Creating Culturally Sustainable Businesses In Tibet
[WTN-L World Tibet Network News. Published by The Canada Tibet Committee. Issue ID: 2006/01/20; January 20, 2006.]
Red Capital defines China retro-chic through hip hotels, cool clubs and alternative media. Red Capital's distinguished style in restoration of historic buildings, unique entertainment concepts, and experimental media productions, brings China lifestyle to a new epoch. Laurence Brahm is the founder and the heart behind Red Capital.
Laurence is a lawyer and political economist by profession, having spent over two decades advising and negotiating on behalf of multinational corporations regarding their investments in China. He is a pioneer of culturally sustainable heritage restoration in Beijing, having helped save historic neighborhoods and sections of the Great Wall. Author of numerous books on China and Asia, Brahm also writes a weekly column in Hong Kong's South China Morning Post.
We recently asked him about how he has developed his hospitality brand in China.
What is the timeline for your creation of the Red Capital Club brand? When did it begin and what have been its milestones?
We opened Red Capital Club in 1999 it has grown organically since. What happened was we opened the Club first in 1999, the Residence (hotel) in 2001 and Beijing's first eco-tourism hotel Red Capital Ranch at the Great Wall in 2004. We will be opening House of Shambhala Lhasa in the summer of 2006.
What are you planning to do in Tibet and how long has it taken to finish the hotel project?
House of Shambhala will be a boutique hotel of 10 luxury rooms all in traditional Tibetan style with restaurant, tea house and spa and retail space for Shambhala Foundation's culturally sustainable micro-enterprises and offices of Shambhala Foundation. On average it has taken two years for each project. Red Capital Ranch was delayed a year because of SARS. When House of Shambhala is complete, it will have taken one year.
What have been the greatest challenges in running, funding, and growing your hospitality brands in China?
Our greatest challenge has been imparting concepts of hospitality to Chinese staff.
Do you have any philosophies on how best to retain and promote staff?
At Red Capital we're not providing just a room and a meal, we are trying to provide an experience so we have to impart a philiosophy to the staff and ideals behind Red Capital to make them come to life and be part of a philosophy and an environment. We aim to also impart this spirit to our guests. We continually train, retrain and retrain.
How is the Guest's experience different when lodging with you than with other boutique hotels in Beijing or China?
Our philosophy is to impart an experience to impart culture and history into every aspect of the food and service. At Red Capital we are providing guests with an experience, not just a room and a meal. What type of dining specialties do you provide and how do you source chefs and styles?
Red Capital Club provides Zhongnanhai style food cuisine, served at State banquets. In preparing the menu we got advice from the political secretaries of Mao, Deng and other leaders. Red Capital Ranch at the Wall provides cuisine of a Manchurian moutain retreat and much of the food is picked from our own property and surrounding mountains. In Lhasa we are developping a Himalayan menu combining traditional Tibetan nomad favourites with a fusion of styles from India, Kashmir, Nepal and Western China.
If you could impart a bit of wisdom about doing business in China's hospitality industry, what would it be?
As Mao Ze Dong said "Remember a revolution is not a dinner party".
Since October 2005 restoration and renovation of the House of Shambhala has involved over fifty Tibetan craftsmen. To date all roofs have been replaced with traditional Tibetan natural wood beams and braided wood inserts and elaborate carving. House of Shambhala will be a boutique escape hotel in an historic traditional neighborhood in Lhasa.
The woodcarving masters chosen for this project had previously undertaken restoration of the Norbulingka Summer Palace in Lhasa. The stone carving master at the Nechung Oracle was invited to carve sutras and sets of deities. A senior Buddhist image clay master in Lhasa was invited to make a White Tara for the central courtyard garden of House of Shambhala. Many of the slate workers were employed from the Nyechung Monastery and a stone sutra carving master has been engaged by us, to do stone carving on mani-stones, he's earning more than he normally earns carving for pilgrims, creatively incorporating Tibetan designs into his work.
These craftsmen are very different from those I employed in Beijing, they come to work, sing, and genuinely enjoy the creative process. They also work together very creatively. They put a lot of care into what they do, it's a communal group effort, and they have a sense of pride accomplishment in what they do.
The workers enjoy their breaks with Tibetan tea, and drink chang (made from fermented barley) in the evening. What's important is the spirit they impart in their work, much of which is lost in our modern culture. Most of us have lost our enjoyment in work, which is different than the feeling of these craftsmen and women.
In early December, a second building was acquired next door to the first one under restoration, which allows immediate expansion for House of Shambhala. The future facility will include a ten-room cultural boutique hotel with restaurant and tea houses, Tibetan Spa using all organic and locally produced products and oils, and expansive retail shop space dedicated to local crafts produced under our culturally sustainable micro-ventures and office space for Shambhala Foundation.
All the materials used in the building are local apart from wires. We have used natural red pigment from stone, natural colorings, recycled old stones and wood.
Copyright 1998-2005, Tibet Environmental Watch (TEW)