When the new general manager of the Grand Formosa Regent Taipei, Aurelio Giraudo, goes home after a typical 14-hour day on the job, it's a short walk to his living quarters inside the hotel. The proximity of the office to his home, while convenient, proves that the job is an all-encompassing, life-consuming one.
"This is not a job, it's a life. So you must have passion. Once it becomes work, you should stop doing it immediately," said the Swiss-Italian, who has spent almost two decades in Asia at the helm of some of the region's largest hotels and resorts.
Giraudo arrived in Taipei a little over a month ago and has been given the challenge of keeping the 539-room hotel among the top locations in Taipei's tight luxury- and business-hotel market.
He comes with the benefit of a lifetime spent in the hotel industry, including hotel management studies in Ireland, the US and Switzerland and stints at some of the world's most remote and glamorous destinations on four continents.
Giraudo has especially fond memories of Sun City in Botswana, a non-segregated enclave where the open atmosphere provided an outlet for visitors from nearby South African towns where apartheid was still in force. He described the carnivalesque town where he worked early in his career as "the Las Vegas of Africa."
From there, Giraudo moved on to manage hotels in the Middle East until he moved to Seoul in 1998 to open a luxury hotel in time for the city's Olympic Games.
Once in Asia, he said he found a region that was "full of challenges and with much work needing to be done."
By contrast, he said, in Europe the industry places a far lower emphasis on service and the experience of its workers means that a 100-room hotel can operate fluidly with 20 staff members. The prohibitively high costs of labor also figure in reducing the number of staff in Europe.
"In most places in Asia, a hotel of that size would require 200 workers. In some places 300. Right now in Taipei we have a staff-to-room ratio of about 1.7, which is pretty good, but we're aiming for a one-to-1.5 ratio," he said.
Having worked in many of the key markets in Asia, including Thailand, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Indonesia, Giraudo noted that in Taipei, the staff is "dedicated, forward-thinking and hard-working. This is why working in Asia is much more exciting than anywhere else."
Giraudo will now see through a new phase of development at the hotel, as it opens the Fashion Square in the public space in front of the hotel beside Zhongshan North Road, on Dec. 23. The site will be used for fashion shows by local and international designers and is part of the hotel's project to cast itself as being at the epicenter of Taipei's haute couture strip and fashion industry.
He will also oversee the hotel's 10 restaurants, an area where Giraudo sees keen competition right outside his doorstep. "One of the amazing aspects about Taipei that I've noticed in the short time I've been here is the huge number of restaurants in the city and the fact that they are all full. It seems not an exaggeration to say the national sport is eating. This is good," he said.
He will soon have plenty of opportunities to sample the local fare, while he settles into what he hopes will be a five- to 10-year stay in Taipei -- long enough so that his infant son will become acquainted with his Chinese roots (Giraudo's wife is Malaysian-Chinese).