Fri, Jul 25, 2008 - Page 2 News List

Chang vows to focus on halting hotel's losses

By Shelley Shan  /  STAFF REPORTER

The Grand Hotel (圓山大飯店) is scheduled to hold a board meeting today to confirm the appointment of Chang Shuo-lao (張學勞) as the hotel’s new chairman.

The hotel is managed by the Duen Mou Foundation (台灣省敦睦聯誼會), a juridical association under the administration of the Ministry of Transportation and Communications.

Chang, formerly the Tourism Bureau director-general before his retirement from the ministry, is the chairman of the Taiwan Visitors Association (台灣觀光協會).

Chang said he agreed to take the position at Grand Hotel without any salary to avoid receiving two salary payments — as a retired civil servant and the hotel’s chairman.

He will replace Christine Tsung (宗才怡), who has been in charge of the hotel since 2002.

Chang told the Taipei Times yesterday that his first priority would be to fix the hotel’s financial problems.

“The most important thing is to halt the financial losses,” he said. “Just like when a patient is sick, the most urgent task is for him to be cured.”

Chang said he had been reluctant to take the position in the first place because fixing such problems “takes a lot out of you.”

Asked how he plans to turn the Grand Hotel from a semi-official organization into a private corporation, Chang said he wanted to start from the beginning.

Sources within the ministry said the appointment was not surprising given Chang’s key role in the preparatory work for facilitating cross-strait weekend charter flights and allowing Chinese tourists into Taiwan before the election of Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) as president.

Established in 1952, the Grand Hotel was once rated by Fortune magazine as one of the top 10 hotels in the world.

Its traditional Chinese architectural design has made the hotel one of the most prominent landmarks in Taipei and the choice of accommodation for many overseas tourists.

Aside from the one in Yuanshan (圓山), Taipei, another Grand Hotel was established in Kaohsiung in 1957.

However, a fire in 1995 took a devastating toll on the main hotel in Yuanshan, destroying its roof and upper floors.

The hotel did not reopen to the public until 1998.

The fire was not the only reason the hotel’s glory as Taiwan’s first international hotel faded. Competition from other domestic and international hotel chains caused the Grand Hotel to lose many customers.

While the foundation retained successful corporate executives such as Koo Chen-fu (辜振甫) and Stanley Yen (嚴長壽) to manage the hotel, their efforts failed to turn the tide.

Ministry statistics showed that as of August last year, the hotel had accumulated approximately NT$1.3 billion (US$42.7 million). in debts. Only the Grand Hotel in Taipei is profitable.

The Grand Hotel was once again in the spotlight in February as media reports said the foundation was planning to use NT$900 million to spin off and privatize the hotel before May 20.

The ministry rejected the rumors.

Issues with the Grand Hotel’s employees are another factor that has blocked its privatization.

Lee Huan-yang (李煥洋), the Grand Hotel Workers’ Union spokesperson, said they had lost faith in the management assigned by the ministry over the years, as they were never willing to sit down and talk to the workers.

“They never tell us what they are going to do with us — both for those who want to stay and for those they want to leave,” he told the Taipei Times.

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