by Cheryl-Anne Sturken | October 3, 2014

John SpoonerEvery hotel has a general manager, but unless you're a priority client or a celebrity guest with an entourage and plenty of media buzz, chances are you won't ever meet him or her. I never did get to meet the general manager of the 171-room Raffles Beijing Hotel (, where I stayed while attending CIBTM 2014, which recently wrapped up. I did, however, get plenty of face time with its "Ambassador," John Spooner, a British transplant who has lived in Asia for years.
Every time I walked through the hotel's ornate revolving doors, there he was -- a James Bond meets John Wayne character in a dark suit, greeting guests with a warm smile and a firm handshake. When he wasn't dispensing luggage-delivery orders to a fleet of bellmen, he was soothing anxious airport-bound travelers, convinced they would miss their international flights because of the city's constant traffic nightmare, or offering insider shopping and tipping advice, even quietly slipping me lozenges for my sore throat. When I asked if he ever took a day off, he smiled and replied, "I live in the hotel, dearie. I am as close as a phone call away and can be reached at all times, day or night."
Spooner's office is in the middle of the hotel lobby, literally. Seated in high-backed chair, behind a massive mahogany desk, which he refers to as "my throne," he regaled me with amusing stories of guests and their sometimes whimsical demands, his favorite travel app (Vivino, a wine app that he predicts "will put sommeliers around the world out of business"), on being a witness to the enormous cultural and economic changes taking places right outside the hotel's front door, and routinely meeting well-known political figureheads such as Henry Kissinger and former president Jimmy Carter, not to mention movie stars like Meryl Streep and Adrian Brody.  "It's all about making the guests feel welcome and completely at home when they are in a foreign city," said Spooner. "It's knowing what they want and delivering it. And for everyone, that doesn't mean constant pampering."
In 2007, Spooner relocated to Beijing from Cambodia, where he had worked for years at two Raffles properties. His mission, he said, was to reopen the luxury Raffles Beijing, which had just completed a major renovation, and ready its staff for the 2008 Summer Olympics.  Not only was the property designated as the host hotel for the International Olympic Committee, many foreign dignitaries and European royalty attending the games stayed there. "The most important thing about good customer service is you have to have a good team in place that thinks like you do," Spooner noted. "I rely heavily on my team, and they look to me for inspiration and guidance. I emulate what the Raffles brand stands for." On that note, he excused himself from our lobby interview to usher the visiting Rothschild clan out the door and simultaneously welcome a 35-plus group of Danish government officials, who had just arrived for a three-day official visit.
Returning to his throne, he cast another look at the front door and asked, "Do you know why I choose to sit here? Well, from here, I can see everything, which means nothing gets by me." Nothing indeed.