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Sheraton Gains Foothold in China

Associated Press

Two years ago, Joseph S. Roseman managed the opening of Sheraton Corp.'s hotel here, but it wasn’t long before he was able to resume his “30-year romance with Asia.”

Roseman, 49, recently went to Peking as general manager of the Sheraton Great Wall Hotel when Sheraton became one of the first international hotel chains to operate in China. Sheraton, a unit of ITT Corp., took over operation of the hotel March 18 from a joint-venture group that had developed the property. The group had opened the 22-story, 1,007-room hotel in 1983.

“It’s considered something of a plum . . . for international hotel operators,” Roseman said in an interview during a recent trip back to Tucson. “Everybody sort of wants to be the first operator in China.”

Sheraton has a 10-year contract to run the $75-million, Y-shaped, reflecting-glass structure. The joint-venture group includes the China International Travel Service, a government agency that owns 51% of the hotel, and two U.S. developers, Santa Monica-based Becket Investment Corp. and San Bruno, Calif.-based Unison Pacific Corp., which share the remaining interest.

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Another major U.S. hotel concern, Holiday Corp.--known until recently as Holiday Inns Inc.--has operated a hotel in Peking since February, 1984. The hotel currently carries a local name, but the name will change to Holiday Inn in August, when the hotel’s expansion from 500 rooms to 1,000 rooms is completed, said Dorothy Hays, a spokeswoman at Holiday Corp. headquarters in Memphis, Tenn.

Reservation System, Training

Other American and European hotel operators also are exploring possibilities in the country since China has opened investment opportunities to Western nations, Roseman said.

Roseman is a New York native who grew up near Pittsburgh and studied Asian and Pacific history at the University of Hawaii. And his romance with Asia was nurtured while he opened or managed hotels in South Korea, the Philippines, Fiji and Hawaii.

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He said the decision to turn over operation of the Great Wall Hotel to an international hotel company reflected the developers’ desire to gain access to a worldwide reservation system and to bolster the hotel’s marketing and staff-training abilities.

The hotel employs about 1,700 people, of whom all but 60 to 70 are Chinese workers. He said “a handful” are Americans, and the rest are expatriates from Hong Kong and Singapore, fluent in the Mandarin dialect, something Roseman is not.

Roseman said that it “certainly would be an advantage to speak Chinese” but that he and his staff have successfully used an interpreter, and many of the employees speak English. Language, he said, “isn’t really a barrier, it’s a minor handicap.”

The hotel typically hosts a cosmopolitan mix of Southeast Asian, European and Australian business travelers, in addition to Americans, who normally account for between 30% and 40% of its business, he said.

Roseman acknowledged that the hotel’s staff currently lacks some of the polish in service to which its international clientele is accustomed--particularly at room rates of from $90 to $140 a night. But he said those problems are being overcome.

‘Growing Pains’

“There are some growing pains that the Chinese are experiencing, and they know it, too,” he said. Problems arise in that the mostly native work force might not reflect “that level of expertise in restaurant service” or lack some English-language abilities, he said.

For example, some visitors may have difficulty getting an operator to handle telephone messages.

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“The comments are pretty consistent that they still have some ways to go,” Roseman said. But he emphasized that the Chinese are “so open, ready and willing to learn.”

Roseman said that he and other foreigners were prepared to “encounter some resistance” from local workers but that the employees “welcome being shown the international way.”

The hotel overall seems symbolic “of what direction the new government wants to take” and of an attitude reflecting a Chinese commitment to learn and absorb as much as possible, with an eye toward eventual self-operation, he said.

Roseman, who plans to move his wife, son and three daughters to China in June, added: “That same thinking underlies not only the hotel field but most ventures the Chinese are getting into: take advantage of the expertise that foreigners will bring in, and then take over themselves.”


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