Patrick Druet: A Hotel Manager in Shangri-La


By staff reporter LU RUCAI 


PATRICK Druet, nicknamed Lao Pai by his Chinese colleagues, is general manager of Songtsam Linka Retreat. “Lao” is used in Chinese as a term of affection for friends and family and shows his close relationship with his staff. 



Tibetan elements manifest in Patrick Druet’s clothes.


Before coming to China, Patrick worked in many other countries, including his native France, Canada, and Ireland. Of all these places, Shangri-La is his favorite because the locals “smile from the heart.” 


After Five Minutes I Decided I Was Staying  


Patrick has worked in Songtsam Linka Retreat for six years. The hotel, with 70 rooms, is designed in the shape of a traditional Tibetan-style watchtower, and interlocks with the foot of the mountains. Look through the windows, and the Ganden Sumtseling Monastery, the biggest Tibetan Buddhist temple in Yunnan, is laid out before you in all its splendor. In 2009, Patrick only needed to look at the place for five minutes before deciding to stay and join the managing group of the new hotel. 


 “The beautiful view of the snow-covered mountains and yaks instantly made me want to stay,” said Patrick. “It was a great challenge for me to be one of the managers of a brand new hotel.” But he felt he was up to the challenge. Years ago he worked in a ski resort back in France and ever since longed to return to the mountains. “And now here I am, working in a place surrounded by mountains. The only difference is that this time it’s in China instead of France.”



The restaurant Patrick Druet established inside the hotel was deemed authentically French by hotel guests.


He first came to China in 2001 and took a job in Xiamen, a coastal city in Southeast China. With Xiamen as a base, he worked and travelled around several cities in China. Of all the places he has visited, he most loves Shangri-La, not just because of its stunning natural environment, beautiful mountains, and mild climate, but also for the warm, smiling reception local people always give to visitors.


Patrick has worked in different hotels around the world. Compared with most established hotels, Songtsam Linka Retreat may not be quite as old but according to Patrick, “It has its uniqueness. The local culture is manifest through its cultural activities, its architectural style and its staff.” This is the very thing that attracts him.


Moving Provence to Shangri-La 


Gao Han, who has worked at Linka Retreat for over a year, is Patrick’s secretary. She used to be a teacher of Chinese to foreign students at Yunnan Normal University. Her fluent English greatly facilitates the communication between Patrick and his Chinese employees, even though her boss can communicate quite well in Chinese.  


For Gao Han, one of the special things about Patrick is that “He is not like a boss; it’s like he’s part of the family. He always puts himself in other people’s shoes, even working as a waiter to gain experience of different roles in order to facilitate his management.”


Patrick agrees with Gao Han. He doesn’t really like how things are done in big cities. In the city, workplaces have a strict hierarchy; people just sit in their own cubicles and follow the rules. People in this environment are quick to smile but rarely genuinely. So Patrick started from scratch and managed the hotel in his own way. The restaurant he established inside the hotel was deemed authentically French by hotel guests.  




The Ganden Sumtseling Monastery, the biggest Tibetan Buddhist temple in Yunnan, can be seen from the guestroom windows of Songtsam Linka Retreat.

Photos by Yu Xiangjun


“Provence is a holiday paradise for travelers with its beautiful scenery and delicious food,” he said, and wants to bring Provence’s food to Shangri-La. Every time he goes back to France on vacation, he returns with something French in his suitcase, such as tablecloths, dried lavender, and even local seasoning.


The Provence-themed restaurant at Songtsam Linka Retreat serves traditional French food such as crème-caramel. According to Patrick, more and more foreign visitors come here, and account for 20 percent in the high season.


 At the hotel’s Western-style restaurant, however, all chefs are locals who have been professionally trained to cook French dishes. Patrick also has high standards for wine. He specially hired French wine suppliers from Kunming, Yunnan’s capital city, to train his employees. Most of the wine in the hotel is imported from France, Italy, and Australia.


Captivated by Tibetan Culture 


In Patrick’s eyes, Shangri-La is a desirable place to live, but three years ago, in 2014, he left his hotel and went back to school to major in hotel management. He studied how to make Western-style food, among other things. He also visited many big cities where people were always in a rush, and were troubled by air pollution, food safety problems, and terrible traffic. Patrick found this environment very unhealthy, and a year later chose to return to Shangri-La where he feels more relaxed. 


By now Patrick has a greater knowledge of Tibetan culture, which even manifests itself in his clothes. At our interview he wore a Tibetan style vest. Patrick said he has lots of work to do every day but in his free time goes hiking in the mountains. He also loves local culture, including Tibetan Buddhism. Sometimes he goes to turn prayer wheels, like local Buddhists.


“Tibetan culture and Himalayan culture are totally different from that of modern cities,” Patrick said. “This is a quiet and peaceful place where every comer feels like a fallen leaf finally returning to its roots.”


Patrick will move to Lhasa some time in 2017 to manage a new hotel under the Songtsam Lodges. “I want my new hotel to embody local culture as thoroughly as possible, to provide a totally different experience from standardized international hotels,” Patrick said.  


 The Songtsam Linka Retreat, which Patrick now manages, has a two-month winter break every year. He uses this time to visit his family and friends back home in Perigord, in the south of France. Speaking of his future plans, Patrick said: “Lhasa is situated at a higher altitude than Shangri-La. Perhaps in two years’ time I will not be able to work at high altitude; and that might be the time to go back to France.”