PortfolioThe Bentley Suite at the St. Regis New York
New York, New York, USA
Is there any redeeming value to having a weak US dollar? Indeed. It is one of the contributing factors to US hotels being able to weather all the talk of a recession.
According to a report released today by Ernst & Young's Global Real Estate Center, "the continued weakness of the dollar is producing multiple beneficial effects on the US hotel market.”
Now, when America sneezes, the rest of the world goes shopping. The US is a bargain for those arriving from overseas. According to the US Department of Commerce, international visitor spending is up 13 percent from a year ago. Guests are spending more, staying longer, and upgrading to more expensive accommodations.
In addition to hotels rooms seeming like a good deal to inbound visitors, hotels themselves are looking attractive to foreign investors. The influx of foreign capital further strengthens the US hospitality industry.
A weak dollar also means strong domestic travel. According to research conducted by Ypartnership, while US consumers may be concerned about the economy, they consider vacations a birthright and are not planning to cancel their leisure getaway plans. What they are doing, however, is vacationing closer to home, where their dollars go farther.
So the weak storm clouds have a strong silver lining.
Image one - a view from the site to the nearby Nile City Three office and hotel complex.
Image two - climbing onto the roof of an adjacent building to get a sense of the views to be had from the future guestrooms.
Photo by Jin Koyama.
Staff members from London, Seattle, and Irvine met in the Ukraine for a design and branding charrette for a mixed-use master planning development.
Recently I visited two regions of China that were in stark contrast to one another. The skies over a site in Jiangsu province were thick with pollution so intense that my sinuses burned and if I had wished to, I could have safely stared directly at the sun. The otherwise beautiful parks and lake outside the city were spoiled by this oppressive environment and it required faith in a less polluted future to envision a world-class resort in this region. Three days later, on the Southern coast of Hainan Island, I was standing on a beautiful, unspoiled beach and resort hotel site which was probably the best I have ever seen. I dismissed the haze over the South China Sea as an atmospheric effect.
The contrast caused me to think about recent publications and projections regarding both China’s growth in economy and tourism.
From a recent New York Times article, China is projected to surpass the United States as the number one greenhouse gas emitting nation in the world. Of 560 million urban inhabitants of China, only one percent is breathing air considered safe by the European Union. Thirty percent of China’s water from lakes and rivers has tested unsafe for use by industry and agriculture. 500 million people are said to lack access to safe drinking water. Pollution is reported to have elevated cancer to the number one source of premature death in China, and it is estimated by the World Health Organization that 750,000 people die from pollution-related deaths each year.
However, according to the World Tourism Organization, China is projected to overtake France as the number one tourist destination in the world by 2014. This year tourism is expected to generate US$78 billion (2.5 percent of China’s GDP) and perhaps as much as US$277 billion by 2017. There are compelling reasons for this to occur. China’s natural beauty is widespread. It has a rich history and culture, and an excellent variety of regional foods. It is also viewed as reasonably priced and safe.
Still, I have my doubts that China can achieve the projected growth as an international tourist destination without overhauling its industries to reduce pollution. The Olympics has brought added attention to China’s pollution, and short term measures are being taken to ensure the athletes’ health as well as to portray China favorably. China’s government is also taking meaningful and long term steps to improve its environment. But it must do so, while satisfying its population’s expectations for a higher standard of living. Compromises may lead to continued worsening conditions.
WATG’s design of hotels and destinations is an opportunity to put China, its leaders and people in the best light. The developers I have spoken with are keenly interested in green practices. The destinations that we create can become models for other developments to follow and help establish standards and law. We are aligning our values and practices with the needs and goals of a country and its visitors. If China does reach US277$ billion in tourism by 2017, tourism will be a part of a more balanced economy, a success for China and the world.
Taihu Lake in Jiangsu province
Hainan Island, South China Sea
Stacy Lezaja talks about the opportunities and challenges she faces in her role as vice president and director of human resources at a global design firm.
When did you first start at WATG, and how many employees did the company have at that point?
I started at WATG in February 1999, and at the end of the year we had a firm-wide total of 170 employees. The industry was recovering from the recession of the early 1990’s. WATG’s only service line at the time was architecture, so our talent needs fluctuated around the architectural projects we acquired. However, in 1998, the board of directors set a new vision for the firm ensuring diversification of services and a restructuring of the organization. For example, a corporate structure was formed which included a centralized corporate HR department. My main responsibility upon starting was consolidating all office employee information, utilizing a human resources database, composing policies, procedures, etc.
The last few years has seen an unbelievably tight labor market. What has been your most successful recruiting tool?
Our most successful recruiting tool to date is our employee referrals. We also track the retention rate of our recruiting sources and year after year, our retention rate on those hires brought in by our own people is the highest this firm has seen in 60+ years. This is a huge milestone for WATG. The message is, we are doing something right; it is obvious our culture, the people, the projects and work environment are attractive and motivating to our current people. This inspires them to seek out family, friends and former colleagues to work alongside them. And who better to market this than those who are experiencing it firsthand? This is the best compliment a company can receive.
What is the most challenging position at WATG to fill?
Our most challenging positions to fill are senior positions in design and management. WATG’s craft has been perfected over 60+ years, and in most cases those in senior positions at other firms are asked to come to WATG at a level below to ensure better integration and understanding of our processes. This may not be an understandable strategy to most, but this helps ensure the newly hired senior person is successful for the long term. Therefore, it is challenging to find the right person with the right talent that understands why this is so critical not only to their success but to WATG’s overall success.
What is the most challenging part of your job?
Challenges…I’ve always thought of them as opportunities to learn something new and different. There have been many opportunities. Some that are top of mind: setting HR strategy for a global firm; developing our talent and leadership capabilities [our people] in a manner that ensures the sustainability of the firm over the 60 years; ensuring we keep in mind there are 443 livelihoods that depend on us getting it right; ensuring there is perceived equity and value across all offices and at the individual level.
Provided with a window of a few hours before their return flight, a group of designers from Seattle took a detour to the Louis Kahn-designed Salk Institute to take in the sunset. The day-long visit to San Diego was a field study of the Four Seasons Aviara, a WATG project, at the request of a client looking for a similar architectural quality for his project.
Photo by Patrick Kruger
For some months I have been trying to grapple with what the sparkling new WATG brand means to me, and us as a firm.
Sometimes these things are better viewed from the outside. On a recent charrette to India with a colleague (Lisya Sullam) from the London office, a co-consultant managed to elucidate it particularly well for me.
He said that we (Lisya and I) represent a new generation of design professionals who, from their extensive experience of (and exposure to) the new world within which we live, are experts in the aspirations and needs of fast developing economies and the desires which motivate the upwardly mobile individuals of the new global civilization. Young design professionals, due to their collective coming-of-professional-age in this global economy, are more sensitive to world trends and can thus articulate them to clients in a way that's never been done before.
John Goldwyn working on one of his many charrettes.
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