Shangri-La’s Randy Zupanski on Managing in a Time of Crisis

When Randy Zupanski, Area Manager for the Shangri-La’s Far Eastern Plaza Hotels in Taipei and Tainan, interviewed for his first post as a hotel manager abroad, in Hong Kong, he was sure he wouldn’t be offered the job.

“It was 1993. The only way to find out about a place like Hong Kong was to go to the library or to a travel agent, and even then, the information was minimal,” he says. “So, I went into the interview not knowing a lot about the hotel, Hong Kong, or the cultural differences.” After about a five-minute back and forth with his interviewers, who sat opposite him, Zupanski walked over to their side of the table, stood between them, and talked them through his resume – a very forward move in a typically less-direct Asian culture. Leaving the interview, Zupanski felt that it went poorly and didn’t expect it to go any further.

Despite the awkwardness of the meeting, Zupanski received a call a few months later asking him when he could come to Hong Kong to start in his new role. He recalls being thrilled to accept the offer. It was a risky move for the new father of twin daughters, but one he has never regretted. “It opened up the world for me and my family,” he says.

In the three decades since then, Zupanski has worked in leadership roles in hotels in both Asia and North America, bouncing back and forth across the Pacific. For each new post, he applies the knowledge and skills that he’s gained in each region, creating a winning formula for wherever he manages.

“In the U.S. and Canada, hotels are much more focused on labor management, since employees are generally paid hourly and labor is typically a higher percentage of overall costs compared to Asia,” says Zupanski. “In Asia, as wages increase, this focus has become quite valuable as we work to manage costs and productivity.”

In Asia, on the other hand, Zupanski has discovered a level of service and attention to detail that has all but disappeared in North America. Bringing some of this back to the North American hotels Zupanski has managed has made them stand out from the rest. 

As with all hotels in Taiwan, the Shangri-La Taipei has suffered as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Although a challenging time, Zupanski is upbeat about Taiwan tourism’s future, given the government’s excellent response to the crisis.

“There’s tremendous potential for Taiwan to become a safe-haven tourism destination because of how successful they were in managing the virus,” he says. “We can leverage this to attract tourists from places like South Korea and Japan – places that are very safety-focused – and from the U.S., which has suffered more than most from COVID-19.”

However, Zupanski notes, achieving this success will require much more collaboration between the tourism industry and relevant government agencies. “Another unique aspect about Taiwan is that the industry and the Tourism Bureau here are not connected in the same way they are in other markets. There’s some communication, but not a lot of coordination and partnership,” he says.

Zupanski emphasizes the importance of more cooperation between government and the tourist sector in getting the message out internationally about Taiwan. “We can help a lot – especially the international brands. We have sales offices and contacts in these other countries to really sell Taiwan as a destination.”

In the meantime, Zupanski and Shangri-La are doing what they can to cope with the challenge presented by the COVID-19 crisis, especially since inbound international travel has been virtually shut down.

“We’ve done everything we can think of,” he says. “We’ve experimented with many new initiatives, including flash sales, sale of lunchboxes, and food delivery services. We’ve also looked at new ways to market ourselves to a domestic audience.”

The Shangri-La has also begun advertising a number of attractive offers. A point of pride for Zupanski is the 50% discount currently being offered to Taiwan’s medical personnel at all of the Shangri-La’s restaurants. In addition, the hotel is offering these brave workers 15% off its Great Escape package until the end of June. A Great Escape getaway, available until September 30, 2020, provides exceptional value and includes access to Horizon Club privileges, such as breakfast with a view of the city, refreshments throughout the day, and evening cocktails and canapés. The package also allows for early check-in and late check-out times, among other perks.

Shangri-La is also beginning to phase events back in, while following the government’s social distancing mandates. The hotel has started hosting events of up to 250 people, and Zupanski is optimistic that its once-booming wedding business will bounce back solidly by Q4 this year.