The Future of Travel: “Inspire joy with the human touch” With Abigail Tan-Giroud of St Giles Hotels & Candice Georgiadis

The new industry status quo is to embrace the newest technology, to be Avante Garde, if you will; however, in doing so are we losing sight of our guests and what they really want? I like to disrupt a little by keeping the guest experience central through the lens of hospitality in its truest form always. […]

The new industry status quo is to embrace the newest technology, to be Avante Garde, if you will; however, in doing so are we losing sight of our guests and what they really want? I like to disrupt a little by keeping the guest experience central through the lens of hospitality in its truest form always.

As a part of my series on “The future of travel” I had the pleasure of interviewing Abigail Tan-Giroud. Abigail is not your average hotelier, because apart from being born into a renowned hospitality family and having deep roots for the industry, in her spare time you may find her flying a helicopter, playing the electric guitar, boxing at 6am, or doing some form of sport, riding a motorcycle, completing Tough Mudder, or most likely, eating. . Growing up in Penang, Malaysia, Abigail gained exposure to the hotel and real estate industry at a very young age — her grandfather and uncle ran one of Malaysia’s real estate dynasties and her father is now the managing director of the publicly listed IGB Corporation, the parent company of St Giles Hotels Group, which owns nine hotels and growing worldwide with over 6,000 rooms globally under separate brands. Abigail entered the family business during summer breaks from school as an apprentice and joined the St Giles Hotels team as Director of Corporate Affairs and Strategic Investments in 2009, involved with the purchase of two New York properties and assisting with negotiations and transition preparations. In 2014, she became St Giles Hotels’ Head of UK, Europe and North America and in 2018 was promoted to Chief Executive Officer. In this role, Abigail oversees the New York property, The Tuscany — A St Giles Signature Hotel — as well as the London hotels, St Giles Heathrow and St Giles London. In London, she is also part of the core team for the development of a mixed-use development project on a 1.81 acre in the Southwark area, slated to open by 2020 with a 400-room four-star hotel, luxury residences, retail, a medical center and office towers. She is also responsible for sourcing new business development opportunities and is the driving force behind the culture development of the St Giles Hotels brand. Abigail holds an undergraduate degree in business management, and a master’s degree with Distinction in international management and innovation from the University of Exeter.

Thank you so much for joining us Abigail. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Hospitality has been in my family for three generations — you can say it is in my genes. When I was a young girl, I would walk into a hotel and the first thing I would do is take a deep breath in and sigh with excitement and joy and say to myself…”Hotel.” Instead of spending all my time enjoying the facilities, I would also be in the back-office asking the staff what they were doing (in the naive way of an eight-year-old girl), asking them what games they had and how long I could keep them for. I would walk down the room corridors spying on the housekeeping trolleys and housekeepers, trying to see what was in them, as well as seeing what I could take! I still have the same love affair with hotels that I had at that young age. Walking into one of our hotels in the St Giles portfolio still inspires the same feeling of excitement and joy as then. I often do some of the same things! (Well, probably just not asking about the games or what I can take.) I love the way a hotel lives and breathes and becomes a place for people to gather and shape memories.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

The beauty of this industry is that there is a new and interesting story every day, so it is really hard to pick one.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I tried to be helpful by shadowing our engineering team, and I thought I would attempt to change a leaking faucet. Well, water — like from a fire hydrant — shot out across the bathroom and my attempt to push the faucet back in only made it worse, drenching myself and the engineer team in the process.

Lesson learned: Turn off the water at the main source FIRST, and, leave it to the experts.

What do you think makes your company stand out?

We are individuals that define the brand, not the brand defining who the team should be and how to behave.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”? Can you share a story about that?

Always take time for yourself to relax and unplug without feeling guilty. Not embracing “Me Time” can decrease productivity for you and your team. Lay out all the projects in front of you and prioritize them, so that you can have everything where you can “see” it and not feel anxious about remembering what to do. I feel it is also very important to have your “champions” at your side — those friends and colleagues who can support and advise you through difficult decisions and give you an honest second or third opinion.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

There are many people to whom I am grateful in my career so far. The first would be to my Uncle Steve who was my teacher, mentor and someone who would give me the (proverbial) kick when I needed it. He showed me the ropes, threw me in the deep end and made sure to be there to help me if I needed it. He ensured that my growth was exponential, while at the same time giving me the independence to lead and learn.

Let’s jump to the core of our discussion. Can you share with our readers about the innovations that you are bringing to the travel and hospitality industries?

What lies at the core of every initiative that we drive at St Giles Hotels is placing the guest experience central. It is important for our guests to experience authentic hospitality — the human connection. In 2019, St Giles Hotels will be launching its first portfolio-wide loyalty program, and it is very important to us that this program is relevant to our loyal guests — which is why our first step is to better understand our guests and know about their expectations. We don’t want to have a loyalty program just to have one, but rather we want to create a rewarding experience that will continue to inspire loyalty. Alongside our loyalty program, St Giles Hotels is also launching a new program called “Inspired Joy,” where we are empowering our staff to surprise and delight our guests with unexpected moments of inspired service. Surprises include: a selection of 30 or more spontaneous prize giveaways to intuitively recognizing when an extra step can transform a guest experience to a joyful lasting memory. I believe this puts the human connection central to the guest experience. And central to the culture of St Giles Hotels is also to make a positive impact in society. Our foundation, entitled “Hotels with Heart” is our way of doing that. However, it is not a separate CSR program as it lies at the core of the culture of our brand and is lived by each employee. Our team is comprised of volunteers, activists, fundraisers, sponsors and mentors. We make them the advocates of change, and at the same time give them the opportunity to grow organically through teaching and helping others.

Which “pain point” are you trying to address by introducing this innovation?

As an industry, I believe we sometime lose sight of the most important factor of hospitality — the human touch. Hotels should really serve as a “home away from home” for our guests, as they choose us to fill the place of their home when they are traveling — all of which is why at St Giles Hotels, our guests are seen as part of the St Giles Family. We aim to always create a place that is welcoming to guests and delivers a fulfilling and inspiring experience, while remaining connected with our guests. Whenever we incorporate new innovations and technology, it is always with the goal to make it easier for our guests to connect with the St Giles team. With Hotels with Heart, the pain point we are trying to address is youth homelessness and how we can be at the center of the race to alleviate this global problem. This, I believe, also has the opportunity to create lifetime hoteliers from those who have been given opportunities where it once in their lives has seemed bleak.

How do you envision that this might disrupt the status quo?

The new industry status quo is to embrace the newest technology, to be Avante Garde, if you will; however, in doing so are we losing sight of our guests and what they really want? I like to disrupt a little by keeping the guest experience central through the lens of hospitality in its truest form always.

Can you share examples of how travel and hospitality companies will be adjusting over the next five years to the new ways that consumers like to travel?

In addition to keeping the guest central and fostering a strong connection for a better understanding of how to deliver hospitality to guests, here are some additional examples:

1. Convenience is an Amenity — Today’s modern guest enjoys the convenience of traveling with their digital daily comforts — streaming movie services, multiple devices, car share apps, food delivery apps, etc. Premium high-speed WiFi service and accessible USB charging stations are a must. In addition, at The Tuscany — St Giles Signature Hotel in New York City — guests enjoy the use of a complimentary handy smartphone, which offers unlimited domestic and international calls (selected countries); free roaming around the city, while allowing for direct access to the guest service team; and, a curated NYC travel guide to experience the city.

2. Location-inspired Design and Experience — The modern traveler seeks the authentic local experience when visiting any destination. At St Giles Hotels, we aim to give guests a sense of that local experience inside the hotel with locally-inspired design. No two St Giles Hotels’ properties are alike — each is uniquely designed to reflect and connect with its locality. It might be an architectural feature that harkens to a storied history (such as: St Giles London with its building being one of London’s most famous brutalist buildings; and, The Tank Stream — A St Giles Hotels — with its name and building linked to the history of Sydney, the first British settlement in the city; or, an unexpected view that frames local iconic structures, such as the stunning views of the Empire State and Chrysler buildings from most of our rooms and suites at The Tuscany, including the Penthouse which offers 360-degree views of both these famed NYC icons. The Tuscany also offers a taste of the local with curated mini bars including healthy, guilt-free items from New York and surrounding areas.

3. United to Be Sustainable Citizens — There is a convergence, a meeting of the minds per se, with today’s guests and hoteliers. Both are more committed to being responsible and sustainable citizens to positively impact their local communities, the places they visit, and the planet. St Giles Hotels commitment as a sustainable and responsible global citizen is reflected in:

4. Hotels With Heart Foundation, which lies at the core of the St Giles Hotels’ culture and values and poses the question — What can we do to positively impact the vulnerable in our community? To be more involved in our communities? To impact causes that matter to our team and our guests?

5. #CitizenG — St Giles Hotels’ sustainable program launched in 2018 supports the company’s mission and promises to be more “green,” by making environmentally friendly decisions across its properties with the goal of eliminating single-use plastic and reducing water and energy use in three years.

You are a “travel insider”. How would you describe your “perfect vacation experience”?

My husband and I enjoy long moments of Zen, unplugged from all technology with interruptions from food, food and some more food, followed by an adrenaline rush from a triple black ski run or a motorcycle ride …then back to more food.

Can you share with our readers how have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

One of my proudest achievements is bringing to life our foundation, Hotels with Heart. I rarely say, “I did such & such,” as I value how much we achieve as a team here at St Giles Hotels, but I am very proud that I was able to bring the vision I had of creating a foundation that positively impacts the communities where our hotels are located, which is how the vision for Hotels with Heart was born. Since then, as a team, we have developed Hotels with Heart into a program that positively impacts our communities. Through the foundation, our staff together has raised money and participated in community activities with the focus of aiding the vulnerable around the world.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

You never know what an idea can trigger. Inspire Joy in one person each day.

How can our readers follow you on social media?


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