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Q&A with Chief Operating Officer Stephan Killinger - INSIDER PLUS

Q&A with Chief Operating Officer Stephan Killinger

SUSTAINING EXCELLENCE 

Corinthia’s Chief Operating Officer is on a mission – to ensure ever greater consistency across the IHI hotel portfolio. The much-travelled Stephan Killinger talks to Insider+.

You have been COO for just over a year now, after a career that has seen you work for a number of the top global luxury hotel groups. What drew you to Corinthia?

I was intrigued by the Company’s spirit – a family-inspired business where family values  underpin its foundations. At the same time, Corinthia is at the cusp of a worldwide expansion plan, so it was an offer I couldn’t refuse. There are major new projects in Brussels, Dubai, Doha and Bucharest underway, and many new prospects for new hotels are in the pipeline. It is a hugely exciting time for the Company.

One of your tasks is to help create greater consistency across IHI’s hotel portfolio. How are you going about this ?

In the past year I have of course visited every property, some many times, to better understand each and every one of them, and to meet the general managers and their leadership teams. Based on those visits I zeroed in on five areas: Improving room aesthetics and functionality – particularly the arrival experience, the guests’ first impressions; enhancing the presentation of public areas; developing new F&B concepts; leveraging technology; and pursuing market research, particularly in relation to future openings.

Secondly, I formed a Quality Assurance team, and from the beginning of this year, began using ReviewPro software at each property. This is a research tool that involves guest surveys (pre-stay and post-stay), and monitors each property’s online reputation. Each hotel is subject to ‘mystery shopper’ audits several times a year, and the feedback is analysed thoroughly with each GM.

‘On the floor where the action is’. Stephan Killinger with Corinthia Hotel Budapest’s Executive Chef Bolyki Péter.

My team is constantly interacting with all our hotels, conducting reviews and providing support. Together with our technology team we’re about to introduce a whole new range of online tools, in order to react quickly and efficiently to any guest complaints, or best of all, to avoid them all together, by anticipating guests’ needs better.

We also have a technical support team based in Malta that assists properties with capital investment improvements, and regular inspections to ensure all our assets are kept in great shape. We’re not just operators, but also owners and developers, and have an obligation towards our shareholders to ensure their investment is sound and safe for the long term. The same goes for our Procurement and Security/Health & Safety departments. These help our hotels with cost-saving initiatives and quality improvement through more cost efficient purchasing, whilst ensuring and secure and safe environment for our guests and staff.

“Our goal is to be the best in our competitive set. ‘Good enough’ is never enough.”

Each hotel operates in a particular economic environment. How feasible is it to raise the standards of facilities and guest services in Corinthia’s hotels, to say the standard achieved by the flagship, Corinthia Hotel London?

Each hotel operates in its own economic environment. Revenue per available room varies in each hotel greatly from location to location, and so does the hotel’s annual capital expenditure. My team’s job is to help the hotel work within these parameters, and inspire them to be creative. Our goal is to be the best in our competitive set. Even Corinthia Hotel London has to continually strive for improvement to maintain its leading position. This takes time, focus and persistence, with a total commitment to quality. “Good enough” is never enough; the mindset has to be a constant drive for excellence.

The Garden Suite, Corinthia Hotel London. One of eleven new suites opened in June 2018.

“Continuing to raise the bar across our portfolio is not a sprint, but rather a journey of endurance, where best practices are exchanged constantly.”

When visiting each property, I pay close attention to areas that are most important to guests – the bed, heating & air-conditioning, the aesthetics of the rooms but also public areas, as well as the F&B outlets. Of course it’s vital that employees feel at ease and are looked after. I insist that our people have the best facilities, are provided with wholesome meals, areas to chill during breaks, and of course uniforms that not only look the part, but feel comfortable.

Continuing to raise the bar across our portfolio is not a sprint, but rather a journey of endurance, where best practices are exchanged constantly. At the end of the day, we aim to provide guests with inspiring and everlasting memories. Whilst the hardware may vary in each location, the way service is provided is consistent throughout our portfolio – described to date as our “Craftsmanship of Care”, and in the near future encapsulated in the concept of “Uplifting Lives”. This sentiment is embedded in everything we do.

We like to take care of our guests as if we were welcoming them home and we pay close attention to detail – this is the “Spirit of Corinthia’”.  In that sense, all our hotels are on a par with each other.  When comparing standards, we take a scientific approach and we’re assisted by Leading Quality Assurance (LQA) – the leading consultants in assessing luxury hotel performance. We have a set of standards across all Corinthia hotels, however that doesn’t mean that we want all our hotels to be the same, quite the reverse. Each hotel and destination has its own unique identity.

What are the messages you find most useful to convey to GMs?

Our GMs are ultimately responsible for their own business unit and have the freedom to operate. My role, and that of my team, is to support the GM to achieve the goals set, but also to help them align to the evolving vision of the Company – to become a truly global player in the luxury hotel industry.

I believe in leading by example, and having an open and mutually respectful dialogue with everyone I work with. I prefer interacting with colleagues face-to-face, or over the phone sometimes on a daily basis, as this allows an immediate exchange of ideas and opinions. Only as a last resort do I use email. I’m always available if a GM needs another view. The relationship I have with GMs is about support and guidance rather than imposing some kind of top-down directive.

“I spend a lot of time with the GM, and often with his team – not in a boardroom looking at a Powerpoint presentation, but by exploring together every corner of the hotel.”

When visiting properties, I spend a lot of time with the GM, and often with his team – not in a boardroom looking at a Powerpoint presentation, but by exploring together every corner of the hotel, always with the perspective of how guests  perceive a space, a product, a service or an amenity.  One could say that I prefer a tactile approach over one dissecting spreadsheets – a methodology that has served me well throughout my career. I enjoy being in the field and ‘on the floor’ where the action is, to see with my own eyes what the guest and staff experience. I learned once from a mentor “Don’t expect what you don’t inspect,” and I hold this to be true to this day.