Having taken over the reins of Hilton Colombo Residences two years ago on 1 December, the dynamic and charismatic General Manager of the
property, Karim Schadlou, has achieved what he set out to do in record time, turning things around at HCR in style.
With several strategic changes and key renovations carried out under his watch, HCR has been transformed into a lively and vibrant place, changing the perception of the property and breaking away from the ‘Residences’ cliché. It now caters to different areas in the hospitality industry, with impressive changes made
in the spheres of
accommodation, social events, and dining.
Commenting on the
impressive turnaround in an interview with the Daily FT, Schadlou said: “It was
challenging task with so many projects whilst having the hotel in full operation; my team worked with me together to achieve our goals. I am very privileged to have the support of the owning company, Hilton Worldwide, and the project teams to work towards these goals. These times have been exciting to say the least, and it has also taught my team that change is tough, but the rewards are greater!”
Following are excerpts:
Hilton Colombo Residences GM Karim Schadlou
By Marianne David
Q: It’s been two years since you took up your current position as General Manager of Hilton Colombo Residences. Speaking to the Daily FT shortly after taking up duties, you said HCR was in for an exciting transformation. While we’ve already seen and experienced some aspects of this transformation, could you outline the key changes since you took over?
A: Yes, this December I celebrate the completion of my second year as General Manager of Hilton Colombo Residences. When I came in 2013 and had my interview with you, I mentioned that I would be renovating the hotel and making some strategic changes in terms of rooms, dining, and arrival experience. As you can imagine, it was a challenge to embark on these projects when you have a fully-operational hotel, but we have succeeded in our mission and the feedback we have received is just amazing. Naturally, these changes don’t stop here, there is more to come.
In terms of rooms, we have renovated 10 floors out of 33 for the last two years. Our plan is to renovate five floors each year so that our ‘rooms’ product is constantly rejuvenated. In January 2014, we launched the 28th floor where 12 brand new single rooms and two single room suites were built, converting one floor of conventional suites. This product was mainly aimed at the business traveller who sought modern business amenities while on the go.
Next was the renovation of the Executive Suites on the 30th and 31st floors. As the category right after the Penthouses in the hotel, these suites were in the premier category. The Business Suites on the 27th and 29th floors followed right after. As indicated in the name, the Business Suites are best for business travellers who need to catch up on work while travelling; it comes ready with a business desk and ergonomic Herman Miller chair, all-in-one printer, scanner, copier and fax machine.
Just a few weeks ago, we completed the Deluxe Suites between the 22nd and 26th floors of the hotel. All in all, these renovated rooms have undergone extensive renovations and modern amenities have been added on as follows: New furniture and interior; new bathrooms with bathtub or shower with rain shower; latest air-conditioning with inverter technology; new electrical appliances in kitchen/laundry facility; fully compliant with global Hilton brand standards such as Serta bedding and linen, 40 inch LED televisions, and Blu-Ray.
Superior Room, type C
As for dining, we had major plans to boost life into our dining experience; in 2011 when the Union Ballroom was launched, we had a vision to upgrade the ground floor and convert it into an area offering contemporary ambiences on par with Hilton hotels in the Asia Pacific region.
You may remember the Union Bar & Grill and well-known Pitstop Café – they are no more. In June 2014, we introduced the Bar Lounge, BASICO. It offers specialty beverages with an array of freshly-baked treats, pastries, salads, sandwiches and cakes, all available for either dining in or to take away. For something a little stronger, the BASICO Bar Lounge also serves single malt whiskeys, wines and many other international beverages. For more intimate gatherings, the BASICO Bar Lounge has three separate private meeting rooms that can be booked for groups of four to 15.
Then the pinnacle of our dining experience – the FLOW multi cuisine restaurant – was launched in August this year. The restaurant brings cuisines from around the globe, and you can watch as chefs prepare your meal in one of the five open kitchens. This style of dining is a first in Sri Lanka. With 168 seats, FLOW offers three private dining rooms, including an elegant chef’s table. Enjoy our different cuisines ─ including Sri Lankan, Indian, Chinese, Japanese and Western ─ paired with our premium wines. The a la carte menu features signature dishes of the restaurant. Apart from this, a Sunday brunch is on from noon until 3 p.m.
With regard to arrival, we are currently renovating our lobby to give guests a wonderful arrival experience. The hotel has made a remarkable journey to become more contemporary, and this would be the icing on the cake. The new lobby will be launched this month.
"In 2013, I mentioned that I would be renovating the hotel and making some strategic changes in terms of rooms, dining, and arrival experience. It was a challenge to embark on these projects when you have a fully-operational hotel, but we have succeeded in our mission and the feedback we have received is just amazing
A hotel would naturally stand for accommodation, social events, and dining. I believe we have made remarkable changes in these three spheres. There is more to come
If someone asks me what I would do if I had the opportunity to start again, I would definitely chose hospitality again"
Q: When you took over operations, you were told not to take it easy because you would have a lot of projects, and you welcomed the challenge. In hindsight, how do you feel and how would you describe this journey of change?
A: It was challenging task with so many projects whilst having the hotel in full operation; my team worked with me together to achieve our goals. I am very privileged to have the support of the owning company, Hilton Worldwide, and the project teams to work towards these goals. These times have been exciting to say the least, and it has also taught my team that change is tough, but the rewards are greater! I always tell them that we need to evolve and challenge ourselves daily and look at what we were able to achieve together.
Q: You’ve been instrumental in changing the perception of HCR as a hotel instead of a ‘Residences’ alone. In 2013, you said the property wanted to break away from the ‘Residences’ cliché and offer whatever other hotels could offer, pledging to get there soon. How successful has this move been?
A: Yes, we wanted to break away from being referred or to be known as an apartment complex – we are so much more than that!
From the 177 guestrooms, 12 of them are contemporary single rooms. We now have a Bar Lounge, BASICO and FLOW for amazing dining experiences, and also event venues for up to 850 guests in the Union Ballroom. Since we launched the brand new ballroom in 2012, we have now become a destination for weddings in the market; I am glad to know that we are now considered to be a preferred venue for social functions.
The renovations are done with international designers who come with years of experience, their designs have been very sleek and contemporary, which Colombo is slowly evolving towards.
Q: How would you describe the property’s offerings and potential today?
A: A hotel would naturally stand for accommodation, social events, and dining. I believe we have made remarkable changes in these three spheres. There is more to come. I believe we are very competitive in the market and are able to compete with the city hotels because of the edge it has provided us with. The addition of the single rooms on the 28th floor has given us tremendous value – guests love it. The dining experience is something we are all proud of as it is the first time we are offering open kitchens where guests get to see their meals being prepared. We have also been recognised for the ‘service’ element which is a dire component when it comes to commending a hotel’s potential today.
The potential is boundless – Colombo and Sri Lanka are making great strides in development. You can see the many other international brands that will be here soon. I believe all this will positively impact the industry and the hotel.
Q: HCR was a new line of work for you in a sense, having worked in corporate hotels and not residences before. What’s it been like and what were the key challenges?
A: I can say that adapting was quite smooth because prior to the Maldives, I have worked in city hotels in Asia Pacific. The training Hilton provides for a General Manager is very comprehensive, thus I had the ability to adapt fast.
Q: This isn’t your first experience of working for a Hilton property, having joined the chain in 2000 and worked in different capacities across many properties. Fifteen years down the line, how would you describe the experience of working for the Hilton chain and what made you stay so long?
A: It has been a wonderful journey so far. I started my career with Hilton in Abu Dhabi, moving to Beijing, which was one of my dream destinations to go to; followed by Kuala Lumpur, my first assignment in South East Asia; Maldives and short assignments in Singapore and Bangkok, and finally here in Colombo. Hilton is a great place to work with great opportunities to grow within the company.
Q: In 2016, you will complete 25 years in the hospitality industry. What are your future plans and what challenges are you setting yourself?
A: Actually it’s been already 27 years, including my apprenticeship. If someone asks me what I would do if I had the opportunity to start again, I would definitely chose hospitality again. My future plans are to stay a bit longer here in Sri Lanka as I need to finish a few more projects within the property; my end goals are to drive the business in the hotel as I see Sri Lanka has lots of potential in projects.
Pix by Daminda Harsha Perera