An exceptional luxury hotelier on disruptors and industry challenges (Lars Wagner)

How would you define the disrupters which have been impacting the hotel industry recently?

Disruptors in my view can be recession, bomb attacks, new lodging facilities such as Air BnB. Recession and bomb attacks need to be dealt with on a case by case basis and recovery today takes much longer than in the past. We have seen that the bombings in Paris or shooting in Munich interrupt business for a longer period of time impacting revenues and profitability. Disruptors such as Air BnB or Uber are a new positive and clever commodity that make our lives easier by the use of technology and innovation. Uber is certainly much stronger than the traditional taxis as technology has been implemented to a competitive advantage. Air BnB lacks service yet provides much more space for the dollars that you invest. It’s the customer’s choice to use Air BnB or not, all depends on the level of service that one expects when travelling.

To what extent the advancements in technology are changing the modus operandi of hotels nowadays?

Technology will become even more important in the future with self-check-in kiosks by passing reception or with other gadgets in non-luxury hotels such as room service being delivered by a robot. In the back of house or in the operating departments of the back of house we depend a lot on innovative technology and enhancements for a seeming less flow of operational sequences examples are Hotsos, DM book pro system or internal reservation systems.

Has the consumer profile of luxury hospitality changed?

Today’s sophisticated consumer wants more for less, he wants answers much faster than before (a 24 hours turn around to a response today has to be turned around between 4-6 hours), the consumer is very demanding in regards to value for money and a lot of focus is put on a true customer experience with a high emotional intelligent staff.

What are the challenges you are facing in maintaining a consistent service standard?

Staff turnover in our hotel industry is in certain western cultures the norm and a rigorous and strategic HR recruitment plan has to be in place. The HR team and Executives hiring new colleagues need to be aligned on these strategies to ensure successful recruitment. Consistent service standard can only be achieved by hiring the best people but also only by hiring people with the right emotional intelligence to apply standards with joy and a smile when servicing guests.

You have successfully implemented an attractive F&B offering at Mandarin Oriental, Geneva. Tell us more.

Innovation sets Mandarin Oriental, Geneva apart from its competitors to generate incremental revenues and profits.  Attractive and innovative products not only set us apart but also allow us to intelligently communicate in the local community and have the local patrons frequent our hotel on a regular basis. As of mid-June our winter chalet will be replaced with a Middle East pop-up restaurant in the style of a Ryad featuring authentic Middle East cuisine in order to attract our in-house ME guests but also those of other hotels staying during summer in Geneva. Our regular high profile food promotions are a true motivation to our kitchen and service colleagues allowing them to meet super stars such as Pierre Gagnaire, Hélène Darroze, José Avillez or Antonio Guida just to name a few.

What are the competitive advantages Mandarin Oriental boasts as a luxury hotel operator?

MOHG sets itself apart through unique hotels in particular settings offering superb Food and Beverage, unique spas and sophisticated room products. Our oriental heritage and legendary quality service adds a special touch to these features. We remain today a small luxurious hotel operator with twenty nice operating hotels of which most of them are under management contract but also more than ten are fully or partially owned. This is very unique in today’s luxury hospitality.

Lars Wagner is a hotelier with over 26 years of experience, of which the past 10 years with the Mandarin Oriental Oriental Hotel Group. Currently, Wagner is the General Manager of Mandarin Oriental, Geneva.

Lars Wagner, General Manager, Mandarin Oriental Geneva (photo Hosco)