Breakfast with Stephen Antram
Photography Bill Lorenz
The Location: Xi’an, North West China, Shaanxi Province
The Attraction: Terracotta Army (the 8th wonder of the world)
The Hotel: People’s Grand Hotel
The Date: opened in 1953, reopened NOW
The Man: Stephen Antram, Sofitel General Manager and Area General Manager Sofitel Central China
The Reason: Stephen has reopened the first legendary Grand Hotel of modern China, the People’s Grand Hotel Xian in Shaanxi Province (North West China). The hotel originally opened in 1953, now, after two years of renovation and modification, reduced from 300 rooms to 71 luxurious suites, the hotel reopened.
The Most Famous Hotels in the World has completed a one-year history research project with the production of a book and the creation of the Museum at the hotel.
8.8 Questions about Life
The People’s Grand Hotel reopened in autumn 2014 after extensive renovation. It is now perhaps the most luxurious hotel in China.
1. Since 2004, Accor is managing 4 different hotels in Renmin Square in Xi’an, China. Now you reopened the pearl in the centre of the complex, the People’s Grand Hotel, as a Sofitel Legend.
How do you feel?
Stephen: Excitingly strong mentally and physically a little tired.
The 14 km long city wall of Xi’an is over 500 years old.
2. How English is your breakfast after so many years living in China?
Stephen: I eat cereal every morning, which is a very British thing, and sometimes porridge (English Boarding school habit I suppose). When I travel then its Scrambled Eggs and bacon… the bacon must be good. With white toast. Sometime Jam on toast.
Found in the grounds near Xi’an, a surprise of the 1970s. A window to past was pushed open. Over 8000 soliders were unearthed and the touristic future of Xi’an secured.
3. You are as close to the 8th wonder of the world as it gets. How often did you visit the Terracotta Army since you were posted to Xi’an?
Stephen: Once. The first memory you have is always the grandest and irreplaceable
In preparation for the Museum of the hotel and the research of the history, Stephen Antram and Andreas Augustin unearth thousands of plates, bowls and spoons in the basements of the People’s Grand Hotel.
4. What is the greatest challenge managing hotels in China?
Stephen: I do not speak enough Mandarin to communicate more efficiently.
Wonderful Ambassadors of the hotel in the 1960s
5. How often are you ‘lost in translation’?
Stephen: Lost in translation is frequent, even Mandarin to Mandarin. This is happening due to the dialects and their differente pronunciation.
6. What’s your motto in life?
Stephen: Never give up, determination, never assume. And be a roll model.
Stephen Antram made a dedicated Museum an integral part of the hotel’s concept. Here the hotel’s history and the history of Xian (Silk Road, Terracotta Soldiers) are on display. Curator in chief was Carola Augustin, the displays were created, designed and built by famoushotels/Path of History.
7. How important is the hotel’s history for you as a marketing tool?
Stephen: Very important, it makes it easier to tell the story and differentiates your property from other hotels, especially in Asia. In London or Paris, Vienna this is not necessarily the case… due to the old heritage of the city.
The book about the history of the People’s Grand Hotel Xian was instigated by Stephen Antram. It was researched and produced within 12 month by famoushotels.org (The Most Famous Hotels in the World)—- go to the book’s page
8. Whose answers are you looking forward to getting back?
Stephen: Why do I have to work 12-hour days?? O lord answer me thy question! But I enjoy the journey otherwise I would not do it!
To entertain excellent relations with the owning company’s represenative (left, Chairman Hui) is key. Stephen introduced the elements of luxury to the old People’s Grand Hotel and reopend one of the most luxurious hotels of Asia.
A Crape myrtle tree in the gardens is 1200 years old.
8 quick ones:
Q. What was your “dream-profession” when you were a kid?
Stephen: Architect … living in Vienna, Athens, and Rome being surrounded by beautiful buildings inspired me… I had a slot to go to Oxford but my grades were not good enough…
Q. Do you fall in love with people or ideas?
Staff in great mood during a party in the 1980s.
Q. How often do you reflect about your own life?
Stephen: Every 3 months
Q. Which hobbies are absolutely essential for you?
Stephen: Good food, museums, art, culture, travel, beach holiday to relax. And books (when I have time)
Q. How many languages to you speak and which ones?
Stephen: 5 English, French, Italian, Spanish and Greek, and spattering of Mandarin and Japanese
Q. When you visit other hotels what do you observe/judge in the first place?
Stephen: Lobby and look for details something that I have not seen before, how good is the room service? Says how good is the hotel.
Q. What were your greatest sports triumphs?
Stephen: Swimming 5 miles and winning the Duke of Edinburgh Gold Medal when I was 9 years old. Running long distances 16 miles cross-country and coming 2nd in the county championships when I was 13. I swam for the school, tennis, and Rugby for the school. I went to the oldest Catholic school in England that opened in 1608.
Q. Do you like your handwriting?
Stephen: Yes I do! But it’s terrible in any case I laugh about it!
People’s Grand Hotel Lobby today
Stephen Antram in brief:
Born in Schoenbrunn, Vienna 26 November 1958 at 2.pm in the afternoon
Parents profession: father airline executive, mother doctor of medicine
Speech of Andreas Augustin at the opening of the hotel
People’s Grand Hotel Xian, by Andreas Augustin (2014)