Meet Christine Chevalaz: GM at The Kingsbury

Christine Chevalaz has stepped into the role of general manager at the iconic, 229-room Kingsbury Hotel, a venture by the leisure arm of Hayleys PLC. With almost 30 years of experience in the industry, she spoke to Hospitality Insider about her vision for the future of this local landmark.

Christine Chevalaz, General Manager at The Kingsbury, Colombo, sits in the new CÉ LA VI Bar.

“We need to put the Kingsbury Hotel back on the international market,” says Chevalaz, speaking at the newly opened CE LA VI rooftop lounge. “We were previously an international hotel (formerly the Ceylon Continental Hotel Colombo and the Ceylon Inter-Continental Hotel), so we need to keep improving in terms of innovation, creativity and standards to get back on their radar.”

There is certainly an ambitious plan in place already. The hotel is to undergo refurbishments of its kitchens and banquet room offerings to encourage more corporate clientele. Behind the scenes, internal projects focusing on ISO standards are being made a priority – “Even though a lot of it is already implemented, we need to finalize the certification,” she explains.

Joining Kingsbury Hotel at a time when competition is increasing in the country from several big name international chains, Chevalaz is optimistic about the hotel’s position and welcomes the new entrants. “We have an advantage because we know the market well; and even though we are a smaller company compared to international chains, we are ready to meet the challenge.”

For Chavalaz, the key to a business’s success is its people; and she hopes to achieve this by not just hiring the right individuals, but by helping the staff to feel like they are a part of the business. “If they feel that each guest’s wellbeing is of their concern, I think we would be successful.”

“We have an advantage because we know the market well; and even though we are a smaller company compared to international chains, we are ready to meet the challenge.”

Finding young people who want to work in the hospitality industry, rather than in a bank or a 9-5 job, is a challenge. Adding to this, the essential ingredient Chevalaz is looking for is passion, a quality she has in spades.
Originally from France, Chevalaz was, quite literally, born into the hotel industry. “My mum used to have a family hotel in the South of France, which I helped around with from the age of eight.”

However, it was only after experiencing hotels from a guest’s side during her travels as a teenager that she realised this was the industry for her. Studies in Edinburgh, UK, were followed by an international career that has taken her to 11 countries. “I’m a little like a tourist when I go back to my country because I’ve always worked abroad, and never in France.”

Of those stints, she views moving from a hotel in the heart of the EU diplomatic quarter in Belgium where check out could not take more than 3 minutes, to a hotel in Africa where it would take 20-25 minutes, as the most instructive part of her career.

It taught her to appreciate that every country has its own unique set of circumstances that impact on the staff. “I had to quickly understand the different issues people were confronted with every day. Only then was I able to help,” she says. The experience was formative in developing her hands-on and down to earth management style, where “If you make things as simple as possible, you will be successful.”

Hospitality Insider Issue 4