“We completely tore up the rulebook with this place”, says Hotel Jen Tanglin’s General Manager, Clifford Weiner.
Weiner was speaking with Lunch Magazine about the hotel’s recent $45M SGD upgrade which has transformed it from exuding a slightly shopworn road warrior feel to a sleek urban oasis – alive with graphic art, modern colours and stylish design.
“We were given free rein to make the hotel more modern and friendlier. What we’ve seen is an amazing shift. We even changed the uniforms to smart casual, you know, jeans and shirts. It has transformed the staff. The millennials are working for us now.”
For me, it’s borderline hipster – there’s even a cafe that brews coffee using beans from local Singaporean roasters.
We are sitting in the hotel’s level 17 Club lounge discussing Clifford’s love of cooking, what he loves about Singapore and how best to attract the millennial traveler.
For starters, what does the millennial traveller look like? It can’t just be hipsterarian (sic), I’m the only guy with a beard I’ve seen around here today so …
“They really want a good experience – they won’t sacrifice where they stay for points.”
“What we do is emphasise efficiency and caring. We make their day better and we know this remains with them longer than any loyalty scheme.”
As for whether all the hipster millennials prefer to use Airbnb nowadays, Weiner says people forget a hotel is not just a room.
For example, he asks what happens if something goes wrong?
“What do you do? We have staff that are drilled over and over in what to do if someone is sick, injured or if there’s an emergency. But if you’re in a stranger’s flat, generally outside of town, no staff to help … it’s a risk. Here, you’re not just paying for a room”.
Weiner’s previous work includes being part of the team that helped acclaimed chef Theo Randall set up at the Intercontinental London Park Lane and also the opening of Atlantis The Palm, Dubai.
Since late 2010 he has embraced Singapore as home and he’s passionate about the food.
“The restaurant and bar scene here is amazing – it’s world class.”
As for improving the Singapore experience for Hotel Jen guests, Weiner has instructed his staff to share their loves and their passions with guests rather than ticking tourism “must-see” boxes.
“We have a map out back called the Jen Heart Map, with pins for all the places the staff love around Singapore that we can recommend to the guests. We’re always adding to it. It started late one night when I overheard one of our guests ask a staff member for a restaurant recommendation and they suggested Chili’s (a cookie-cutter global Tex-Mex restaurant chain).”
The memory still shocks Clifford down to the soles of his cuisine-loving boots. He reacted immediately at the time because he believes a great hotel enhances the destination experience. Being in Singapore shouldn’t be about eating in global restaurant chains.
“I walked up and told the guests about this great little Chicago-style steak restaurant just around the corner – the place all the staff go to after work. The guest wandered off happily and the staff member looks at me as if to say ‘why would we send them there? That’s only a staff place’.
“I explained that’s exactly why we should send people there – we’re the locals, we know best and people value that. Now we’re bringing the Jen Heart Map to the front. We’ll feature it in the lobby – in a cool way.”
For Weiner, a man who likes to concoct and bottle his own kombucha in his spare time, it’s these little guest innovations that will ensure Hotel Jen successfully ferments something altogether different – luring the next generation of business traveller.