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Enjoying Contemporary Korean Culture at W

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By Nick Heath
Nick Heath started working in the hotel industry in 1990 at the Hyatt Regency Crystal City in Virginia, after which he moved to the InterContinental Hotel Group in Bangkok, where he became general manager, and later moved to the Hyatt Regency in Thailand and Indonesia. Currently, he is the general manager of W Seoul Walkerhill Hotel, the first W Hotel in Asia.

Located in Gwangjang-dong, Seoul, W Seoul Walkerhill is a six-star hotel that is a hotspot for young Koreans in their 20s and 30s. Many celebrities, like international actors, sports stars, and singers, like Beyonce and Christina Aguilera, have stayed at W Hotel. Although it has been known for its popularity with a younger crowd, the hotel has recently been trying to build appeal with a broader market, irrespective of age or nationality.

Nick Heath, who became general manager of W Hotel in 2007, wants the hotel to become sexy and attractive to everyone. He explains that W Hotel is, in fact, not only for young people, but is also suitable for people in their 40s and 50s, who have a better appreciation for a luxurious lifestyle and are more cultured. Like other Korean hotels that focus on their restaurant services to a somewhat greater extent than those in the United States and Europe, W Hotel has placed more importance on its bar, Woo Bar, and has created a new kind of space that is enjoyable for people of diverse age groups.

The general manager, Nick Heath, spent his childhood in England and Africa, so he became accustomed to living in foreign countries. In this way, he naturally developed an ambition to travel all around the world. He majored in mechanical engineering at university, but he chose not to enter that field, opting instead for a career that was more people-oriented. So, at the age of 24, he first started working for a hotel as a Technology Officer.

Before coming to W Hotel, he had worked in the US, Jakarta, Indonesia, Bangkok, Taiwan, Israel, and many other countries. When he got an offer to become general manager at W Hotel in 2007, he was very happy to be working in Seoul, the most dynamic city in Asia. He described the particular attractiveness Korean has among Asian countries: “I’ve been working in hotels for almost 20 years. Coming from 12 years in South East Asia, the four seasons are very welcomed with all the beauty they bring from fall leaves and snow to cherry blossoms and summer greenery. Of all the Asian countries I have lived in the landscape, mountains, flora and fauna are impressive.” He clearly has a special affection for Korea. He also added, “Korea has a robust strong economy, with a very dynamic outlook which drives a dedicated and devoted talent pool keen to learn and be recognised.”

Before coming to Korea, Mr. Heath had never eaten Korean food, but now he even says that Korea is a country with delicious food and has affection for Korean food. “I have been eating spicy food since I was a kid,” he says, “and having lived overseas for over 20 years, I love spicy food. It took me quite a while to get used to spicy Korean food and fermented food. But now, my favorites are kimchi jjigae, galbi, bindaetteok and the many varieties of kimchi.” He recommended that newcomers to Korea should start with bibimbap, bulgogi, samgyetang, galbi, and galbitang, rather than the spicier dishes. One place that visitors can experience the great service and enjoy premium galbi is Myeongwolgwan, a Korean restaurant at W Hotel that is styled after a traditional Korean house.

As part of a series of promotional events called W Gourmet, W Hotel recently introduced their altogether new reinterpretation of Korean cuisine.  Contemporary methods of food preparation were applied to representative classic Korean dishes like neobiani, samgyetang (chicken and ginseng soup), and Jeju okdom (tilefish), and the event was a sensation, not only among Korean people, but also with foreigners.  Because there is such a focus on kimchi, explained Nick Heath, many foreigners think that all Korean food is spicy, so it is important to expose them to a variety of interesting Korean dishes.  He went on to emphasize that the “first thing is to get foreigners to come to Korea, enjoy the culture and the people of Korea and then they can enjoy the food of Korea with passion.”

As general manager, Nick Heath is making various efforts to gain more exposure for modern Korean food, like inviting famous Korean chefs who have worked in different countries and redecorating the interior to emphasize traditional Korean style. Because of the emphasis on innovation and luxury, W Hotel can be expensive on the whole compared to other hotels, but irrespective of the price, it is very enjoyable for both Koreans and also foreigners. Under Nick Heath’s guidance, Korean culture gains an attractive style that only W Hotel can give it.

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    Ryan Manago

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  2. avatar
    Beverlee Weigle

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