Hong Kong – Mandarin Oriental’s flagship property celebrates its 50th birthday

CPP-LUXURY.COM has recently interviewed, exclusively, Mr Jonas Schuermann, General Manager of Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong as the flagship property of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group turns 50 this year.

The Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong celebrates 50 years through 2013. Which are the milestones throughout its history in terms of innovation? – service, technology, dining, SPA etc

Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong was given a USD150 million renovation between 2005 and 2006, with a nine-month closure (when more than double was spent than on building and furnishing the original hotel). The hotel was completely transformed to be able to offer guests 21st century oriental luxury and modern technology, whilst at the same time retaining its much-loved character and soul. The hotel was the first to have Technology Butlers available 24-hours a day and the first in Hong Kong to employ someone to oversee social media.  The 2006 renovations basically gave us a brand new hotel from the ‘hardware’ point of view, with the advantage of well trained and loyal workforce. At this moment we are the latest full service 5* hotel on Hong Kong island.

The hotel has enjoyed continuous success throughout these 50 years and has since 1963 repeatedly been voted the world’s best hotel. As for dining, Executive Chef Uwe Opocensky introduced Molecular Cuisine and “Progressive Gastronomy” to some of its restaurants, including the Michelin-starred restaurant, Mandarin Grill + Bar and The Krug Room.

With a growingly competitive luxury hospitality market in Hong Kong, what makes the Mandarin Oriental stand out? Which is your hotel’s comp set?

Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong is the longest established hotel on Hong Kong Island and is 50 years old this year. For many years it has built up a strong relationship with its regular guests, regardless of whether they use rooms, restaurants or the spa. It is now welcoming third generations of the same families who came to the hotel 40 – 50 years ago and the hotel is very proud of this. The wonderful thing is that this also applies to the staff, many of whom have been with the hotel for over 30 years and with a few of them still working at the hotel from the time it first opened.

As GM of a hotel such as this, I have been fortunate enough to have travelled to many different countries and to have stayed in many different hotels. But I feel that when you close your eyes at night you could be anywhere in the world and every hotel is much the same. However, it is the staff that makes the difference for it is the staff that interacts and impresses guests by providing them with excellent service, and by making them feel special on arrival and throughout their stay, so they will have lasting memories of the hotel.

I would say that Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong has a unique position in the city because of its history and selling points and therefore should not be compared with other hotels. At the same time it never rests on its laurels but constantly strives to maintain its position as a leader of the industry. By many people, Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong is not considered to be solely a “hotel”, but also an extension of their homes. It is here that people come to meet friends for a coffee, to take afternoon tea and to enjoy Michelin-starred dinners.

Krug Room at Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong

The Clipper Lounge is known as Hong Kong’s sitting room, the Captain’s Bar as the place to meet after work and it is believed that if you just take a seat in our lobby area you will always see someone you know. It was reputed that when the hotel closed for its refurbishment, the Stock Exchange held a three-minute silence as it was so concerned about where its members would go after work. Our private event rooms are used by everyone for celebrations and business meetings and even if you attend a new designer store opening, or a private event in someone’s house, there is a good possibility that you will be enjoying a taste of The Mandarin as the hotel will be doing the outside catering for it.

The hotel’s location is really outstanding too. Situated in the heart of Central it is in close walking distance of not only the business district but also world-class designer shopping, culture and the vibrant art gallery scene that has recently established itself in Hong Kong.

Which are the top three nationalities which are loyal guests of the Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong? Which foreign nationality has been the fastest growing in 2011-2012?

The top three countries of residence of our clients are USA, Britain and China whilst the fastest growing nationalities are those from emerging markets such as China, Middle-Eastern countries and Brazil.

Your hotel has a unique dining offering. Tell us more. To what extent your F&B outlets are important in staying connected to the local clientele?

We have ten outstanding dining outlets, including six restaurants of which two boast Michelin stars, three bars and one cake shop. Each of them is unique and has its own character. We aim to provide our guests with the choice necessary to suit the needs of people from different walks of life. For example, most of our lunch guests are business people who host lunches for their important clients at the Clipper Lounge or Café Causette; for dinner, romantic couples or groups of friends like to go to the Michelin-starred Pierre or Mandarin Grill + Bar, while tradition-minded local families like to have dim sum at Man Wah over the weekends. This makes the local people see Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong not only as a hotel, but also an extension of their homes and it is here that they choose to meet and entertain their families, friends and business associates.

As luxury travellers, both leisure and corporate, are becoming more sophisticated and demanding, which are the major opportunities and challenges you foresee?

The hospitality market, especially in a fast-moving city like Hong Kong, has definitely become more competitive with an increase in demand from well-heeled travellers. However, we see this as an opportunity that will keep pushing us to improve and to continuously provide our guests with impeccable service. It also gives us a chance to work with the best in various fields, such as spa experts and celebrity chefs, and run the hotel to world-class standards.

How important is social media for your hotel and what do you think social media achieves for a property of your calibre.

Social media plays a very important role at our hotel and we were the first in Hong Kong to employ someone to solely oversee this area. Social media has fundamentally changed the way we communicate with our global community, both in our professional and personal spheres by enabling us to connect with our guests in ways we could not do before. Prior to the rise of social media channels, we communicated with our guests periodically through advertising and direct marketing, or we responded when individuals expressed interest in a stay at one of our properties. Today, the touch-points occur many times daily and through a seemingly infinite number of real-time channels. Our audiences have welcomed us into their daily lives via Facebook, Twitter and others, allowing us to forge stronger bonds with past, present and future guests and ultimately enhance their experience and knowledge of our brand and broaden our brand’s footprints.

Social Media, Social Networking Services and Social Networking Sites (SNS) in China have become a very important resource. With over 80% of people researching information on-line, and according to the China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC) there are 513 million Internet users in China (up by 55.8 million from last year) with 250 million of them using Sina Weibo – a channel that has 360 million users globally to source and share information. The hotel social media strategy has witnessed a profound transformation in recent years with online bookings, blogging as a medium for content publishing or interacting with Internet users to build a community amongst travellers becoming mainstream.  SNS has certainly opened doors that allow us to achieve effective branding through community building, constant engagement with our targeted customers, and communicating with them and collecting their feedback.  Our goal is to generate brand awareness and build customer loyalty through engagements with past, present and potential guests, with the ultimate goal of generating revenue through owned channels (such as the MO website and direct off-line bookings).

With the Peninsula renovating most of its inventory and upgrading its technology and your latest competitor, the Ritz Carlton which bosts a unique SPA, how do you view competition?

Competitors are inevitable in Hong Kong, which is a place with many world-class hotels and this is very beneficial to the city. As one of the leading hotels in the market, we understand that we have competition and that we need to constantly work to stay ahead of our competition and to remain competitive. To achieve this, we always bring in new services, such as celebrity guest chefs, and deliver the most desirable products and experiences to our guests. The key is to anticipate clients needs before the clients actually realise that they need them.

Do you think exceptional service can make up for a dated (tired) property?

Even though we are the longest established hotel on Hong Kong Island with 50 years of history, our hotel is never regarded as a dated property. We have always striven to maintain our position as the prime leader in the industry with regards to innovation and also the provision of exceptional service.

In 2005 and 2006, Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong underwent a major renovation of the entire hotel. We struck a harmonious balance between maintaining our oriental heritage whilst giving our rooms a contemporary and fresh feel, with each room embracing state-of-the-art technology. At the same time, we introduced a series of new services to ensure that we kept ahead of the game, whilst retaining the elements which guests did not want us to alter. For instance, our Executive Chef Uwe Opocensky introduced Molecular Cuisine and “Progressive Gastronomy” into some of our restaurants, including our Michelin-starred restaurant, Mandarin Grill + Bar and The Krug Room. Our hotel is loved by many and when we oversaw the refurbishment we listened carefully to what these people said. As a result of this we actually spent a lot of money upgrading certain areas such as the Captain’s Bar and The Chinnery, whilst retaining the original look and feel as our guests did not want any changes. We offer 21st century Oriental luxury and for us, retaining what is loved and embracing the surroundings we are in is very important to us.

What are your plans ahead of a 2013 of celebrating half a century birthday?

The year 2013 promises to be an exciting one for us as Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong will be celebrating its “50 Fantastic Years” with a host of special promotions to honour this milestone achievement. These year-long promotions will commemorate the famous hotel’s 50-year history, as well as initiating the hotel’s second 50 years in the heart and hearts of Hong Kong and its people.

From now until 31 December 2013, guests can enjoy our Golden Celebration Stay package with luxurious accommodation, a bottle of champagne, USD50 spa credit, a special 50th anniversary gift and daily breakfast.

Home to 10 individually unique restaurants and bars of which two boast Michelin stars, we offer guests and visitors a wide range of must-try promotions within each of these outlets. These include our Executive Chef Uwe Opocensky’s adaptation of 1960’s dishes with a 21st century twist in the exclusive Krug Room from now until the end of the year.

From 25 February to 1 April, the Clipper Lounge will become home to an exhibition of classic photographs of the hotel, allowing guests to look back and recall the 1960s and 70s. And, our creative pastry team will even make the afternoon tea cakes into the shapes seen in these photographs.

In March, the hotel will welcome the first of its celebrity guest chefs to the Michelin-starred Mandarin Grill + Bar. Chef Daniel Humm, one of America’s most talked about and acclaimed chefs and hailing from the three Michelin stars Eleven Madison Park in New York, will be cooking his award-winning dishes from 13-17 March.

The Chinnery will be offering guests a special port flight from 8 April, along with an exclusive port dinner on 11 April, when outstanding British dishes will be paired with the finest wines and ports, including one from 1963.

Zhiweiguan Weizhuang restaurant from Hangzhou, which will be celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2013, will be bringing its award-winning and signature dishes to Man Wah for the first time from 20-28 April. During this visit, a team of eight will present a series of dishes and menus that will showcase the restaurant’s authentic Hangzhou dishes.

Apart from the above, the Mandarin Spa will welcome spiritual teacher and world-renowned astrologer Gahl Sasson from 25 February to 4 March 2013, during which he will be available to give predictions for the year ahead. In April, The Mandarin Spa will also launch a new and exclusive anti-ageing “Golden Utopia Facial” which will focus on the rejuvenation of the face, eyes and neck areas, using state-of-the-art Gaylia Kristensen products and a brilliant new 24 Carat gold natural collagen infusion mask.

During our 50th anniversary celebrations the hotel will not only celebrate the past but embrace the future and with this in mind it will partner with Hong Kong Polytechnic University students in a competition to design the “Hotel of the Future”. A total of 39 Environment and Interior Design Year Two students (Hong Kong’s interior designers of the future) will be set, as part of their thesis, a seven week programme to design the “Hotel room or suite”, “Lobby or reception area”, “spa”, “food and beverage outlet” and “function room” of the future. All their designs will be on display in the Clipper Lounge in late June and will be judged by a team of professors from the university, along with the management of the hotel, Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group’s design team and other representatives. The top five design groups will be invited to make short presentations and the winning team will be announced at the School of Design’s Annual Show in June. The winning team will earn a three night “Travelling Scholarship” to Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok where it will submit a travelling report. Four other teams will also win prizes enabling them to enjoy a series of meals in the hotel’s legendary restaurants.

Jonas Schuermann, General Manager – Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong