In July of this year I visited Macau and stayed at the Westin Hotel, at the time the only Starwood property in Macau. I was very dismayed when I discovered Shark Fin Soup on the hotel’s menu. The practice of Shark Finning is considered one of the most inhumane and unsustainable practices impacting shark populations around the world. If you’re not familiar with what it is, Shark Finning refers to the practice where fisherman catch sharks, cut off the fin and throw the live shark back in the water. Without its fin, the shark drowns. Shark Finning has brought many species of shark to the brink of extinction and its estimated that each year almost 1 million sharks are slaughtered.
When I discovered Shark Fin soup on the menu I took to Twitter and wrote a blog post. The post received a lot of publicity including responses from well known international NGOs and from the Westin Macau and Starwood itself. The hotel’s general manager, Stephan Winkler, wrote me the following letter
Dear Ms. Segal,
Greetings from The Westin Resort Macau.
Thank you very much for choosing to stay with us in the last few days and I hope you had a good time here.
We have noted your comment on Twitter and are sorry to know that you were disappointed to find out we still had Shark Fin Soup listed on the in-room dinning menu. We appreciate you bringing up the issue, as it offered us a chance to explain the situation.
As one of the properties of Starwood Hotels & Resorts, we do take collective measures to play a role in helping to preserve the bio-diversity of our oceans. Indeed, we are working on the new in-room dinning menu, from which sharks fin soup will be taken off. This new menu will be ready in one month’s time.
However having said that, we understand your perspective and the will to protect the living eco system. At this point, we have taken out the Speciality Dinning page of the existing in-room dinning menu from every guest room.
Again, thank you for bring this to our attention and the support to the anti-finning movement.
My team and I look forward to welcoming you back for another renewing stay.
In addition to copying members of his own team, Mr. Winkler also copied members of Starwood’s corporate Consumer Affairs team, Public Relations team, Social Media Team and the Sr VP of Starwood Global Communications, the Director of Corporate Communication, the Area Director for Hong Kong & Macau, the VP of Asia Pacific Sales, and the VP of Brand Management.
It was amazing to me that one person who tweets and blogs could get such a response from a major corporation.
I was asked by many readers to follow-up and make sure the hotel really followed through on their promise and so this week I reached out to Mr. Winkler who confirmed that the hotel had stopped serving Shark Fin Soup and connected me with the new Director of Food and Beverage for a follow-up interview.
Today I was able to ask Theo Mahendra, the Director of F&B, some questions. Mr. Mahendra joined the Westin Macau in this role in August of 2012 (a month after my stay.) He manages the hotels restaurants and room service offerings. Mr. Mahendra confirmed that on the 12th of July 2012 Shark Fin Soup was removed from its menus. I asked Mr. Mahendra if they’d received any complaints about removing Shark Fin Soup from the menu. He indicated that they had not received any complaints, but had received a few questions from guests. Mr. Mahendra’s mission as the Dir. of F&B is to assure brand standards, maintain the quality of service, keep harmony among the associates while achieving set goals. I asked about the direction of the restaurants and room service menu and Mr. Mahendra informed me that they will change the menu twice a year and ensure that they stay on top of current trends. One trend that you will not see the Westin Macau follow…returning Shark Fin Soup to the menu.
There is absolutely no doubt that I am truly loyal to the Starwood brand. By the end of this year (2012), I will have completed 150 nights with Starwood and have already booked 25 nights in 2013! Actions like this help cement my loyalty. While it is true that I am highly motivated by points and free nights, it is in fact equally important to me that I do business with brands that share my concern for the world. Given the choice between two equally suited hotels I am absolutely going to chose the one that demonstrates their commitment to the environment, children and other important global causes.
I applaud the Westin Macau and Starwood for making this positive change. I hope others will follow their lead.