Steve Finlayson gym EDITED

Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group enticed STEVE FINLAYSON from the Radisson on Flagstaff Gardens Melbourne in 2009 to lead the launch of the Shanghai Radisson Hongquan. He has been back at the helm of the Melbourne property since November 2012. HM caught up with him recently and discovered both the General Manager and the hotel business are in a good shape.

HM: How have you managed your old job this time around?
SF: I came back with renewed enthusiasm. In China, I really ramped up a personal fitness program I started back here and I have continued with that, which includes competing in triathalons and those obstacle-ridden Spartan challenges. So I have never been fitter and I seem to have boundless energy right through to the end of the day which means I am on the ball the whole time.

HM: Have your staff joined your health kick?
SF: Some staff have asked me to be their personal trainer and many are joining me in a charity Run for Kids event, and a few guests have joined me in a complimentary gym session on Thursday evenings, but the fitness thing really reflects itself in a healthy mind. People often ask if I am stronger in cycling, swimming or running and I reply that I am strongest in the mind.

HM: Has that helped the business?
SF: We have a great management team which has driven growth. By all measurements, they have made our business very fit… year-on-year occupancy measured across my first full year back here is 95%, against 85% previously and the current Melbourne industry average of 82%… guest satisfaction rate has risen to 85%… staff retention rate is 82.6% compared to 60%… and the owners are enjoying higher profits as a result.

HM: Any outstanding areas of improvement?
SF: Generally, it’s been about putting the right people in the right place. Specifically, changes made in F&B have really delivered on performance and productivity – 32% increase in Functions and Banquets food revenue, breakfast capture rate up from 42 to 54%, restaurant dinner capture rate up from approximately 19 to 24%, restaurant dinner covers up by 25%, In-Room Dining orders up by 40%, 12% improvement in food wastage, an estimated 40% improvement in kitchen efficiencies based on procedures and 100% improvement in kitchen team morale. In measuring ourselves against the 500 or so items on the audit list set by Carslon Rezidor for “Upscale” Radisson properties, we are achieving a 95/100 score.

HM: Any major shifts in the customer markets influencing the bottom line?
SF: Yes, we are hosting crews of an international airline which we did not have in 2012, and more significantly, we have benefited from the huge growth in visitors to Melbourne from China, which we attribute to this property and Radisson Sydney rating so highly on China’s “Ctrip”, that country’s major go-to travel advisory website. My two years in China have proved invaluable in hosting this new market segment. But we have a very good mix of business travel, and visitors from all over the world, interstate and regional Victoria. As well as suburban Melbourne on weekends.

HM: In years gone by, HM reported your Refurbishment by Evolution program in which you undertook upgrades without closing down whole floors at a time. Is that still operating?
SF: Yes it is. When upgrading the premises, we have worked closely with the owners of the hotel, which is imperative. However, we’ve had to slow down the bathroom refurbishments because of our high occupancy levels. Quite a nice problem to have, isn’t it?

HM: Apart from bathrooms, what else is in the program?
SF: A makeover for the lobby is next.

HM: What about changes on the micro scale?
SF: Yes, little things get our attention too. This month we’re introducing free Australian-made Koala cookies in the rooms because, believe it or not, one in every 200 guest comments asked for them, to accompany their cup of tea. And at breakfast reception, we’ve added free shot glasses of colourful concoctions of freshly squeezed fruit juices. It’s a bit of fun for first thing in the morning. And healthy too!

James Wilkinson

Editor-In-Chief, Hotel Management