Sounds like a paradise both of culture and nature…
Yes, apart from the World Heritage Sites the region is very well known for giant pandas. We are really lucky, as a couple of months ago the Dujiangyan Field Research Center for Giant Pandas has moved to close-by.
Was it hard to find the right location in China?
No, because a lot of Chinese companies wanted to work with us and approached us in the forefront of the project. We actually had a lot of choices, and we especially fell in love with Qing Cheng Mountain. It was exactly what we were looking for. It is accessible but remote. In the middle of a wonderful nature it is the perfect base for excursions.
So this means that the property is not owned by Six Senses but by a Chinese investor?
Yes, it is a Chinese investor. But we are more than only a managing company as we participate from the scratch. We have our own creative team in Bangkok where we fully design our hotels.
How will it look like?
It will be a very beautiful property. We are basically recreating Chinese style villages with a water feature and the typical curved roofs.
Everything will be newly built?
Yes, but of course in the Six Senses style. This means that we will use a lot of natural materials, building the hotel as sustainable as possible, and trying to keep the carbon footprints on a low level. There will be 111 suites and a few villas. Around 30 to 40 suites will have their own courtyard. It will be ideal for families or small groups. There will be also a conference centre, so we will welcome business groups as well. We will have three or four restaurants, providing both Western and Sichuan cuisine.
Are there any other 5-star-luxury-hotels in the Mount Qing Cheng area?
There are a lot of 5-star-properties in Chengdu, mostly big corporate hotels. I heard that there will be also a boutique hotel opening soon, but at the Qing Cheng Mountain we will be the first.
Upscale hotels in China often face problems in their service quality due to the high demand of well trained personnel and due to a high employee turnover. How will you deal with that problem?
This situation is not new for us and can be compared with our first opening in Vietnam 15 years ago. Everywhere we go we try to hire a maximum of local people because that is the most sustainable way. We call them hosts, because hosting our guests is what they do. Recruiting local hosts is not always possible, of course, but Chengdu is a big city. I am sure we will find good people for our management team there. Our General Manager will be a Westerner, but our Director of Marketing is from Qing Cheng Mountains, and she had also been in Chengdu for many years.
In all of our properties we employ people who had other jobs before. They used to be fishermen, for example, or worked in tailor shops. We train them to success. Often you can feel their passion for their new function. Besides that, our clients have always been very generous to us. If they see that the hosts are trying their best, then they forgive if not everything is absolutely perfect.
Who will be the guests?
This is difficult to say. It will be probably Chinese by majority. But we have also started to promote the property outside of China, and we have received a lot of interest already. Especially the UK market is responding very positively, also the German one and the French one. This for sure has to do with the surrounding World Heritage Sites but also with the fact that our hotel will be perfectly located on the way to Tibet.
Chinese tourists might have other expectations than Westerners. What are you going to do differently compared to other Six Senses properties?
We will do everything in Chinese. This will also include the restaurants. Chinese have very high expectations regarding the food. We will have the best Sichuan cuisine restaurant, but also a very good Western restaurant. Many Chinese love wine, so we will have a wonderful wine cellar, too. We always think regionally, so I think in general we will not act very differently than elsewhere.
But you will act differently than many other hotels. Sustainability is a core part of the Six Senses philosophy. Yet this is not very often seen in China.
I think that a lot of Chinese are awakening at the moment. They already started to see the importance of sustainability.
Do you consider yourself as a trendsetter regarding sustainability in China?
Definitely! We do not pretend that we are always doing the things perfectly, but we are always trying.
What exactly will be sustainable about the Six Senses Qing Cheng Mountain, besides using a lot of natural materials?
First of all we will grow a certain amount of own vegetables, and we will buy at local farmers from very near the hotel. Furthermore we try as much as possible in terms of energy and water conservation. We will implement our own mineral water concept, which is a very strong statement in the five-star industry. In every Six Senses property we stopped to import mineral water, so you will not find Evian or Perrier there. We are the first ones who started with this. We have our own water treatment plants. We add minerals before filling the water into glass bottles. Producing our own mineral water – with gas as well as still water – helps us to reduce our carbon footprints. And together with that, we do not support the production of plastic bottles anymore. We provide our water for free in the rooms. In our restaurants the water is sold at a low price, from which 50 percent goes to water charity.
Yes, to an organization that supports the access to plain water. We will be the first doing this in China.
It is said that there are plans for a second Six Senses property in China. Where will this be?
I cannot tell you now. You will have to wait with this question until the end of January or maybe the beginning of February. We will have plenty of news then.
We promise to stick to it.