These are not the best of times to be managing a
five-star hotel in Kuala Lumpur, a city that is still
trying to find its feet in the aftermath of September 11.
For Michael Cottan though, who arrived in Malaysia?s
capital city in January to lead the Shangri-La Kuala Lumpur
as its general manager and area manager for West Malaysia,
it is a challenge he is prepared to meet head on.. Corinne
Wan finds out what Cottan has up his sleeve.
1 March 2002
It was the seventh day of the Chinese New Year or "yang
yat" (everybody's birthday) when this reporter met Cottan.
He had to excuse himself for a "loh hei" at a "yue shang"
(raw fish) lunch with his management staff. As all
true-blue Chinese will attest, "loh hei" (Cantonese for
"mix and rise") is a must if one wants to be blessed with
good luck and good fortune in the year ahead. The higher
you toss the raw fish, the greater your fortune will
Obviously, Cottan's three-year stint in China has taught
him well in the ways of the Chinese. And luck and fortune
is probably what he needs in Kuala Lumpur.
Fresh from his stint as general manager of Pudong
Shangri-La in Shanghai and area manager of South China,
Cottan's main mission is to "make Shangri-La Kuala Lumpur
the number one hotel in the city".
When asked whether Shangri-La has slipped as Kuala
Lumpur's leading hotel, Cottan said, "The proof of the
pudding is in the eating. In people's terms, we are still
number one, but we cannot be complacent as new properties
are coming up. A hotel is not just 'bricks and mortar' but
Primarily, a hotel needs to be proud of its position,
Cottan says. "Occupancy and room rates are by-products of
good service and that's where the profits come from. The
way to get there (be profitable) is through service."
Cottan counts himself fortunate in that the Shangri-La
is already known for its good service.
"The natural hospitality comes from the hotel's core
group of 700-odd staff. The rest is in the hiring process.
We will employ people with the right attitude, teach them
the skills and combine them with intensive training. We'll
be spending a lot of time in training. I am a big believer
Another factor in Cottan's favour is the major
re-imaging programme the hotel is undertaking. The
estimated RM100 million (US$26.32 million) exercise sees
almost the entire hotel given a new look. The number of
Horizon Floors will be increased to five from three, with a
total of 107 rooms.
The exercise is expected to be completed this month.
"There is a lot of excitement among the staff as it's
like waiting for a new hotel to emerge without actually
opening a new one. This 'new' product will definitely give
us a competitive edge."
Cottan disagreed that such a massive renovation could be
considered extravagant in the current business climate.
"It's good timing to carry out the renovations to get
the product in its proper standing. We will be ready when
the good times return. Moreover, the decision (to renovate)
was made before 911."
Cottan said that business and leisure traffic has
dropped from the US and Europe markets. "We're not so tied
up with the US markets; we're more concerned with the
European market. It's not just the issue of customers
avoiding this region; rather it's airlines pulling out. For
example, the pullout of British Airways from Malaysia has
hurt us a bit.'
About 22 percent of its business mix is from Europe and
12 per cent from the US.
On the positive side, 911 has opened up the hotel to new
shorter haul markets such as the Middle East. Shangri-La
Kuala Lumpur will join its counterparts in the group on a
roadshow to the Middle East after ITB in March. To shore up
its European markets, the hotel will intensify its
participation in key European events.
On lessons learned from 911, Cottan said, "Never
underestimate the security situation. As a public
establishment, we have a high responsibility for the safety
of clients. Most companies also learned how fragile
business is. We have to re-emphasise where we are and how
small the world is and how quickly we can be exposed to
About 70 percent of the hotel's mix is from the
corporate sector. As this segment has also been badly
affected, it will make a slight shift to concentrate on
leisure traffic. For this, it will look to the Middle East,
Australia and Asian countries such as Hong Kong and
Another area Cottan is looking at is the meetings
segment. Having worked in Shanghai for three years, he
witnessed the city's swift transformation into a MICE
"We can learn from Shanghai and bring some MICE business
to Malaysia, specifically to Kuala Lumpur. I plan to work
more closely with other hotels in the city to nurture the
Cottan believes there will be no significant increase in
rates until year end in Kuala Lumpur. "The whole city will
then move towards a rate increase. This is based on the
current high occupancy in January and February of around 70
percent, which is good by regional standards."
One potential glitch could be the opening of the Westin
Kuala Lumpur later this year, which could put pressure on
Of course, at the end of the day, it is still the man at
the helm and his working philosophy that will make the
product stand out in a city full of deluxe properties.
"I run a hotel with heart. I spend a lot of time with
the various departments, talk to the staff to break down
barriers, foster good internal customer relations as this
will then extend out to our external customers. People make
the product and it's all about teamwork and communication."
Cottan also describes himself as a believer in changes. "I
am not afraid of upsetting the status quo and breaking the
Changes he's now planning will involve a re-imaging of
the hotel as well as changing its style.
"For the Shangri-La Kuala Lumpur, the F&B outlets
will become the 'shop window' of the hotel.
"This has never been the approach of Shangri-La hotels
and they have not been known for their restaurant concepts.
The whole hotel will be different in looks and feel. We
will give it more flair and make it the 'happening hotel'
in its F&B concepts."
For example, the award winning Restaurant Lafite will be
given a whole new look. Top designer Adam Tihany, the man
behind the successful creation of Le Cirque and Spago, has
been brought in to remodel the restaurant, making it more
stylish and contemporary.
Changes will be in a walk-in cigar humidor and a
dedicated wine-tasting room.
"Each F&B outlet will offer our guests something
different and contemporary, for the avante garde as well as
for traditional diners."
Cottan is confident the new image and style will stand
the hotel in good stead in such trying times. This
confidence is boosted by healthy forward bookings.
"We're full in March due to strong bookings for the
Formula 1 Grand Prix and as the host hotel for the
conference of the Society of Petroleum Executives."