The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan


January 2014

The Westin Tokyo:
An oasis in the heart of the city

Custom Media

The deep red leaves of the Japanese maple trees have become a carpet for the garden.

The gnarled and twisted trunk of a pine tree stretches out over a pond, where a golden-hued fish flicks its tail. Scents from the herb garden are discernible on the breeze as crystal water bubbles over the waterfall.

It is a setting more reminiscent of a traditional garden in the grounds of a Kyoto temple, but the Westin Garden has been brought to maturity in a matter of months. In the grounds of The Westin Tokyo, a short walk from the busy hub of Ebisu, it has quickly emerged as a natural oasis in the middle of the city.

And for Dietmar Kielnhofer, general manager of the hotel, it is one of the most relaxing and peaceful spots in Tokyo.

“We only opened the garden in April last year and already people can go there and find peace and serenity,” Kielnhofer told the ACCJ Journal.

“That area was previously an under-utilized part of our property and we wanted to make the best possible use of it because we are all day surrounded by concrete, steel, and glass with such little character.

“And it also fits with our location, away from the hustle and bustle of the Ginza or Marunouchi districts,” he said.

Designed by renowned landscape artist Kazuyuki Ishihara— who has won no fewer than five gold medals at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show—the garden covers nearly 500m2 to the south of the hotel and is overlooked by some of the property’s bars and lounges.

With a design based on the theme of “preserving wellness in travel,” the garden has become a popular venue for outdoor cocktail parties, weddings, or simply as a serene spot in which to relax and recharge.

And with his usual attention to detail, Ishihara planted firefly larvae at sheltered spots throughout the garden. The insects emerged in the evenings of the summer and lit up the landscape with their white and orange glow.

The Westin Garden may be the most visually dramatic new project that Kielnhofer and his team undertook in 2013, but with the hotel preparing to celebrate 20 years since it first opened its doors—in October 1994—he has big plans for the rest of the hotel.

“I was meant to take up this post in March 2011, but that was all changed by the earthquake earlier in that month,” he said. “Instead, I arrived in July. This means that I have been able to see Japan at one of its lowest points shortly after the disaster, and to compare that with today.

“The change has been dramatic,” said 51-year-old Kielnhofer, who is originally from a village close to Graz in Austria and was previously general manager of the Sheraton Saigon Hotel & Towers in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam for more than four years.

“We have benefited from Abenomics, the weak yen, and a definite improvement in consumer sentiment in the past 12 months or so,” he said. “But I must also give credit to our sales team for all the initiatives that we have introduced.

“It is safe to say that 2013 will have been the most successful year for The Westin Tokyo since the heady days of 2006 or 2007, both in terms of our overall commercial achievements and customer satisfaction,” he added.

westinPart of the Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Inc. group, The Westin Tokyo has 22-stories in which are 438 guest rooms (including 20 suites), five restaurants, two bars, and a lounge. Le Spa Parisien provides a European spa experience in a setting modeled on an exclusive apartment in the French capital; the 24-hour gym provides a workout tailored to all levels of performance; while the nine function rooms and meeting rooms meet the needs of any social or business occasion.

The property has also played a key part in the development of the Westin brand in the Asia–Pacific region, where there are more than 40 hotels today and a further 20 in development.

“Today, Tokyo is one of the most competitive cities in the world for the hotel industry—although it was not that way when we first opened here nearly 20 years ago,” he said. “Back then, there were only three of the major international players here, plus the big domestically driven hotels. But that landscape has changed dramatically in the past five years.

“But I feel that is a good thing as I’m a great believer in competition,” he said. “It is good for the consumer as he or she has more choices, but it is also good for us as it keeps us on our toes.

“Tokyo is a very quality driven market; people here want to try new things—cuisine, art, music—and they appreciate culture, so we have to thrive on competition by providing innovative new services and facilities,” he added.

This commitment to providing the finest in terms of dining facilities, entertainment, and accommodations will be underlined throughout the hotel’s 20th anniversary year.

“We have decided to celebrate throughout the year with lots of small events instead of one large event,” he explained.

Many of the occasions revolve around the hotel’s fine dining opportunities, featuring the cuisine of a number of countries, including Singapore, India, and Ireland. Dinners accompanied by the world’s most famous Champagnes—Krug, Bollinger, Roederer Cristal—are also on the schedule, along with sake-tasting events.

The crowning cultural event of the anniversary will take place in October, although Kielnhofer is playing his cards close to his chest as to precisely what it will entail. But he is certain it will appeal to all of the Westin’s patrons.

At present, most customers in the bars and restaurants are Japanese. But in the dark days after the March 2011 disasters, it was the loyal clients who supported the hotel as occupancy rates fell off steeply.

In addition, Japanese visitors account for 80 percent of room occupancy over weekends, although that figure declines on weekdays as more foreigners stay. The American market remains robust and important, Kielnhofer said, followed by visitors from Singapore, South Korea, and Europe—in particular, Britain and Germany.

The Westin also benefits from being close to several Tokyo offices of large multinational corporations, making it a convenient place to stay for visiting executives.

“From an occupancy standpoint, [2013 will have been] a record-breaking year,” he said, with a broad smile. “But now we have the expectation that [2014] will be even better.

It is up to us to continue to be extremely innovative, for our food and beverage operations to be consistently the best they can be, to continue to research what our customers want and then to give it to them.

“Knowing what people want is the secret of providing service that meets their needs,” he added. “I’m confident that we can continue to do that and that we are sufficiently agile and quick to adapt to changing circumstances.

“I would say that is what keeps us ahead of the competition,” he added. And that is where Kielnhofer intends for The Westin Tokyo to stay.

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