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Dutch CEO who loves Shanghai: hotels are a city’s reception halls
By:Wang Xiaoyang, Fu Yifei  |  From:english.eastday.com  |  2019-11-01 09:11

Since 1989, a series of Magnolia Awards have been given as recognition of the contributions foreigners in Shanghai have made to the city, and 42 foreigners recommended by the Huangpu District have won this award.

In order to commemorate the thirtieth anniversary of the Shanghai Magnolia Awards, Huangpu District plans to hold a celebration activity in November.

Eastday has therefore especially launched a series of exclusive interviews to review these award winners’ stories in Huangpu District and Shanghai.

Dutch CEO who loves Shanghai: hotels are a city’s reception halls

Located in Huangpu District, known as the heart of Shanghai, and adjacent to the bustling Huaihai Road, the Okura Garden Hotel Shanghai (hereinafter referred to as the Garden Hotel) is extraordinarily quiet and elegant, hidden by dense trees and shrubs. The Western-style pavilions and the Grand Ballroom seem to be telling the story of the traditional Shanghai, while from the main building’s windows on the 33rd floor, people can have a panoramic view of the prosperity of the modern city. This geographical location has also given the Garden Hotel an edge over many other hotels since its opening. Since its opening in 1990, the hotel has always paid such special attention to foreign affairs receptions that its training policy -“Proud participant in non-governmental diplomacy”- is well-known. In this field, the general manager of the Garden Hotel, Harmen Dubbelaar, has made outstanding contributions.

A hotel is a reception hall of a city

According to Harmen, the hotel is a magical place where people from all walks of life gather. Visitors, needless to say, come from different countries and regions. Some come for the purpose of meetings and trade, others for the purpose of traveling and leisure, or even a wedding. On the other hand, there are many kinds of people required in the operation of a hotel: waiters, chefs, cleaners, engineers, gardeners, managers and so on. They work together to provide the best service to the guests. And with a hotel being the first place a visitor is welcomed into in a new city, it is the city’s reception hall, in which anyone can see the development of the city, and the prosperity is reflected in all aspects of the hotel.

Before the opening of the Garden Hotel, Harmen was the Department Manager of the Hotel Okura Amsterdam in the Netherlands. In 1989, the Okura Hotel Group decided to open a hotel in Shanghai, which required employees familiar with the business to participate in the initial preparation and operation of the hotel. Harmen, who was full of curiosity about China, volunteered to take the job. “I packed my suitcase and I came. I never look back because I think it was the right decision to come to China. Especially Shanghai is such an international city. I was looking forward to participating and contributing, to share my knowledge and my experience in hotel management with this new destination.”

(Harmen Dubbelaar greeted former French president François Hollande on May 26, 2018.)

During the eight years from 1989 to the end of 1997, he played a very important role in the hotel’s successful reception of foreign governments and business dignitaries under the guidance of the Foreign Affairs Office of the Shanghai Municipal People's Government. Those important people he has received include Kofi Atta Annan, the former Secretary General of the United Nations, George Walker Bush, the former president of the United States, Jacques René Chirac, the former president of France, and Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft.

At the same time, Mr. Dubbelaar has made careful preparations for the International Business Leaders' Advisory Council for the Mayor of Shanghai, which was held at the Garden Hotel in 1991. As a foreign expert, he has made great contributions to the hotel and the city’s tourism industry. Hence, the Shanghai Tourism Bureau gave him the 1992 “Advanced Worker” award for Shanghai Tourism Hotels in 1993. In 1995, the Garden Hotel was selected as one of the top 100 hotels in the world by the “Institutional Investors” magazine. In addition, during the first China International Import Expo (CIIE) in 2018, he led the Garden Hotel to actively cooperate with the Shanghai government and successfully received the delegation led by Italian Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio.

In Harman's view, the Garden Hotel represents not only a hotel but also the image of Shanghai in terms of foreign affairs reception. Just as Huangpu District is a “window” for the world to know Shanghai, the Garden Hotel is like the city’s “reception hall”. Hotels often comprise the guests’ first impression of a city, so the Garden Hotel hopes to show the international and charming Shanghai to the dignitaries of governments and international companies from all over the world with high-quality service.

A hotel is a reason to fall in love with a city

Just as many foreigners who come to Shanghai have the first impression of the city starting from the Garden Hotel, Harmen's own first impression of Shanghai also started from this hotel.

At the beginning of the Garden Hotel’s operation in 1990, Harmen, as an administrative assistant manager, was responsible for training new employees, teaching interns English, and managing the daily operation of the hotel building. Even now, he still clearly remembers the warmth he felt when all the new employees lined up to greet him with a sign saying “Warmly Welcome Harmen Dubbelaar” held high, before he gave the first class to them. “I think it will never leave you if you are greeted with such warmth and excitement and smiles. It was a really special time. Really interesting for me. A very impressive welcome. So I always remember that, even today. And I have experienced many things in Shanghai and we have greeted many wonderful guests and special people. But that is still for me the most impressive memory.”

(On July 30, 2019, Harmen Dubbelaar sent sincere concern and sympathy to the hotel employees in extremely hot weather.)

It is precisely because of the Garden Hotel that he sees as a “home” that he has gradually developed a love for Shanghai. Between his first and second stay in this city, Harmen returned to his hometown Holland. “I studied more and I did different jobs in our business. So I acquired new knowledge. With that new knowledge I had a desire to go back to China. You never disconnect with China once you fall in love with a special city like Shanghai.” Therefore, when the management group of the Okura Garden Hotel in Japan wanted to send him to China for work again, he didn’t even hesitate to say that the city he most wanted to go to was Shanghai.

Harmen thinks he was lucky to come to China 30 years ago. Because the large passage of time from his first period here has let him see the development of Shanghai, and the development of China at large. Through the window on the 33rd floor of the hotel, he witnessed the construction of the Shanghai Expressway, the increase of taxis and private cars on the road, and the opening of the first subway line in Shanghai. He feels the same as every Shanghainese who has experienced these changes. At the same time, as he has worked in the Garden Hotel, the city’s “reception hall", he has also perceived the changes of the city from another perspective: compared with 30 years ago, more and more domestic guests also choose the Garden Hotel. Today, the domestic market in China is as important as the overseas market for the Garden Hotel. This epitomizes the economic development of the city and the country.

(Harmen Dubbelaar is awarded the 2019 Magnolia Silver Award in Shanghai.)

In his rare spare time, Harmen likes to take the subway to the outskirts of Shanghai, to find traditional Chinese food, to experience the new shopping malls, and to explore more aspects of Shanghai. But the starting point of all this is the Garden Hotel, which seems to be more like a home than a place to work for Harmen. He feels that the Magnolia Award given to him by Shanghai is not only a recognition of him by the city, but also a recognition of all the staff of the hotel. So this is a prize which makes them all proud.

(Team Garden Hotel poses for a photo. Its slogan for the upcoming celebration activity is “Staying true to the original aspiration, together with the Magnolia Award, we run for the future.”)