St Giles Hotels CEO Abigail Tan on exercising creativity within the hospitality industry

Their London property is contained within a location that even the biggest and best names would find hard to beat.

Beyond operations and accounting, Tan is also cognisant of the need to give back (Photo: SooPhye)

Life in London suits Abigail Tan. The third of tycoon Datuk Seri Robert Tan’s five children, the beautiful and vivacious CEO of St Giles Hotels — in the UK, Europe and North America — is clearly relishing the chance to make a difference in the competitive world of hospitality.

After completed her graduate and postgraduate degrees from the University of Exeter, Tan wasted no time joining the hospitality arm of the family business. “I love London and I love hotels,” she says animatedly, amid the colour and fun of her unstuffy office. Artworks by her close chum, the Chicago-born, London-based street artist Chris Turner, who goes by the tag name Pegasus, gives much-needed pops of colour while a toy-filled playpen for Elmo, her cute but already very big Bernedoodle puppy (a cross between a Bernese mountain dog and a poodle) may be found by her desk. Interestingly, a couple of guitars also dot the space.

“Do you know why? At the age of 18, I wanted to be a musician! I still play the electric guitar now and then. My father jokes that when I was young, I had the time to play but not the money [to buy guitars]. Now, I have the money but no time. But hotels were always a great love of mine,” she recalls. “As a child, whenever I was taken to nice hotels, I would stick my nose out, sniff the air and drawl ‘ho-te-llll’ — my parents still tell the story to this day.”


St Giles London's prime location offers travellers the utmost convenience (Photo: St Giles London)

Born and raised in Penang, Tan recalls staycations — before it became a thing — at the Shangri-La’s Rasa Sayang Resort & Spa, which was built by her grandfather (the late Datuk Tan Kim Yeow, brother of Chin Nam who founded IGB Corp in 1967 and Tan & Tan in 1971) together with Robert Kuok. “Although we lived on the island, we still made it a point to stay at the hotel almost monthly. Staying at the hotel’s Tranquil Suite comprised some of my happiest memories and a stop at Eden Cake House en route was also a must.”

London, though, has been home for the past 18 years. “I love it and working in hospitality, particularly in a city like this, gives you so many chances to be creative. And what I’m focused on most right now is ensuring guests get a way more elevated experience than what they pay for.” Anyone who has stayed at her central London hotel can attest that Tan is definitely on the right track.

Although three-starred and offering a whopping 720 rooms, St Giles — except during the morning and weekend scrum — feels like a much pricier boutique property. Funky artworks adorn the public spaces; the breakfast buffet offers a generous and delicious Full English lineup; staff are as courteous and cheerful as they come; and best of all, the entire package is contained within a location that even the biggest and best names would find hard to beat. Tottenham Court Road station is mere metres away and serviced by the Northern, Central and new Elizabeth Lines; the great British Museum is literally down the road; and all the sights, sounds and offerings of the West End, from Foyle’s Bookshop to the great eats of Chinatown and, of course, the theatres practically envelope the hotel like a tight hug.


Funky artworks adorn the public spaces of the London hotel (Photo: St Giles London)

But beyond operations and accounting, Tan is cognisant of the need to give back. Noblesse oblige, if you will. “I am lucky I can combine work with what inspires me,” she admits. In 2014, she established Hotels with Heart, St Giles’ in-house corporate social responsibility initiative that works to educate and empower at-risk youth and young adults while giving back to the communities in which the hotel group operates. The London branch of St Giles is offering the Malaika Room from now until the end of 2022, with 100% of the proceeds benefiting Malaika, the Democratic Republic of Congo-based charity founded by international model and philanthropist Noëlla Coursaris Musunka, and after which the room is named.

“I met Noëlla through a friend and was immediately inspired by her work,” says Tan, who also personally sponsors the schooling of two teenaged girls under the Malaika programme. “The aim is to raise at least £15,000 for the organisation, which works so hard to impact lives through better access to water, healthcare and education. In fact, I would very much like to go to the Congo next year to see the work for myself.” When asked what her parents think of the idea, slick as a whistle she answers, “Oh, they don’t know yet!” 


This article first appeared in The Edge's London special issue on Oct 10, 2022.


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