Eastin Group expands to Vietnam

No 3, Vol.7, June - July 2015

Mr Mark Heather, the Regional Director for Indochina and Indonesia for Absolute Hotel Services

According to English time, I was late for a very important date. Luckily, however, according to Standard Vietnamese Rubber Time, I was dead on schedule. There are a number of upper-end hotels on the number four bus route as you near the airport and I had got off at the wrong one. The hotel I needed has recently changed its name and the bell boys at this wrong one had never heard of it. The receptionist, however, told me to walk back townward for five minutes. After seven minutes’ walking, I decided to ask an intelligent-looking person who confidently pointed me in the wrong direction. Trying to get confirmation, I asked other passers-by who either scratched their heads or also pointed the wrong way. I stopped a taxi driver who also had no clue about the new hotel name. Luckily, I found an old text message on my phone with the address and he got me there easily within flag fall. So I stepped out of the taxi to see a clear large sign - Eastin Grand Hotel Saigon. And what had I come here to talk about? It was giving a new brand name some recognition!
I was greeted by a young lady from Sales and Marketing, and as I walked through the vast lobby, I felt as if nothing much had changed. Out at the back, the first class bakery is still in operation and I poked my head into the renowned Cantonese Restaurant, still beautifully decorated with Chinese paintings and oriental furnishings. We sat down to a pot of green tea in the upstairs coffee shop in exactly the same place as I interviewed a manager of the previous regime. One thing in my mind is that the famed Swiss name that managed this property until a month ago is going to be a hard act to follow.
Soon bounding onto the scene arrived Mr Mark Heather. Energetic and enthusiastic, he is not you stereotypical English man. I had expected to meet this hotel's General Manager, but as Mark introduced himself I learned that he is the Regional Director for Indochina and Indonesia for AHS - Absolute Hotel Services - the company behind the Eastin brand. I also learned there are in fact three brands. These are (using Vietnamese classification) - at the three star level - Eastin Easy, at four star - Eastin and at five star - Eastin Grand. Already well known in India, Thailand and elsewhere, Mr Heather is currently focusing his efforts at establishing the name Eastin in Vietnam. There is an Eastin Easy in Hanoi and another major property under AHS management in Sapa. Plans are also under way for a beach hotel at Cam Ranh near the airport for Nha Trang.
Within minutes, it is clear that Mark is passionate about the hospitality industry in general and specifically in Indochina, having had wide experience of running hotels in Hai Phong and Laos. We both lament the fact that tourism is in the doldrums in Vietnam with eleven consecutive months of decline. We broach the thorny old issue of visa prices being far too high and bothersome to arrange. Inevitably we compare with Thailand where Mark has worked a lot. ‘Vietnam needs to have some general planning strategy like Thailand, which year by year concentrates on promoting a particular destination’, he opines.
The talk moves on to discuss how you establish a new brand name. Ultimately, things establish themselves by their own bush is the argument. Mark says he is concentrating on the delivery of a high-quality product with great value for money. He does not see the Eastin Grand will be affected by the current downturn as it caters for business and airline folk. ‘We want customers who come away telling others, I had a great room with great food and great guest services’ says Mark. He admits the previous company was a class act, but believes Eastin is able to surpass them. He does not propose sweeping changes and in particular he has retained all staff whilst bringing in a little 'new blood' from Thailand. He is passionate about improving the room-the bed, the linen, and towels. There are plans, too, to put the stamp of Eastin Grand on the hotel by re-decorating the lobby. Another strategy to gain quick name recognition, Mark says, is to invite such groups as taxi drivers to a talk and give them a drink and Eastin T-shirt. Smart ploy!
We talk about the company's property in the mountain resort of Sapa with its exotic minority people. This is under the brand U Hotel. ‘It’s an experience hotel’, he says. He shows a great love for the minorities and enthusiasm for introducing guests to their ways of life. It is clear we have a kindred experience of adventure but although we are roughly of the same age Mark is in much better shape than me for carrying this out. ‘I have always wanted to climb Fansipan’ (Vietnam's highest point), I tell him, ‘Oh I have plans on doing by mountain bike’, Mark tells me, as he produces from his pocket a photograph of himself with his bike in the Sapa mountains.
It is a pleasure for me to pass on the introduction Mark Heather kindly gave me to this new kid on the Vietnam block to you, the reader. There is new choice both for the business person and those of you who come to Vietnam for the experience. With Mr Heather at the helm, it looks as if we are in for not only great comfort, but also great service and cultural treats.n

The Eastin Grand
Hotel Saigon
253 Nguyen Van Troi St,
Phu Nhuan District,
Ho Chi Minh City
Tel: (08) 3844-9222

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