In the mid-80s, Rutger Verschuren was one of The Netherlands’ first hospitality students to train in Asia.
Since then, he has played a leading role in moving the industry forward across the continent.
Now vice president of Macao operations for Artyzen Hospitality Group, Verschuren currently supervises two five-star hotels. Between work and spending time with his wife and two children, Verschuren assumes his duties as chairman of the France Macau Chamber of Commerce (FMCC) – as well as vice chairman of Macau Hotel Association.
Here, he tells Macao magazine about his nearly four decades in hospitality, French goods and gastronomy, and giving back.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
What was your introduction to Asia?
In 1985, I wanted a spectacular place for my hospitality management training – and was advised to aim for the Oriental Hotel in Bangkok [now the Mandarin Oriental]. In those days, it was one of the leading hotels in the world. But my school [the renowned Hotelschool The Hague] in the Netherlands didn’t want me to go that far away. Telephone calls were very expensive back then, and you had to keep in touch.
So, I had to make a lot of noise and push hard for the school to allow me to go to Thailand. Once there, I had a great time and learned a lot about the famous Asian hospitality. After that, other students from the school started going to Asia for their training, too.
When I finished up at the Oriental, I went back to Holland and worked for a few years. But I found out that it was going to take too long to build a career there. I hand-wrote about 45 application letters for jobs in Asia and got some interest, but nothing concrete. So, I bought a one-way ticket to Bangkok [and landed a job once in the city].
How did you end up in Macao?
My career took off quickly. When I was 27, I got my first general manager job in Phuket. After seven years, I moved to Indonesia, then to the Philippines, and back to Thailand. In 2008, I was offered the managing director role for the pre-opening of the Sheraton Macao – a 4,000-room hotel – and accepted it.
When the financial crisis hit, our project was put on hold. I ended up moving to Libya for a year to work for the Starwood group there until [Hong Kong-Macao conglomerate] Shun Tak Holdings offered me the COO role in Macao for its hospitality division.
In 2013, within Shun Tak, the Artyzen Hospitality Group was created. We took up management of our first hotel in 2014, the Artyzen Grand Lapa – formerly the Grand Lapa Hotel – and the Mandarin Oriental. Today, I’m the area vice president for Macao, overlooking the Artyzen Grand Lapa and Grand Coloane Resort. ‘Art, Culture and Emotional Wisdom’ is our group’s operating philosophy.
Today, we have 15 hotels, mainly in the mainland and Macao. Two more will open in October in Singapore and Shanghai. We will also open an Artyzen Habitat hotel in Hengqin by early 2024.
As a Dutch national, how did you get involved with the FMCC?
Pansy Ho, the chairperson of Shun Tak Holdings, is one of the founders of what was then-called the FMBA – the French Macau Business Association. In 2012, I was asked to help out temporarily. Before I knew it, in 2014, I became vice president and then chairman. [The FMBA officially became the France Macau Chamber of Commerce in 2018.]
The FMCC isn’t just for French nationals. We don’t have too many French people living in Macao, so most of our 130 or so members are not French. But what everyone has in common is that we love French products and French culture. The aura that France has is attractive to our members. It can be French food, wine, art, technology or luxury products. We use the French connection in Macao as a platform for all nationalities to connect, share and grow.
What do you enjoy most about your role?
First, it’s a lot of fun. You get to put your mind on something other than work. With the FMCC, I get to meet people outside of my own industry, which is good for my brain I think. It keeps me socially connected, and, of course, the business connections are useful – I can help other people with their business, or they can help me with ours. It’s about helping others and giving back.
What does France bring to Macao?
There are a lot of luxury goods, wine and food from France here. But French companies provide many services, too. For example, Macao Water [the company that helps manage Macao’s water supply] is run as a joint venture with a French company [SUEZ].
Tell us what it’s like to be an official chamber of commerce.
Transitioning from the FMBA to the FMCC was not just a name change. We also became a member of the CCI France International [the French Chambers of Commerce and Industry], which is the largest international alliance of French chambers. It covers 90 countries and has more than 35,000 members. It’s an enormous network. By becoming a member of the FMCC, all our members can connect to that network. We also work closely with the Consulate General of France in Hong Kong and Macao.
We also attend the annual CCI conference, and regional conferences with different chambers that allow us to exchange ideas and stay on top of the latest trends.
How has your work changed since becoming the FMCC?
We had just become an official chamber when the pandemic happened. Covid-19 interrupted everything; nevertheless, we came out stronger than ever. Now, as we are starting to build up capacity again, we see a growing interest from French companies who have noticed Macao bouncing back in business. They want to be part of it and we are ready to assist.
With the Tourism+ policy, Macao is adding sports events, education, maritime events, outdoor recreation and more [to our remit]. French companies are saying, ‘We want to be involved in developing [Macao’s] maritime facilities or gastronomy’. Some in the health and wellness sector [part of the ‘1+4’ policy] are keen to partner up with Western spas in Macao, for example. We help them get started. We introduce them to companies, lawyers, banks and government institutions to help them establish a presence here. So, we contribute to both Macao and French companies.
We have also started three subcommittees: the French Culinary Arts Committee, the Greater Bay Area Tourism and Leisure Committee and the Technology Innovation Committee. We’ve already held some committee events, open to members and non-members. Last month, we established our FMCC Young Business Club to support young professionals who are under 35. It’s good for us older members to hear what young professionals think and need.
What are the key perks for FMCC members?
We have a mix of business events, charity events and a whole range of enriching leisure events throughout the year. We probably run close to 100 activities altogether, annually. But we’re best known for our gala, which will be held on 15 September this year. It’s a black-tie event, a very classy, fantastic evening.
We also have our monthly breakfast gatherings with guest presenters – what we call our Rendez-Vous. We organise seminars, too. Business lunches and sometimes dinners with a guest speaker. We visit new or interesting businesses, and we host product launches if there’s a connection to France somehow – we often offer a sneak preview or something exclusive for members.
As CCI members, we also get special deals, discounts and invitations through the Privilèges Program. Members receive discounts on shopping, tickets, car rent, hotel rates and more. There are a lot of benefits.
How does the FMCC approach environmental, social and governance (ESG) initiatives?
ESG is a big topic for us. It’s a must-do in Macao. Many publicly listed companies are obliged to have sustainability programs. One of the initiatives we’ve undertaken is launching our FMCC ESG Awards, which will celebrate and recognise exceptional contributions to ESG in Macao. Our jurors rigorously review applications and select winners of three categories – Best Project, Best SME and Best NGO – based on the impact, innovation, and effectiveness of their ESG initiatives. We will announce the winners at our upcoming gala dinner, so stay tuned.