Behind the scenes at the opening of the world’s largest Sheraton hotel in Macau.
WHAT does it take to open the world’s biggest Sheraton hotel? A battalion of 1,500 employees. And that’s just for starters.
Split into two tower blocks, the 3,863-room property Sheraton Macao Hotel, Cotai Central, chalked up several firsts when it opened in September in the Macau Special Administrative Region (SAR). Besides emerging as Macau’s biggest hotel, it’s also the world’s largest Sheraton property; and its opening notched a historic milestone to mark the Sheraton brand’s 75th anniversary this year.
Owned by resort developer Las Vegas Sands Corp, the Sheraton Macao Hotel is located within Sands Cotai Central, a sprawling complex filled with high-end retailers, diverse dining venues, and world-class entertainment, all under one roof.
All hands on deck
According to Josef Dolp, managing director of Sheraton Macao Hotel, “It has been a remarkably huge undertaking to create the world’s largest Sheraton – a real labour of love.”
The Austrian, who has handled numerous hotel openings in the past two decades for Sheraton, was appointed to head Sheraton Macao two years ago. Hitting the ground running from day one, Dolp quickly gathered his own formidable and vastly experienced management team in preparation for the grand opening.
Dolp recalls that they travelled nearly 16,000km (equivalent to 355 marathons!) to host several job fairs that attracted over 10,000 applications and personally interviewed over 5,000 associates and managers.
“Our current staff force of 1,500 comprises 21 nationalities who speak 19 languages: Mandarin, Cantonese, English, German, French, Italian, Vietnamese, Thai, Taiwanese, Japanese, Korean, Spanish, Mexican, Portuguese, Dutch, Swedish, Russian, and Indonesian as well as other regional Chinese dialects,” he says during an interview before the hotel’s grand opening.
Since both the Sheraton Macao and The Venetian belong to Sands, the two properties work closely to streamline and leverage certain operational aspects, such as security, gardening and even accounting.
Dolp says: “The whole idea is to enable our guests to enjoy our integrated services at both properties, especially for dine-in options. We even have a shared nursery that stores all the plants, flowers and trees required for both hotels; it’s the size of seven golf courses!”
To train the new Sheraton Macao associates to cope with the high volume of guest arrivals, Dolp revealed that they conducted a massive two-week simulation in two separate phases where 10,000 “guests” checked in and out.
“From valet parking and guest check-in to housekeeping and food service, the simulation involved every employee at every level,” he says. “The exercise enabled our new associates to deal with real-life scenarios that pushed them to the limit; to help them identify issues and problems, and develop solutions for the second wave of guest arrivals. We want them to be comfortable with the uncomfortable. Practice makes perfect when it comes to delivering exceptional experiences for actual Sheraton Macao Hotel guests.”
The Malaysian connection
There are 30 associates from Malaysia working in this huge hotel complex. Chief among them is director of housekeeping Koo May Li who heads 427 associates in ensuring every nook and corner of the massive hotel is kept spick and span 24/7.
Giving me a sneak peek into the cavernous back-of-the-house areas that included the staff cafeteria and recreational lounges, an on-premise convenience store, laundry collection room and linen store (usually off-limits to outsiders), Koo highlights that folding and placing 35,217 plush towels and 27,000 bathrobes into guest bathrooms and closets are all in a day’s work for her housekeeping team.
Koo continues: “We make up 6,256 plush Sheraton Sweet Sleeper beds using 9,372 perfectly folded bed sheets and deluxe duvets, and fluff up 15,652 feather down and hypoallergenic pillows per day. The weight of the duvets alone is 14,818kg or about 15 tonnes of feathers, so housekeeping associates really need to be physically fit for the job. That’s why we all do some warm-up exercises at the start of each shift; a preventive measure to protect against back and arm injuries caused by strenuous, heavy lifting.”
When the majority of the hotel guests vacate their rooms at noon and new arrivals clamour to check in before 3pm each day, the housekeeping team has to work quickly and efficiently to ensure a huge bulk of the empty rooms are returned to pristine order.
“Each associate would clean an average of 12 guestrooms on an eight-hour shift. It takes 30 to 45 minutes to dust, wipe and clean a room depending on the state it’s in. Inexperienced staff may take more time to finish the task or if the vacated room is overly messy,” says Koo.
Another Malaysian in the team is Halim Mohamad, executive sous chef of Sheraton’s all-day dining outlet, Feast. As part of the Sheraton’s opening task force who travels around the region to assist in hotel openings, Halim and his fellow chefs stay true to the outlet’s name by conjuring up endless feasts of Asian, Portuguese and Macanese specialities that excite the senses throughout the day. The good-natured chef even found time to surprise us with nasi lemak as part of our buffet breakfast on subsequent mornings.
The central figure who looms large in the food and beverage division here is none other than culinary director David King. Previously The Westin Kuala Lumpur’s director of kitchens, the “larger than life” King joined Sheraton Macao a year ago.
His greatest challenge was to get Xin – the hotel’s and Macau’s first Asian hotpot and seafood restaurant – up and running months ahead of the Sheraton Macao’s actual grand opening. “I had 10 months to prepare for the hotel opening but only two weeks for the restaurant opening.”
On top of that, King had to work out a massive food and beverage shopping list in preparation for the 1,200-guest opening gala dinner. This alone took him four months to finalise and his order for 800kg wagyu beef tenderloin, 700kg black cod fillet, 500kg ocean trout, 300kg smoked duck breast, 500kg sweet potatoes, 2,000 young coconuts, 2,000 punnets of micro greens, 800 avocados, 500 punnets cherry tomatoes, 60 cases of tomato juice and 40kg goat’s cheese finally went through to suppliers.
Despite surviving on four hours’ sleep nightly, King stoically took everything in his stride; from supervising his kitchen brigade of 340 based in eight satellite kitchens to dealing with invited guests’ special dietary needs. Some divisions such as bakery, pastry, in-room dining and stewarding also worked around the clock but when it came to the crunch, King’s well-orchestrated culinary team gamely rose to the occasion.
As the grand opening’s designated hour inched closer, hotel manager Brian Tong and his associates also had their hands full, making sure the Sheraton Macao exterior and public areas were well-lit by each of the 90,796 light bulbs installed throughout the humongous building.
“That’s about 4.5 times more than the total number of bulbs needed to light up the Eiffel Tower!” said Tong as he surveyed the long tables laden with customary prayer offerings and a row of “lion” heads facing the ceremonial set-up in readiness for the hotel opening outside at the red-carpeted main entrance.
It was also the designated spot where a troupe of specially flown-in Hawaiian hula-hula dancers welcomed VVIP guests – Sheldon G. Alderson, chairman of Las Vegas Sands Corp, Frits van Paasschen, president and CEO of Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide International and superstar actress Zhang Ziyi – to the grand event.
The evening reached its momentous peak when an aerial artiste suspended beneath a giant hot air balloon rose high into the sky and proceeded to set the logos of Sands Cotai Central and Sheraton Macao bursting into flames. As spectacular pyrotechnics darted, swirled and shot across the night sky above the Cotai Strip, it was truly a befitting show for a triple celebration in Macau: the Cotai Strip’s fifth anniversary, Sheraton’s 75th anniversary and the grand opening of the world’s largest Sheraton hotel.
> Sheraton Macao is the largest property ever opened in this decade under Starwood.
> Sheraton’s Shine Spa – the largest in Asia Pacific – offers unique Chinese zodiac-inspired spa treatments and Feng Shui balancing principles.
> 160 rooms that adhere to the American Disability Act standards are available to cater to wheelchair-bound or physically disabled guests. Each room features lower-height bed, a call bell, accessible light switches and electrical sockets, grab bars in the bath and toilet.
> Sheraton Fitness has teamed up with Core Performance (America’s leading corporate wellness provider) to conceptualise its state-of- the-art gym coupled with holistic, personalised fitness programmes for guests. Sheraton Fitness’ gym-in-a-bag kit by Core Performance is also available to guests who prefer to work out in the comfort and privacy of their own rooms.
SHERATON MACAO HOTEL Cotai Strip Taipa Macau SAR Tel: (853) 2880 2000 www.sheraton.com/ma cao