Carlos Monterde: Turning Moments into Memories

Bearing the legendary Fairmont philosophy here in Jakarta for the first time, Fairmont General Manager Carlos Monterde approaches his responsibilities with humility, passion and unyielding devotion.

Q: With 2015 just around the corner, you must be pretty busy preparing everything for the opening. In your personal opinion, how important are these early stages of development towards the long-term operations of Fairmont Jakarta?

A: We are probably the first hotel in Indonesia to open on time. Not just in Indonesia, hotel openings get delayed all the time due to a lot of factors. However, when I joined this project around eight months ago, the opening date was already set for 21st January, 2015. A lot of things in the project have been changed, but the planned opening date remains, thankfully, unchanged. So yes, obviously we are extremely busy, but everything is going very well and according to plan.

These early phases are crucial to the success of the hotel. The pre-opening is when the standards are set. When you have the right fundamental basics in place, the rest will fall into place. It is important to do it right straight away. We have all the right ingredients. The right timing, the right construction, the right team and people on board so this is all coming together nicely.

Q: The hotel already looks phenomenal from the outside, and a lot of your future esteemed guests are very hyped up and excited about the opening. How important is it to live up to and even exceed these expectations?

A: Expectations represent how highly our customers think of us, and this is very important. It is true that expectations are high due to our high-profile location, and one of the ways to measure a successful opening will be by looking at how well we can meet—and exceed—expectations that people have for us, and we are completely prepared to deliver. We have excellent products; we’re going to have great restaurants and spa, fantastic rooms, but most importantly a fantastic team of people because they’re the ones who have to deliver the services, so when we put all this together it’s going to work very well.

Q: How do you take the legendary Fairmont tradition and values that are easily well over a century old and integrate them into the growing luxury hospitality scene of a city like Jakarta? I mean, it sounds like a very challenging task.

A: Our objective as a company is to turn moments into memories for our guests. In order do this, two parts are needed. Of course, this pertains to being nice, passionate, serving from the heart, and we are focusing a lot on these aspects as we make sure that every person we recruit into the team has these characteristics and an innate ability to deliver excellent service. However, as much as this is extremely important, we need to have a good structure, or system, as well. If you work with your heart but without your brain, of course it’s not going to work. So what we’re looking for is a combination of service from the heart governed by an excellent system in order to turn moments into memories for our guests. This is the key aspect that we’re perfecting right now—making sure we have the combination just right.

Looking at tradition, Fairmont’s first hotel started operating over 130 years ago. In fact, our opening date is just a few days after the 130th anniversary of the first hotel’s opening. However, the vision of the company, as I’ve mentioned, remains the same today with the vision of the original founders, that is to offer the best that hospitality has to offer. The company has evolved and we now find ourselves being a very modern, young and dynamic company that fits perfectly with Jakarta, a very bustling, active, and rapidly developing city. This is how we feel about ourselves as a company. We feel very energized and in tune with the days and place. This is why, for me, it is exciting to be here in Jakarta and to humbly contribute in the city’s great history.

Q: Has the hotel started taking reservations? Do you mind sharing some details in terms of the initial volume and projected occupancy rate post-launch?

A: Yes, we have and it’s very good. We have reservations coming to the point that for the first week we have to put in certain limitations since we don’t want to be 100% full in the first days. The demand is higher than we were expecting and so we’ll have progressive growth of occupancy to make sure every guest can enjoy the best experience.

Q: Based on your personal observation, what is the current state of the luxury hospitality market here in Jakarta and how will any of it affect competition?

A: Business in Jakarta is good nowadays. If anything, I’ve noted that rates are low. At this point of time, the state of the industry is healthy. Plenty of good hotels to support demand, this will change because demand will grow and all these hotels will anticipate this growth further. I’m sure this means there will be important growth in the city.

As far as competition goes, I believe it will help keep us on our toes. With business growing, nobody will just sit idly by watching their competitors spring up and grow. We obviously will constantly try to come up with new ideas and innovations to stay on top and deliver the best for our guests. The fact that there are so many hotels coming up is a guarantee that existing hotels will continue to improve in terms of service quality and delivery.

Q: Care to tell us how you think the industry will look in ten years?

A: I remain positive. I think it will work just excellently for Indonesia. Without going into politics, I think the government now has very good intentions and will bring about positive progress for the country. In ten years, however, I don’t think the hospitality industry itself will change much. At the same time, it’s adapting to the times in terms of delivery, so these are all positive.

Q: Having lived in Asia for nearly two decades now, can you share your take on the region’s culture and how you get yourself to adapt each time you are relocated and better yourself through various experiences?

A: I came to Asia almost twenty years ago and I never left. There’s just something that I like about Southeast Asia in general that is very closely related to the core philosophy of Fairmont. One thing that I’ve discovered is that to be successful in any country and any culture, there are three golden rules you have to remember—and they are very closely linked to our hotel’s values: firstly, you have to always treat people with respect. This is particularly true as an expat and it applies to any part of the world. Secondly, you have to act with integrity. You are very much under constant scrutiny for being an expat. It is crucial to act with integrity to gain respect. Third, you have to be knowledgeable about what you do. You have to have something to offer in what you do.

Now, if you have these three, you can be successful wherever you are trying to work. For me, this, as well as the constant approach in perfectly applying the three golden rules, has been the valuable discovery so far. The journey has been really wonderful for me. In Indonesia, the warmth of the people, the sense of being nice to one another genuinely is very unique.

Q: In terms of F&B, what kind of culinary goodness can we expect from Fairmont Jakarta?

A: This is one of the more exciting areas that we’re working on. First of all we will open Spectrum. We’re going to have the widest variety of culinary excellence that you can find in Jakarta. We will have all sorts of attractions in the stations and a lot of live cooking. We have a great team of chefs right now who are actively working on that.

We’ll be opening more outlets in the weeks and months after the release. The next outlet to open will be our Italian deli with the name Sapori. It’s going to be with have more variety compared to the standard deli. We’ll also have a lot of food that you have in Italian restaurants, such as freshly made pastas and pizzas, light bites and sandwiches, so it’s going to be very nice, active and lively.

The jewel in the crown is going to be K22. This is really our bar/restaurant with fantastic terraces on level 22 where we’ll have the bar. K22 will be the most exquisite restaurant in the complex and here you’ll find some of the most sophisticated food that you’ll find in Jakarta served in modest portions, a kind of tapas style of serving with modern contemporary cuisines. It’s going to be an extremely exciting dining experience especially when we pair it with the amazing view of the city from the 22nd floor.

Aside from these three main venues, we’ll have Mont Bar, where we’ll have the largest selection of single malt whiskey brands in Jakarta. The bar will have a masculine touch where connoisseurs can enjoy their bourbon or cognac. On the other side of the lobby, we will have the Peacock Lounge. This venue sort of balances it out, offering light and fresh fare of a more high tea type offering.

There are also other outlets that we will have as tenants, such as a Japanese restaurant, a jazz bar, and a number of other dining venues to complement the culinary experience here at Fairmont.

Q: You have an extensive and impressive portfolio in the luxury hospitality industry. Do you mind sharing with us what drove you to pursue a career in this industry?

A: A friend talked to me about the hospitality industry in Spain. Before that I actually wanted to be a journalist at one point. Somehow the opportunity of working in hospitality just came along and I begin to enjoy travelling, speaking different languages, meeting new people, and frankly I started without knowing where tourism would take me. There is something about hotels that I like. The concept of having a really great house where you welcome people and try to get people to enjoy their stay and that they have a great time, this was a great cause to dedicate my life too. That’s what I continue to believe to this day. Our small roles are to make sure the guests have the best experience. Humbly speaking, we are here to serve people and make them happy and hopefully improve their lives from our little contribution.

Q: What is the perfect vacation for you?

A: For me, the perfect vacation is being in a five-star hotel with my daughters and my friends discovering new destinations while I’m doing triathlons. That’s a great way to do it for me. I do triathlons because it’s a perfectly balanced exercise for the body, and it’s great to do with friends. If you take away the social aspect it wouldn’t be as interesting to me. That’s my perfect vacation.