Out of the office: Shanghai

 In a new series of articles for AMBITION, we ask business leaders to share their experiences of working and staying in cities abroad. To kick things off, Benoît-Etienne Domenget is CEO of Sommet Education, gives some insight on the Chinese city of Shanghai

How do you get to Shanghai? Is there a hub airport nearby, good road and rail connections? 
I usually land from Zurich into Pudong International Airport after a night on the plane.
 
Is the city well-served by public transport and taxi services? Are there any interesting ways of getting around?
I try to walk as much as I can, but the size of the city doesn’t always allow it. Jumping in a Didi is the best way to make your way anytime in the city. Didi Chuxing is more than a cab company, it is a social phenomenon. Without a Chinese mobile phone, you will not be able to download the Didi app, the indispensable equivalent of Uber in China, but ask your local team for help. I just learnt that Didi’s president Jean Liu is the daughter of the Lenovo founder. What an entrepreneurial family.
 
Could you recommend any business hotels in Shanghai?
In vibrant Shanghai, there are hotels for every taste from traditional business hotels to new boutique hotels breaking the codes, combining Western and Oriental hospitality. The industry is growing rapidly in China and particularly in Shanghai, with new hotels opening on a regular basis, and I always enjoy being inspired by new properties and concepts. I am eager to discover a new iconic hotel currently in development by our local partner Jin Jiang International. The J-Hotel in the new Shanghai Tower will be the highest luxury hotel in the world with 258 rooms between floors 84 and 110. I also like to stay in the Xintiandi neighbourhood, a car-free district with a unique blend of historic and modern architecture.
 
What accommodation options are there for those travelling on a shoestring?
Shanghai has accommodations to suit every budget and big-name hotel brands can be much more affordable here compared to Western markets.
 
Could you suggest any shared working venues for business visitors or coffee shops where they could catch up on paperwork?
To catch-up with calls and emails, I tend to look for efficiency, good WIFI and cappuccino: I must confess that I usually frequent coffee or tea shops of large international and national brand networks.
 
What are some of the industries associated with Shanghai?
As one of China’s major economic and financial centres, Shanghai has become a tourism hub for both domestic and foreign travellers, which explains the booming hospitality industry. This has created a strong demand for qualified hospitality professionals and led us to establish our Les Roches Shanghai campus in 2004, in partnership with Jin Jiang International, and prepare local hospitality managers to support the industry growth.

Other growth sectors such as luxury, finance and high-end retail are also eager to recruit our students for their soft-skills and international business acumen. There are over 600 registered alumni in Shanghai working in a wide range of sectors that depend on the ‘savoir-être’ of our students to elevate their customer experience.

What interesting businesses and organisations are based in Shanghai?
Shanghai is one of the world’s main business centres with one of the busiest container ports, China’s largest stock exchange, and more recently a ground for start-up companies capitalising on the internet economy. Of course, amid the open business climate and the significant shift towards a services and skills-based economy, education has become a high priority throughout China and for all families. Especially in Shanghai where the rise of the hospitality sector has created a need for highly-skilled managers and leaders in the field.
 
Are there any major business events or conferences taking place in Shanghai over the coming year?
One of the major events in our industry is the International Luxury Travel Market and China Education Expo-Shanghai which are both taking place in late October. These events, held every year, bring together brands from all over the world with key Chinese actors.
 
Could you recommend a venue for a lunch meeting in Shanghai?
I try not to eat international food while in Shanghai and focus on discovering the variety of Chinese food that you can all find in the city. Shanghai is a culinary destination in itself enabling you to discover delicacies from all China.
 
Where would you recommend holding a client dinner?
Maison Lameloise, a 3-star Michelin restaurant in Burgundy by Chef Eric Pras has just opened a branch on the 68th floor of Shanghai Tower. The restaurant is managed by Pierre Lafargue, an alumnus of our Glion institution. A more casual option is the Mercato concept by French chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten. Here Anna Müller runs the show, a graduate of Les Roches Jin Jiang.
 
Where could visitors have drinks with colleagues after a day of meetings in Shanghai?
A rooftop bar is always a good choice and Shanghai offers a range of lounges on its many skyscrapers. Bar Rouge also sets the standard for Bundnightlife with its terrace view.
 
Are there any challenging aspects or downsides to Hannover for business travellers that should be taken into account??
As in any metropolis there can be bad traffic during peak hours, but I usually enjoy walking in between meetings. You can easily walk in Shanghai which becomes quite rare in large cities.
 
Tell us a bit about Shanghai’s unmissable attractions.
Shanghai’s Bund along the Huangpu River never fails to impress, especially at night with breath-taking views of the futuristic and constantly evolving Pudong skyline. I would also recommend exploring the new Aman Resort in the peaceful sanctuary of Amanyangyun, set amid a relocated camphor forest just outside downtown Shanghai. It is an example of a new hotel concept reconnecting with ancient Chinese heritage.
 
Can you give some insider information about some hidden treasures outside the tourist haunts? 
The French Concession is like a living museum, with historic buildings dating from the turn of the century. Shanghai has one of the highest densities of art deco buildings in the world and was known as the ‘Paris of the East’ in the 1920s.
 
Are there any unmissable activities business travellers should incorporate into their visit? 
Make sure to try some local food. Shanghai has excellent international options, but in addition there is a whole world of local cuisine that’s worth exploring as well.
 
Is there any local dishes that are worth a try? 
Xiaolongbao or soup dumplings are a regional specialty and an experience not to be missed. Stalls are at every street corner in Shanghai and dumplings come in a range of shapes and flavours.
 
What do you love about Shanghai?
Shanghai is a city of stark contrast, combining Oriental tradition to futuristic modernity. I enjoy the dynamism and creativity of its hospitality sector, especially the next generation of hotels that providing the latest technology and amenities, while reconnecting with Chinese heritage and tradition.
 
Why would you recommend Shanghai as a place to do business?
The Chinese market is of growing importance for any industry and Shanghai is its multicultural hub. In terms of hospitality education, we were pioneers when we partnered with Jin Jiang International to establish Les Roches Jin Jiang International Hotel Management College, in 2004.
 
Today, we offer undergraduate and postgraduate diploma programmes in international hospitality management in a multicultural environment with students from all over the world.

Benoît-Etienne Domenget is CEO of Sommet Education, encompassing the prestigious Swiss hospitality management schools Glion Institute of Higher Education and Les Roches Global Hospitality Education with campuses in Switzerland, the UK, Spain and China. Les Roches Jin Jiang International Hotel Management College is in Shanghai.