House proud

Weekend Glitz | Crystal Wu 24 Sep 2021

For Kristina Snaith-Lense, general manager of The Upper House, hospitality has always been in her blood.

"I attribute this love for our industry to my late grandfather," said Snaith-Lense. "He really instilled this love of service in me."

Her grandfather used to own a restaurant called Fernando's Hideaway on Gloucester Road in Wan Chai in the 1970s.

"It was one of the first restaurants in Hong Kong to have live music as a restaurant venue and also valet parking," she recalled. It was later sold to the restaurant manager, who also managed a coffee shop at the old Hilton Hotel.

Her grandfather also owned a luxury menswear retail spot in the hotel and would often take Snaith-Lense and her siblings there with him on the weekend. He would take them to different restaurants and teach them about food and service culture.

"It was his dream for me to become a hotel general manager, especially since I showed an interest in the industry. And he encouraged me to continue to pursue my career."

Although she was born in New York, Snaith-Lense moved to Hong Kong at three before going to study at a British boarding school at 11. She then went on to study modern languages and literature, focusing on Spanish and Italian at the University of Bristol.

"I was still doing catering jobs on the side when I was at university, and summer internships from the age of 16 in hotels."

She went on to study hotel and restaurant management at the Ecole Hoteliere de Lausanne in Switzerland after visiting a friend there over a weekend, which happened to coincide with the school's open day.

"Going to study hotel and restaurant management, I knew I wanted to work in the industry, but I did not know exactly what I wanted to do," said Snaith-Lense.

"And when I was graduating from Lausanne, I got offered a job with the Landmark Mandarin Oriental in Hong Kong."

She came back to Hong Kong as the concierge manager of the hotel, where she had previously interned, in 2010.

"I had worked with the team there previously but it was a new experience coming back and being a first-time manager and also managing an entirely male team, all of whom were older than me as well."

After two years, she decided to move on beyond concierge as she wanted to grow and learn more in the industry.

By chance, she assisted the consultant of The Upper House during work and was introduced to the hotel afterward.

Joining The Upper House at its opening in 2012 as the assistant director of guest experience, Snaith-Lense then went to Shanghai for 18 months as hotel manager of The Middle House to help with its opening, before returning to The Upper House as its hotel manager in late 2018.

"What we do is a lifestyle. Upper House is different from most hotels - we are a house and not a hotel. We are a family here," she said.

"It is not the easiest working in hotel operations. It is incredibly rewarding, but you do get into it for the love of the industry and sometimes it means sacrificing family time and social life because of the antisocial hours."

However, working with the team in The Upper House, most of whom have been with the hotel since its opening 12 years ago, is one of her favorite parts of the job.

"I don't think there has ever been a day in the last almost 10 years that I haven't wanted to come to work, hand on heart. And I have two small children at home."

Being a hotelier, every day is different from the last, which is something Snaith-Lense also enjoys. "I love the ad-hoc nature of hotel operations."

She recently became the general manager of The Upper House and Pacific Place Apartments after being hotel manager for two years. "Instead of looking after operations, especially during the time of the pandemic, it is really continuing to think about how we continue to bring our brand forward with borders being closed,'' she said.

With a focus on wellness, the hotel has converted one of its studio rooms into a fitness studio for Family Form, a collaboration with restaurateur and yogi Lindsay Jang.

Various food and beverage pop-ups have been held at The Lawn and Level 6.

It has also taken over running The Continental nearby, and early this year introduced its Andre Fu Suite and Mediterranean restaurant Salisterra.

"Given the social distancing measures, we noted the need for smaller-scale events, and that's what the suite caters for," she said.

It makes the perfect venue for a small wedding ceremony, for example.

"We continue to bring our guests new and transforming experiences that our brand has become known for," said Snaith-Lense.

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