Hong Kong's enviable reputation as a travel destination for businessmen and tourists is mainly thanks to the city's excellent hotel facilities. There are a growing number of five-star international hotels making their presence felt here. Swire Hotels, the hotel arm of commercial conglomerate Swire Group, is joining the trend by offering premium luxury at The Upper House Hotel in Admiralty when it opens in October. In August last year, Swire opened The Opposite House Hotel in Beijing. 'All luxury hotels managed by us are different, with different names, designed by different architects and interior designers, and served by different restaurateurs. Our approach to service and people is a very important common thread,' said Dean Winter, general manager of The Upper House Hotel. With its warm and classical modern interior design, The Upper House Hotel boasts a residential feel, which is in stark contrast to the grandiose style of five-star hotels in Hong Kong. Originally a property of serviced suites attached to Pacific Place and managed by Swire Group, the hotel was designed by local interior designer Andre Fu in a way that it will not be perceived as being grand in the traditional sense. 'There were certain parameters that we had to operate in when we designed this hotel. A calm, residential feel conveyed by less contemporary and classically modern design is intentional, which is very different from the style of the city's other hotels with their grandeur created by spacious lobbies lit by chandeliers and fitted with marble flooring,' Mr Winter said. 'We have given the hotel a more residential feel. The concept has been adequately interpreted through its understated interior design.' With 117 guest rooms, including 21 suites and two penthouses, the hotel exemplifies the beauty of minimalism in architectural design, creating a luxurious ambience. Upper House does not attempt to compete with other five-star hotels in terms of scale, grandeur and facilities. 'We intended to make the hotel a complement to an abundance of upscale restaurants, branded shops and facilities at Pacific Place. Keeping only a limited number of facilities at the hotel will allow us to offer more spacious guest rooms,' Mr Winter said. The hotel would offer guests a different kind of experience and catered for a niche segment of leisure travellers who would normally stay at a traditional five-star hotel on their business trips, he said. 'Staying at our hotel is like people coming to Hong Kong to visit a friend and stay at their apartment, and your friend has gone for a holiday and left you a key to open the door to a flurry of luxury experiences, with very helpful staff to help you with your bags, tell you where to go and look after you. 'Even the styling of our staff uniforms [is] more natural and residential, making our guests feel more relaxed and comfortable.' The hotel, with its compact size, has room to be more creative with its facilities. With architectural refinement in mind, Upper House has earmarked ample space for Caf? Gray Deluxe that operates around the clock, serving European classics and signature dishes prepared by internationally renowned chef Gray Kunz. There is also a bar on the top floor and an outdoor lawn on the sixth floor, where guests can enjoy the panoramic view of Victoria Harbour. This open-air area will be an ideal venue for parties and cocktail receptions. Upper House expects to face tough competition from a large number of five-star hotels in the area. To be a successful player in the luxury hotel market, Mr Winter said the company needed to show similar sophistication and intelligence. 'But it can't be all about design [with] no substance. We need to focus on the service culture.' Staff training is important to cultivate the kind of service culture that the hotel values. It is about respecting and cherishing the unique personality traits and individuality of each staff member. 'We want our staff to be themselves and behave naturally when providing service to guests. They don't have to follow a certain framework or standardised behavioural pattern like robots. 'We don't want our staff deprogrammed from being themselves, and people should get hired to work with us for their unique personality, flair and individuality,' said Mr Winter, who views the small size of the hotel as an advantage as far as management style is concerned. 'It is easy for the hotel to execute a different management philosophy because we are small and have a small group of executives and a small group of senior managers supporting the frontline staff who need to deal with our guests on a daily basis.' To prepare for its opening in October, the hotel is looking to recruit 220 staff and is now hiring to fill senior managerial positions. A series of recruitment open days is scheduled to take place this month to introduce possible career opportunities with the company and encourage candidates to apply for positions online. According to Mr Winter, previous hotel experience is not a necessity for many front office positions. 'Candidates may not need to have hotel experience to come and work for us, but if they are working in the front house, dealing with guests, they need to have exceptional social skills and love being with and helping people. We can teach them the skills and show them how to use a computer, check a guest into a room and look after people,' he said. 'Working in the front house is all about knowing how to deal with people, how to [rectify] a situation when something goes bad. We need people with that kind of spontaneity and sensitivity to know whether someone is happy or unhappy. 'If they can demonstrate those inherent traits, perhaps together with a cheeky flair, and have worked for other people-oriented industries, we would consider them.' Most staff will undergo extensive training in July and August. The training period will last six to seven weeks. The bulk of the training, other than the work-related skills, according to Mr Winter, revolves around coaching staff on the practices that will streamline and simplify work procedures to provide a hassle-free experience for guests. 'We focus on the behavioural elements in our training. That involves a lot of role-play activities, games and scenarios with front office and restaurant staff to show them how to react in a given situation with appropriate behaviour,' he said. 'We are also looking at everything that the guest may have to go through, whether it be on the phone to the reservation agent, to the point of arrival, having breakfast at the restaurant, to paying their bills on their departure. 'The point is to make something that the guest has to go through easier so they don't have to spend too long going through the process of checking in. There are things that we do to provoke staff to think differently about those processes.' After the formal training and three weeks before the grand opening, the hotel will arrange a simulation exercise aimed at getting all the workers into full swing. During this exercise, the hotel's management, and families and friends of staff members will be invited to be guests to experience the service and identify areas for improvement. While the hotel anticipates a large number of front office staff to be members of Generation Y, Mr Winter said management needed to adapt to address their concerns and needs. 'Members of the younger generation have a different view of life. They want to work hard and play hard. 'They want to spend time with their friends and families and do the things they enjoy doing. They want the money and self-esteem. 'The days of working long hours in the hotel industry are gone. The types of benefits we offer must be different these days to attract those dynamic, intelligent, self-aware members of the younger generation. 'We have to provide a workplace and a career for those who want to fulfil themselves professionally, while having the time to do the things they want to do.'