brand and a solid reputation in the hospitality industry, I had high expectations of the newly opened Ritz Carlton Pu Dong, Shanghai. I was sadly disappointed.  On checking-in, there before me unfolded a series of events which I can only describe as a unlikely comedy of errors. 

It's my understanding it is common practice to have a simulation process in place -  a soft opening period to perform general snagging. These are the times when each department goes through its paces, to make sure all are in order before welcoming the real paying guests. During this phase, quirks are fixed, potential problems are anticipated, and ironed out. 

But there may be instances when events are beyond one's control.  For some, projects all too often overrun the construction schedule, and there is tremendous pressure (from owners and various others in the ownership and management hierarchy) to get the place open ASAP. Would this have been the case for this hotel because it is based in a city that is hosting a major event like the 2010 Expo? Could the launch of the iconic Apple Store, just 100 steps away also have factored in the timing of the opening of the hotel? Maybe. 
 

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Inaugurated on June 21st, this property sits in a skyscraper amongst the upper floors of the IFC tower (the one with an HSBC logo on top). And if you are kind-of-lucky enough like me, you would be in Room 4603 and you would be able to marvel at the sight of two of Shanghai's other famous skyscrapers  - the Jin Ma building housing the Grand Hyatt and the SWFC (Shanghai World Finance Center) that is the proud home of the Park Hyatt. However, if I were to have stayed in the first room I was (mistakenly) assigned to, I would have had an even more spectacular view - the Bund - so long as the windows would have been nicely cleaned and it's not foggy outside.

How did the mix-up come about? God knows. But this triggered a series of events that left me dumbfounded. 

I arrived at the hotel welcomed by an entourage dressed in all manner of costumes ranging from reddish party frocks that some female staff  were wearing on the ground floor entrance, to a bellman whose uniform was complemented by what seemed like a British Harris tweed cloth sporting cap not unlike what Andy Capp used to wear.  To complete the look, he had a walkie-talkie attached to his belt inside a felt type bag - that looked like it should be branded National Geographic.

I was ushered to the lift by the bellboy and I must admit I felt uncomfortable when he peeked inside the luggage tag on my suitcase to find my name while riding the elevator to reception. I understand his rationale in doing so, but can't remove the nagging feeling that my privacy was violated - especially as the luggage tag was buttoned down and he had to flip it open to see my name card hidden inside. 

Shanghai IFC, in Lujiazui, the financial centre in Pudong, has three towers, including twin towers at 260 metres and 250 metres and an 85-metre tower. Tower One, comprising 900,000 sq ft of grade A office space, is expected to be completed in 2009. It includes a shopping mall and two luxury hotels managed by the Ritz-Carlton and W Hotels group. Rendering credit: http://www.shanghaiifc.com.cn/
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Arriving at the Front Desk, I duly presented them with a printout of my reservation, my passport and the obligatory credit card. A seasoned traveler does not need to be asked but it would have been nice to be greeted with  "Welcome to Ritz Carlton Shanghai".

The desk clerk looked at the confirmation and said, "you will be escorted to your room and have in-room check-in". Wonderful I thought, no one knows who I am and yet I am being given a VIP treatment - how wrong I was!

The young female hotel staff - took me to the room and when she opened the door - I thought WOW - they did find out who I am and upgraded me to a junior suite-type room complete with a free standing bath in front of the window overlooking the Bund!

I was shown around the room [she did not call it a suite] and advised that the plate of macaroons were a welcome gift for me, and next to the fruit basket was a welcome card. What a lovely touch, I thought. The only problem was, the name on the card was not mine! I should have kept my mouth shut, but being the honest Joe I am, I owned up.  "Oh xxxx" I could almost hear her thinking, as she looked both amazed and embarrassed at the mix up. The bellboy muttered some Chinese to her [mine is sadly not good enough to understand what was exchanged] and then she got on the phone and a dialogue ensued with the Front Desk. I had assumed that's whom she was talking to. She then asked to be excused while the matter was sorted out. I did not mind - I was enjoying my luxurious surroundings and took the opportunity to do a recon of the room while painfully aware that what lay ahead were two stark choices. The best-case scenario - I would remain in this nice room (since it was their mistake and not mine and would have been an excellent service recovery process), and the worse case - they move me to a less salubrious room. No guessing what fate was actually bestowed on me. 

I could have been nasty about their decision making process, but I thought let's go with the flow - they don't know who I am, or the implications of their actions - especially as it's now in print.

So, we walked down the corridor, and I was deposited into the right room (from their point of view) - I knew it was mine straight away, not just because it was 50% smaller, but because the note with the fruit had my name on it. Incidentally, the fruit bowl was almost identical to that of the first room - but without my favorite fruit - bananas. Still, it was nice for me to have gotten these.

Going through the check-in process, the lady took away my credit card and passport - she had no option, since I was not going to schlep back to the Front Desk to register.  After about 15 minutes she sheepishly brought them back. If she had any sense about her, she would have known from my facial expression as I opened the door to greet her that I was unhappy with the situation. Now an hour later - no apology champagne or macaroons have arrived. Not that I drink Champagne - Perrier would also have been nice then I would not have had to pay RMB100 for the red bottle of Tynant Still mineral water on the credenza. I wouldn't have forked out for that anyway. I prefer the free stuff in the bathroom - just wonder why they don't put a couple of those 330ml bottles in the minibar fridge to make them nice and cool, especially on these hot summer days.


View of room (photo: Pertlink)
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And then there is the room itself. Décor was pleasant- combination of wood and glass - a bit art deco in style. An interesting feature is the telephone that is housed inside a box partially resembling a small valise. Not quite sure the rationale behind this - but to give them due credit - it's different. I do miss the Espresso maker that was in my first assigned room - which, interestingly looked like a local copy of a Nespresso machine. Guess I will have to make do with the French press coffee and kettle.

Beside my real bed is a Bose audio system connected with a Dexim iPod dock - no remote control provided.  I docked my iPhone 3GS (not surprisingly it could not accommodate my iPad) but it does play back nicely through this reliably high quality product. Surprisingly nestled under the Philips TV is a Pioneer BDP-120 Blu-Ray player sans DVD - so I could not test it. Even likewise the Bose unit has no CD inside (unlike The PuLi or JW Marriott) - I guess they expect you to BYOM (Bring Your Own Media). There is no AUX connectivity panel, but the side connection ports can be accessed on the TV. Actually, I later discovered that even if I would have had brought one of my RMB20 discs, I could not have used the Blu-Ray player since the power cable was not connected to the electricity supply, and there was no HDMI or other RCA type cables connecting it to the TV - YIKES! 
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The desk was made of glass (how do you use a mouse on that?!) and had a strange shaped board-like cover that was such an odd shape that you could not rest a laptop on it and work comfortably. I did away with that immediately. There is a Teleadapt desk-port giving easy access to the Broadband. I opted for Wi-Fi, which incidentally I did not have to pay for since I smartly tunneled through as a roamer using BOINGO. A couple of always-on power sockets are close at hand on the wall behind the electric-powered drapes. The side drawers contain the Room Service menu and a stationery box with some useful goodies like paper clips, eraser, ballpoint pen, stapler, pencil and ruler. Personally, a highlighter would have been a nice addition, as would a few post-it notes.

Either side of the bed is a room control panel that is an almost identical copy of that used in the Landmark Hong Kong (Mandarin Oriental property). This is a sliding unit that is virtually impossible to read as the labels are upside down as you lay in bed. I suggest that the cabling of these units be re-visited and some cable ties used as there is quite a mess at the side of the beside unit.

A strange thing just happened. I'm sitting at the desk typing away on this report and multi-tasking with email and some IM's, when the lights and AC go off. Not a power failure I thought - so I got up and looked around - the music was still playing and realized that the motion detector located almost above the desk behind the hanging lamp mistakenly believed the room to be empty and cut the power. After flailing my arms - everything came back on.

I should mention that upon my inspection of the room, I was hoping to use the safety box, only to discover it was locked. Maybe the previous guest left some valuables inside? So I did the right thing and called 'service experience' on the phone and they said someone would come up to fix it - no apology was made. About 15 minutes later the MOD (Manager on Duty) appeared - Mark Sun was his name, and he tried the highly secure release code "0000" but it did not work. He then attached a dongle to the front of the unit and pressed some buttons on his HP hand-held - that opened it. He then tried a test lock/open but it failed. In fact all the buttons froze - so he said he would get the Engineering department to replace it - "did I mind" he asked? Why should I? These things happen - don't they? Especially in new hotels like this one.

After about 30 minutes there was a tapping on my door and a lady in a suit appeared with an Engineer. 

They simply pulled out the drawer that the safe was fitted into, and slid in a new drawer with the replacement safe. All done. Fixed in a jiffy. Impressive! But, when I see how secure this safe really is , I began to wonder what's really the point in using it - IMHO - What kind of safe place is that? In reality, I could fit the whole thing inside my Tumi carry-on roller bag and make off with it, and who would know?
 


Phone in the box (photo: Pertlink)

Bathroom View (photo: Pertlink)

Did I mention that the bathtub faces a TV hidden inside a mirror-covered wall? It's not a full mirror TV - but good enough. The remote control is labeled "Waterproof" - maybe I will use that instead of a rubber ducky when I take a dip later. Nice amenities - wrapped for the most part in gold boxes and paper, and for one terrible moment I thought they forgot to include Cotton buds - lucky I found them hidden inside the colored frost-glass containers on the wall above the vanity.

The shower cubicle is just the right size, and on one wall is a vertical mirror - excellent idea if you want to comb your hair in the shower, or maybe shave. However, it's most fortunate in my case that I could not see the reflection of my love handles, since the mirror actually fogs up when the shower is running...Superb rain shower - exceptional pressure and just the right temp to invigorate you - the morning after the night before...

Concerned over the absence of a shaver socket, I found a hairdryer just under the double vanity that has a regular power socket and I used that to re-charge my electric toothbrush. 

The drawers inside the wardrobe include a plastic wet bag from the Spa - nice idea.

As I was catching up on paperwork (as well as discovering the delights of the hotel room's features), I declined the turn-down service. I did, however, request a few extra bottles of free water. They gave me three and a little card telling me tomorrow's weather - as if I don't know it was going to be hot and humid. Now, if they would have been dressed in French Maid costumes, carrying some designer choco mints or a plate of warm milk and cookies (which the Upper House Hong Kong does so brilliantly), I might have let them in. 

I had to re-position the Ritz Carlton branded bedside clock into the drawer of the nightstand - it ticks, and I loathe ticking clocks while trying to sleep. I better remember to move it back upon checkout otherwise they may think I stole it like I was tempted to do with the nice and fluffy RC logo'd bath sheets and Bathrobes.

Lighting switches and power socket face-plates (Clipsal Schneider brand) vary in color from white to silver, and quite often, they were not aligned perfectly - sadly a common problem I have encountered in hotels - and this problem is replicated on the emergency exit sign to the right side of the Reception counter. Good though that all power sockets are of the international type.

Since it's dinner time, I decided to look around the F & B outlets - and the maitre d' in the Italian restaurant welcomed me with a spiel which he somehow thought would be appealing to me, and convince me to sit down and eat in his restaurant. The spiel focused on the fact the outlet was designed by Super Potato, and that every table was positioned to have a spectacular view of Shanghai. He also eloquently pointed out the ceiling lighting effects (Incidentally the Room Confirmation does the same: The hotel's Italian Restaurant is located on the 52nd Lobby Level and designed by Super Potato Co. Ltd. Design theme of the Restaurant is lighting of sunbeams showering through leaves - part of the ceiling and walls are randomly made hallow to allow different types of rays to penetrate from the back to convey warm, relaxed yet refined ambience). Does he (and the Hotel) not think I would be more interested to hear about the light and fluffy gnocchi or thinly sliced Carpaccio - maybe even the espresso-drenched Tiramisu... I think they lost the plot. I felt really sorry for those hard working Chefs.

This hunk of a guy also suggested I go to the roof-top bar - the best in town as he described it, again with spectacular open-air views. As I did not know the special route to this hideaway, he kindly escorted me to the secret elevator. Eventually after ascending several floors, the doors opened into a crowded room, at which point a hostess asked me if I was joining the 'Apple party' - I said "NO" to the great chagrin of the hostess who then told me, "sorry, the room is closed all night for a private party". Did I see a red flag or what you may well ask? 

There was no sign by the elevator before boarding, I was not warned before the elevator hostess pressed the button to whisk me to the roof, or as the Italian resto Maitre D' sent me there. But what I did have (again) were raised expectations about having the opportunity (as a paying hotel guest) of enjoying an evening in what was claimed as the best bar in Shanghai. 

Disappointingly, carrying an iPad under my arm did nothing to qualify me to enter this invitation-only Apple launch party being held in honor of their new Shanghai store opening tomorrow - just downstairs in the IFC mall. In hindsight, I should have worn blue jeans, a black turtle neck sweater and said my name was Steve - saying "don't you know who I am?" With a similar haircut, I think I could have almost pulled it off...

I did not want a heavy Italian meal, so I opted to hang out in the lobby lounge bar where a jazz band is alleged to perform, and besides, more significantly, it's cigar friendly. 

The hostess allowed me to sit anywhere (in the designated smoking area - the room was empty) - she presented me a menu asked if I needed a cigar ashtray - astutely observing my cigar case...well spotted! If only she would have continued to be my server, she might have remembered to periodically empty the ashtray when it became filled with the ash from smoking two Robusto size Cuban cigars. Alas, it was not. 

It's a great pity that the waitress assigned to my table wore clunky high heels that make a heck of a lot of noise while she badly traverses the wooden floor. The background music does not quite drown it out; maybe when the band strikes up it will get better. Oh no! The singer has arrived and she has the same type of heeled shoes as does yet another female staffer - what is it with these women? Lucky for me I avoided a similar embarrassment by wearing my rubber soled Ecco's.

The bar decor is aesthetically pleasing, not really sure of the style it resembles, although there is again a lot of use of glass and wood, along with some Lalique looking object d'art. Makes me feel as though I'm in the Langham Yangtze lobby or an old world Shanghai setting.

Perusing the menu I noticed my all time favorite - Smoked Salmon. Strangely it was the most expensive food item at RMB120 (Why was the salmon the same price as that of the in-room dining menu? Doesn't Room Service usually carry a premium for the privilege - or added burden to the operation of dining in-room?) Well, I bit the bullet and ordered. 

After about 15 minutes a state-of-the-art (in F&B terms) rectangular glass plate arrived with a central pile of poppy seed sprinkled salmon entwined with radicchio and a couple of other standard mixed greens. The plate was interestingly garnished with four drops of wasabi mayonnaise. I thought this is not enough for me (even if I am on diet) so I asked the server for some bread - she was shocked at my request. About 8 minutes later a basket of room temperature Ciabatta arrived - I guess they are from the adjacent Italian restaurant. It would have been a nice touch if the bread was pre-warmed and maybe embedded with sundried tomatoes or olives.

The taste was OK, nothing spectacular and I very much doubt the salmon was Scottish - more likely Atlantic or Norwegian. Finishing it, I still felt hungry but maybe the hunger pains will dissipate as the bread soaks up my Perrier. I was not given any nuts or munchies - seems they only come if your order spirits or wine.

The three-piece band is finally playing - a guy on piano, one more on the saxophone, and a girl singer. All three are dressed in Trilby hats - trying to look kool. It does not work! And to top it all, the female singer enjoys incessantly talking to the pianist while he is playing (and she not singing) and I can hear every word being on the table next to them. Worse yet, the room is empty except for me, and the occasional heavy-footed staffer. Do I sound bitter? I'm not really - just immensely disappointed at what this hotel is supposed to stand for (the image behind the brand). I had high hopes the evening will improve once I fired up my own cigar. Unfortunately, it didn't. 

How demoralizing it must be for the band - with just one cigar smoking, Perrier swigging guest. Not sure if it's better that way or with no one at all, especially as I'm typing away on my iPad taking notes of this comedic performance as it unfolded in front of me. If only the Apple folks upstairs knew this - they would be amused. 

It's now 2115 and the first set is over. The band exits - mobiles and cigarettes in hand. As they exit stage right, they are talking loudly amongst themselves. Not a great environment for me trying to relax and enjoy my Cohiba. The background music is back on, no staff present in the room, and all is fairly serene inside this cavernous empty venue. Let me swing round in my comfy chair and enjoy the great views of the Bund, even though I can hear the staff loudly chatting back of house. Things began to look up - two more guests arrived!

As the evening progressed, the room became more popular with a few people wanting nightcaps, and some just taking in the view. I have to say, that when the band seriously got down to the business of entertaining us, they did a great job, and the female singer has a lovely voice. Hopefully, they will be encouraged to focus more on their paid profession, and not side chatting. The band ended their last set around midnight, left the room (sad for them without any audience applause) and then returned a few minutes later in their street clothes - the singer attired in short shorts and a singlet shirt... I'm opened minded, but this is a RC...

Its off to bed, and a struggle with the bedside panel - [I was not wrong - it was very tough to work out which button to press - even for a techie like me.] 

But hold on - on my way back to the room, let me try and check out the Club Lounge. Oh great I thought - I can press the lift button and get to it. The access control panel inside the lift is obviously not working. Upon accessing the room, it was only manned by an Ai Yi (janitor.) I was tempted to help myself to the raisin and oatmeal cookies and the other diet busting delicacies on display, but I didn't.  It was highly likely that I was being monitored on the CCTV system.

Time is 0930, and for me, on a lazy Saturday morning, about the right juncture for a 5-star breakfast. Time to tootle down to the Scena restaurant and see what culinary delights are on offer or not as the case may be.

Upon arrival at this outlet, located on the lobby floor behind Reception, I am warmly greeted by several staffers wishing me a good morning, and ushered to a window seat overlooking the early morning sightseers on the opposite (North) side of the historically architecture Bund.

The light oak table is decked out with black 'Pama' design cutlery, battery powered maroon colored Peugeot cruets, and four bottles of Wilkin & Sons 28g preserves. Freshly made coffee quickly arrives in a red mug, and is a pleasure to drink. Sadly, I had to request a refill.

The buffet is as non-exciting for a trained culinary palette like mine as you can get. All the standard buffet breakfast items are there, including a few pieces of sushi, some smoked salmon (thankfully), croissants, muffins, fried noodles, congee, a honey roasted ham and some dim sum. As far as fruit goes, there were no bananas or berries, just oranges and red and green apples, plus a few cut slices of melon and dragon fruit. I could not see any healthy smoothies, neither were there any frittatas - just some poached eggs and the norm fried eggs and omelette to order. The pancakes were brittle and had obviously been sitting too long in the chafing dish. I have to say that I like the idea of an a la carte main course ordering process for breakfast - especially at this price point.

I was glad to see some management types in the room, strutting round the buffet and doing some cosmetic tidying up of the contents and utensils. One of them (he must have been one of the senior managers) greeted me "Good Morning". He was chatting away with a famous Travel Journalist who recognized me and gave me a look that said,  "I know what you're doing here".

Breakfast occupancy was not great. Perhaps I was too late, or maybe too early. Hard to tell. All I could see was one other Caucasian in the room. Others were of mixed Asian origin and varying generations.

Both the background music and room temperature were pleasant. A couple of local gentlemen sat at the adjacent table to mine, and one struggled with the Peugeot cruets not realizing that you need to press the top button to make them grind the contents. They believed you need to twist them to work, and consequently the unit opened to expose the contents... Loss of face for him.

My tomato and mushroom omelette arrived. It was well cooked, and when topped off with the freshly milled black pepper, was quite tasty. Maybe next visit they will have some Himalayan salt and offer me a newspaper to read. None was delivered to my room.

So along with the smoked salmon, some banana Danish, and a couple of cups of coffee (not forgetting the view) one could be coerced into believing it was kind of worth the RMB241.50 including tax and service. Incidentally, the guest check produced by Micros, was almost 3D in design. The printout was neither black nor red, but a mix of the two colors. Something tells me the print head is out of alignment. Maybe I should have worn 3D glasses to see the full effect of the guest check - if there was one.

Upon leaving the outlet, one of the staff members pointed out to "mind the steps", at which point I nearly tripped. Why do people design such potentially dangerous things? I'm baffled.

All in all, I have to say that this was one of the most entertaining and interesting hotel stays I've had in a long time. I'm not writing this to find fault, I'm writing this to hopefully educate the industry as to how the little things matter. Because it's when you add them all up - they become big things and negatively impact upon your stay, and potentially the brand, which the marketing folks go to such great lengths and expense to promote and protect.

Now I'm going to take my life into my hands and look for the newly opened Apple store!

Stay period - July 9 & 10, 2010

Hotel photos:
1. Thumbnail view - please click here:
2. Slideshow view - please click here:

(c) Terence Ronson ISHC

Note: No commercial arrangement has been entered into in regards the above reference links. We also offer no guarantee of correctness for information provided by 3rd party links.

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Contact: 

Terence Ronson ISHC
terence@pertlink.net

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Also See: #1 Do understand that when buying technology for your hotel you start a journey that has no destination #2. Donít go to the expense of placing a plasma TV in the room, if it cannot be seen when working at the desk / and 62 More Doís and Doníts of Hotel Technology / December 2005
Imagining the Hotel of the Future / Terence Ronson / March 2010
Heís (Not) A Smooth Operator - Terence Ronson's Inside Look at a London Hotel / Terence Ronson / July 2002
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