A Star-Studded Chat With Peninsula Hotels' Maria Zec


Overseeing a Five-Star property is a daunting task. The pressures of high expectations and unrelenting demands for excellence are immense. As Peninsula Hotels’ regional vice president-USA East Coast, Maria Zec knows all too well about daily stresses because she has to deal with them every day for two Five-Star properties — Peninsula Chicago and Peninsula New York. In this exclusive interview, Zec reveals how the Peninsula brand emerged as a Five-Star winner for all three of its U.S. hotels.

What sets The Peninsula Hotels apart from other hotels in the U.S.?

Each Peninsula Hotel offers an experience that is extremely comfortable and inviting, while embracing today’s state-of-the-art technology. We have an entire department in Hong Kong that is devoted to coming up with the newest technology we can offer to enhance our guests’ experience. That experience is then combined with personalized service that embraces the city and country in which the guests are visiting. Therefore, an experience at The Peninsula Shanghai will be steeped in Chinese culture and heritage, while your stay at The Peninsula Chicago may include Lake Michigan lakefront activities, sports, blues and architecture.

The Peninsula Hotels also offer customized service that is personal, friendly and un-obtrusive. Our staff is trained to anticipate our guests’ needs before they may even realize they need or want something.

How do you make sure that your service is outstanding?

We have a commitment to training and attention to detail. Each of our employees attends extensive training on our hotel product and on Hongkong and Shanghai Hotels, Inc. [the parent company of The Peninsula Hotels]. We have a number of Peninsula standards, both behavioral and job related, that guide employees in order to enhance our guests’ experience. In addition, we take hiring very seriously. We do not just hire to fill an opening; it has to be the right person.

What are a few examples of the outstanding service that The Peninsula is known for?

There are many small touches that the guest doesn’t expect that make the difference. I think it is important that our staff feels empowered to wow our guests at every opportunity. Wowing our guests may include setting up a private tour of a must-see museum exhibit, acquiring tickets to a sold-out concert or assisting a future groom with engagement arrangements at one of our hotels. We also strive to ensure our smaller guests feel extra special by arranging special children’s amenities that include Peninsula teddy bears and MINI Coopers, and Peninsula sweets that delight guests of all ages.

All Peninsula Hotels have pages who are dressed in all-white uniforms with pillbox hats. The Peninsula pages act as ambassadors of our hotels and greet guests as they arrive and are there simply to be personal valets. The page is an iconic position for Peninsula Hotels that started at The Peninsula Hong Kong.

Additionally, all Peninsula Hotels have a house car and vehicles that are available to take guests where they need to go within the city. Our hotels have a fleet of cars, including Rolls-Royces, BMW, MINI Coopers and even a Peninsula tuk-tuk at The Peninsula Bangkok. And, for our most discerning customers, The Peninsula Hong Kong offers a unique mode of transportation, The Peninsula helicopter.

What do you think makes a Five-Star hotel?

The physical product is obviously critical, however, the most important criteria has to be the service our staff provides. Service must be attentive, genuine and anticipatory so guests are well taken care of throughout the hotel. Mostly it’s about hiring the right people who take care of our guests. They have to anticipate and exceed guests’ expectations and ideally wow them at every opportunity.

What’s it like being part of the only hotel group to have all Five-Stars in the U.S.?

I think this is fabulous! Our goal is to be the best at what we do. Peninsula has just nine hotels worldwide, three of which are in the U.S. Because we are a small company, we are able to be more creative, and I think creativity is very important, especially in food and beverage. Also, taking risks is important. For example, The Peninsula Chicago installed a skating rink this winter on our terrace and this has been very well received and successful, having raised more than $12,000 for our two children’s charities.

What will you do to ensure that The Peninsula Hotels in the U.S. continue to earn Five-Stars?

We will continue investing in our properties and in our people, training all levels of staff and challenging them to keep learning new skills. We will continue pushing creativity, thinking outside of the box. And it is critical that we do not rest on our laurels. The Peninsula Hotels spend a considerable amount of effort ensuring our properties are in pristine condition and that we stay current and relevant in each of our marketplaces.

Photos Courtesy of VFM Leonardo Inc.

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