Wed, Jun 24, 2009 - Page 14 News List

Everywhere man

Hailed as the ‘godfather’ of Taiwan’s hotel industry, Stanley Yen sees the country’s culture and lifestyle as its most valuable asset

By Noah Buchan  /  STAFF REPORTER

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Scheduling a time to interview Stanley Yen (嚴長壽) was no simple task. The Landis Hotels and Resorts Group president had a packed schedule promoting Taiwan at conferences overseas and showing off the country’s eastern region to groups of diplomats, among other things.

Hailed as the “godfather of Taiwan’s hotel industry” (飯店教父), Yen, 62, has one of the most recognizable and respected faces in the country’s tourism sector. He began his career as an errand boy for American Express in 1971 and quickly moved up the ranks to become its general manager in Taiwan at the age of 28. Four years later he left that position to work in Taiwan’s flourishing hospitality industry. He is now Group President of Landis Hotels and Resorts and President of the Landis Hotel, Taipei.

But he is not just a hotel manager. By his own account, Yen is a member of roughly 20 foundations — including the Taiwan Visitors Association (台灣觀光協會), where he is honorary chairman, and Taiwan’s International Travel Fair — and is on the board of directors for two hospitals.

He has published four books including From Messenger to Manager (總裁獅子心), a rags-to-riches tale peppered with managerial tips that has sold more than 500,000 copies. His most recent work, Be an Angel to Oneself and Others (做自己與別人生命中的天使), calls for Taiwan’s younger generations to have faith in themselves.

It’s only to be expected that the stacks of books and knickknacks in his spacious office have been culled from all over Taiwan. Taipei Times reporter Noah Buchan sat down with Yen to discuss the innumerous trips around Taiwan that resulted in this impressive collection of souvenirs, his rise through the ranks of the hospitality industry, the state of tourism in Taiwan, and the country’s youth.

Taipei Times: The last time we spoke [December 2008] you were on the way to Ilan — or you were promoting the east coast of the island. A few weeks ago you were down in Pingtung.

Stanley Yen: I’m virtually everywhere, almost every county, talking to every mayor — all my weekends are used. The weekend before this I was in Singapore and Malaysia and the weekend before that I was in Hualien.

TT: You seem to place a lot of emphasis on Taiwan’s east coast.

SY: I’m fighting against time. I’ve seen some very greedy developers trying to force the government to build a highway to go across the tunnel bridge. Out of 87km they are going to destroy a lot of the environment and sensitive areas. I’d rather we have enough traffic, but what we also need is for people not to go there for just one day. They should go there and stay longer.

[President] Ma [Ying-jeou (馬英九)] joined part of the program. It was very positive and all the diplomats were very touched because they saw things that they ordinarily wouldn’t see — not just the scenery but also the people: the artists, the outstanding singers, carvers, dancers. The lifestyle … But our travel agents and our government still separate tourism and culture without understanding the true value.

TT: What do you mean by true value?

SY: First of all, before you know your customer, you have to know yourself. What is Taiwan’s strength? I think that culture is the most important value in this country.

TT: How would you characterize Taiwan’s tourism scene?

SY: I divide tourism into three phases.

The first is what I call, “riding the horse and admiring flowers” (走馬看花). You are riding on a horse and you take the quickest time to see the flowers. So people will go to Sun Moon Lake (日月潭), Alishan (阿里山) — you know, a quick trip. This happened 30 years ago when people from Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia came to Taiwan. At that time they would go on a seven-, eight- or nine-day tour and cover every major city and then disappear. And now China does the same thing. They will go to any destination they’ve heard about.

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