Interview with Mr. Frankie Lau, General Manager of Villa 32 in Beitou, Taiwan
Opened in 2004 and situated in Beitou, a place renowned for profuse hot springs, Villa 32 does not position itself as a hotel but rather in terms of private ambiance. With the firm spirit of “Only the Best, and Second to None” both in hardware and software, every aspect of Villa 32 is devoted to provide top notch and prestigious services to the guests. Secluded amidst lush mountains, the spacious Villa 32 embraces two thirds of natural scenes in its entire site. Beside Geothermal Valley, the smoke, haze and the greens constitute a picturesque natural vista. Maybe this is the inspiration for the name of Villa 32.
Villa 32 is comprised of four elements – springs, woods, trees and stones – under the founder Mr. Ming-Hong Chiu’s design to display a dainty combination of styles. Villa 32 incessantly pursued the highest perfection as if crafting a work of precious art, which took four years and a half to reach completion. Villa 32 does not measure the maximum capacity of each square as other hotels. Rather, it is how much each square can help the guest release their stress that it cares. Under the guide of Mr. Frankie Lau, the present General Manager, all the staff strive together to provide exquisite services that henceforth give the guests unparalleled relaxing experiences.
“I left Hong Kong and came to Taiwan for undergraduate studies in 1986. I was seeking a new studying environment at that time and Taiwan, being totally different from Hong Kong, was an ideal place,” said Frankie. His parents were Guangdong natives while he was born in Hong Kong. “In university, my major was psychology. In order to gain more working experience, I found a part-time job at the Chinese Restaurant in the Hotel Royal-Nikko Taipei. After graduation, out of my interest in the hospitality industry, without too much hesitation, I chose to work in hotels. And now over twenty years have passed.” Beginning his hotel career from the most basic position, Mr. Lau believes in the power of detail management.
The entrance of Villa 32 shows a restrained beauty in shades of voluptuous greens and streaming waterfalls, unveiling the urban leisure and tranquility. The five rooms are destined to provide the most delicate and dignitary services to the guests. The décor of each guest room is unconventional and different from one another-lavishly equipped with the Danish premium Bang & Olufsen stereos, Salvatore Ferragamo and Dermalogica skincare kits, Hermes cutlery, Boffi bathing facilities-all illustrate the brand concept Villa 32 pertains and reveals its graceful luxury, elegant aloofness, and refined nobility.
SpaChina interviewed Mr. Frankie Lau, the General Manager of Villa 32.
Many guests who come to Villa 32 say that it is a place that perfectly integrates modern art with Chinese tradition. Can you give some illustrations?
No need to pack anything overcome jet lag, as entering Beitou and turning into the corner of our Villa, your mood will receive total tranquility.Surrounded by crisp, clear air, white clouds, stone-grey walls, lushes of greens, blooming flowers, and soothing hot springs, Villa 32 has preserved the last piece of leisurable tone in this urban bustle. The words “Villa 32” are engraved on the lintel of the entrance with Australian raw gem stones, implying the location as well– No. 32 Zhongshan Road, Beitou. Looking out of the large full-height windows, it is another different scene of beauty. The natural phytoncide of the ancient camphor trees flows in the air; the sound of water springs, waterfalls and birds together compose a melodious symphony; and the mist rising from the hot spring pools obscures the eyes… All your senses are awakened immediately. Ancient stone buildings and the Geothermal Valley outlines the Public Hot Spring Area of Villa 32 where richly spread ancient China’s trees such as pistacia, camphor, sweetgum, magnolia and more. Laminated wood transforms into pretty gratings while modern elements like glass and metal are also integrated to present a perfect balance between strength and beauty, gravity and nature, dark and light colors, inviting guests into the utmost relaxation and joy against a pure natural background.
Who are the main guests of Villa 32? Why do they choose Villa 32?
I have worked in Villa 32 for eight years. Most gusts come here to enjoy the well-known sulphur hot spring of Beitou, the honored Italian cuisine, the award-winning SPA and every memorable detail of Villa 32. Our goal is to satisfy all the five senses of our guests so that they would come again and again. During ordinary days, you will mainly see individuals, friend groups, businessmen here for meetings, or travelers while on vacations, most are families. Villa 32 only receives guests above 16 years old in order to maintain a quiet ambience. The guests will normally stay for one to two nights. Besides enjoying hot spring, they will also taste the delicious food, have a SPA treatment and pay a visit to the surrounding scenery spots or their friends in Taipei. The most regular visitors are from mainland China and Hong Kong due to the comparatively short distance, similar diet habits and the reasonable prices in Taiwan.
What is special about the hot springs in Villa 32?
Villa 32 is located at the Geothermal Valley in Beitou, Taipei. The hot springs here can be divided into green sulphur springs and white sulphur springs.
The green sulphur springs are acidic copperas springs that have remarkable healing functions to chronic skin disease, gout, and sore muscles. Existing only in Beitou Taiwan and Akita Prefecture Japan, this kind of spring is enriched in the trace element radium. It is the continual accumulation of radium that forms the globally known radio barite. Originated from the Geothermal Valley, the fountainhead is a natural solfatara. And the spring property is of acid sulfate chloride (i.e. copperas spring) with pH value of 1-2, meaning strong acidity. The spring is tasteless and features a transparent green color. Owning to its special water quality, the green sulphur spring is always a case study for school education both at home and abroad.
The white sulphur springs are faintly acid saline springs with effects to ease fatigue, neuralgia, muscular pain, chronic skin disease and arthritis. We drilled a geothermal well in the hot spring area of the Sulphur Valley of Beitou to draw forth the geothermy. Then we channel pure water into the well to combine and heat them to form an artificial hot spring. The acid sulfate spring has a pH value of 3-5, featuring yellowish white color and slight sulphur smell. According to the studies of some physicians, after bathing in the white sulphur spring for 10 minutes, the vital capacity will much improve, far more than bathing in ordinary hot water or bicarbonate springs.
Is there anything special about the staff at Villa 32?
We require that our staff have excellent observation ability to details and power of execution. For example, when guests go to the bathing pool or enjoy a SPA treatment, they will casually tuck their socks into the shoes. Therefore, we ask our staff to take out the socks and fold them neat so that the guests won’t dress a pair of crumpled socks after the bathing. At the beginning, it was a little hard for our staff to do such service because they are reluctant to touch the socks of the guests. But we found such small behavior was much appreciated by the guests, and our staff gradually feel more free to provide such services. Attention to details is an expression of love and care.
Once the “plot” is written, we know how to better perform the “drama”. Once, a guest brought his American clients to Villa 32 to sign a contract. In order to leave a good impression to his clients, he hoped that we not only ask our chief chef to serve and explain the dishes to the clients, but also prepare a special gift for them. And we racked our brains trying to present something as unique as possible. Then we got inspiration from what APEC had done. At APEC, every participant dress in the local costume of the host country. Considering that Beitou is honored for “blue dye”, we decided to tailor a blue dye bathrobe for every client. We wrapped the robes inside exquisite brocade box and gave to the clients after their bathing. They love the robes very much.
Watch carefully what they are doing and saying and be extremely considerate of what they need and want. Another key to cultivate “Detail Force” is the ability to observe every small point. We require our staff to always keep their eyes and ears open; moreover, we also demand them to be quick in response. “If you hear the guest coughing, you should immediately think: Is the temperature of air conditioner not proper? Is the guest catching a cold? Are there any other reasons? When you find the reason, you must help guest solve the problem immediately.” We had a staff member that set a good example. He heard that a Japanese guest felt bad because he had no time to go to taste the Xiaolongbao (steamed buns) of Din Tai Fung, and this staff member immediately asked his colleagues to buy them. It made the guest very happy and thankful.
As a Hong Kong people living in Taiwan, what’s the biggest difference do you think among the guests from Hong Kong, Taiwan and mainland China?
Hong Kong is a very international city integrating Oriental and Western cultures. Taiwan catches the essence of Greater China and maintains much of China’s culture. Hong Kong, because of its small size and large population, breeds a group of people who are comparatively more indifferent to each other. Regarding the way of speaking, Hong Kong people speak fast and direct; guests from mainland are also straightforward; yet Taiwanese are more mild and indirect, showing more kindness. About accommodation tendencies, mainland guests love luxurious feelings; Hong Kong people focus on quality and service, while Taiwanese stress more on comfort.
What is Villa 32’s position in the hospitality industry in Taiwan?
In 2006, Villa 32 was nominated as one of the most popular 17 newly rising hotels, parallel to Four Seasons Hotel in Chiang Ra, Hotel Solomar in California, by Conde Nast Traveler. In May 2010, Villa 32 was awarded one of the 28 most relaxing SPAs in Asia by CNNgo.com. In 2017, it wins the Relais & Chateaux SPA Award, the only SPA in Taiwan that has won the prize. To Villa 32, these prizes were not only affirmation but also encouragement. Since its foundation 12 years ago, the goal of Villa 32 has been to create a private club for guests. It is now one of the top hot spring resorts in Taiwan with annual hotel rates exceeding TWD 20,000. Yet Villa 32 never hesitates but strives forward to offer more delicate service to customers by investing more funds and efforts in employment training to upgrade both professional and mentality of the staff.