IAG sits down with Vinzenz Rosa de Pauli, the Austrian hotel manager of Sofitel Macau at Ponte 16, to learn a little more about the man behind the scenes of the classic local venue.
Oscar Guijarro: Vinzenz, you’ve come a long way from Austria to reach Macau. What are your memories of childhood back home in Europe?
Vinzenz Rosa de Pauli: I had a beautiful childhood, but it was more like a very Central European childhood, with a very stable family situation, going to school, in the afternoon enjoying life, playing football, tennis, golf … and skiing and snowboarding in winter. I became a snowboard and skiing instructor. I was skiing and snowboarding my entire life. At the age of two it was the first time I was put on skis. That’s like in our blood. It’s a national sport.
At 15 or 16 I applied for a job in a skiing area because I wanted to be a snowboarding instructor. And this skiing school took me which had hotel restaurants and entertainment facilities. I was recruited as a snowboarding instructor for the entertainment division, but when I arrived they said they were also looking for a bar keeper, so from 9am to 12pm and from 2pm to 4pm I was a snowboarding instructor, then I would have a rest and in the evening, at 8pm or 9pm when the bar opened, I would work behind the bar.
But I didn’t see it as work. I loved barkeeping and I loved skiing and instructing because it’s fun that you can teach people.
Then I was a bit naughty in high school and my father said, “Let’s send you a little bit further away to somewhere you’re not so comfortable.” And he sent me to one of his business partners in Hong Kong knowing that he had all his factories in Qingdao. The target was to send me to Qingdao to show me how life in China was back then. That’s now more than 20 years ago and it was a good learning moment for me, but in the end, it was not a punishment for me. It was such an amazing experience that I returned after completing my studies and work experience in Europe.
OG: So you quickly developed a passion for hospitality?
VRP: Well, my grandfather had a hotel not far from my hometown, but when he passed away my father was not interested in doing that. It remained in family hands but we didn’t manage it or visit it. But there was an anniversary celebration there which I joined and it kind of interested me. As a little kid, that was the first trigger for me becoming a little bit attached to this industry.
Then my parents’ best friend, who had several hotels in our city and a lot of restaurants, asked if I wanted to try working in his catering company to make some pocket money. So I joined him on a Saturday helping him out catering a wedding and I was immediately fascinated by how the organization worked. It was very specific. And after all those internships and part time jobs I had in bars, restaurants and clubs, I think my career path was very clear.
I went to the hospitality school in Klessheim, in Salzburg – Mozart’s hometown – which is the best hospitality school in Austria and also happens to be right next to the casino. I did two years there, went to a restaurant in London, then to Budapest, but I needed to go further abroad and ended up back in Qingdao. I wrote some letters to some hotels in Qingdao, and the Crowne Plaza thought I was a suitable candidate so three weeks later I was on a plane going to China.
OG: And you’ve stayed in Asia ever since?
VRP: I started in Qingdao and then I got a very good opportunity with Accor to move to Guiyang. There were two properties that we have there, Novotel and the Pullman Hotel. Accor said, “Please set up the food and beverage divisions for us.”
I was very young back then, around 25, so I was just thrown into ice cold water. But I had a very experienced general manager who guided me and brought me through these early stages of my career. And that was a beautiful experience.
Since then I’ve been always with Accor and with Sofitel, Pullman and also the legendary Raffles Hotels, and I’ve continued with the company and stayed obviously very loyal.
OG: You also spent time in Chongqing, Shanghai and Shenzhen before coming to Macau. What was your initial impression of Macau when you first arrived?
VRP: I was in China for 11 years before I came to Macau. And the interesting part is I just arrived in December 2019, so one month before we closed Macau. So, the real Macau: I’ve never experienced how it was before. I’m only a Macau pandemic manager.
OG: How would you define the Asian customer?
VRP: The Asian customer, and especially the Chinese customer, always looks for the best value, so if you create a product at a good value, which means the quality is there but the price matches it, they will buy your product. The worst for a Chinese customer is when you sell them something that is below their expectations.
So you need to understand their expectations and give them a price that they can anticipate. If you do that you will have happy customers. You can create loyalty very, very fast with a satisfied Chinese guest, like nowhere else in the world. We have guests that have been coming for 13, 15 years. Once you catch them and they really trust you, and trust the standards, they really show this loyalty and will also forgive those smaller problems that always occur in a hotel.
OG: How well do you see Macau emerging from the current pandemic environment?
VRP: The biggest advantage of Macau having mainland China so close is that the rebound can be very, very fast for us in the hotel business. Tourists come for leisure, tourists come for shopping, they just want to have a good time, just come for two or three days, maybe not just necessarily for gambling, but for us, just the hotel, the rebound was always fast and I’m sure it will be fast again. Once the Chinese market has travel confidence again Macau will fill up very fast.
OG: How have you been personally coping with the extreme times the epidemic triggered?
VRP: The pandemic has made me miss family members that I haven’t seen for so many months, like many of us. But I always put myself last, so it doesn’t bother me too much. But I feel sorry for my kids and especially for the family that are left behind in Austria, that they cannot see each other.
OG:. What are your favorite things to do when you are not working?
VRP: I’m a foodie and I love to eat. I love to explore restaurants here in Macau. It’s what I have done since I was a kid, and especially here in Macau.
You know, Sofitel Macau at Ponte 16 is in the historic and cultural part of Macau and there are so many unique restaurants – Portuguese, Chinese, Macanese, Southeast Asian. There are also some beautiful Michelin one-two-and three-star restaurants in town that I explore frequently just because it’s also part of my industry. I love fine dining.
Besides that, I play tennis and I play golf. Sport and eating is a good balance – the more you eat, the more sport you need!
OG: When the borders do finally open up fully, where is the first place you would like to travel for a holiday?
VRP: In my job you can never leave for more than three weeks. I would go home first, obviously for one week, see all my friends and family, and then take the car and go to my beloved Italy first to see all my friends in Italy and wine and dine.
On the way back I would stop in Istria and Croatia to enjoy the Mediterranean lifestyle. I would go for a bit of sailing and then back to Austria, say goodbye to everyone and come back to Macau and China.