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Lars Wagner, Mandarin Oriental’s Ambassador to Europe

Lars Wagner, General Manager, Mandarin Oriental Munich (photo courtesy of dagusta.de)

With a career in hospitality spanning 26 years, German born, Lars Wagner has been for the past 5 years’s the General Manager of Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Munich, the undisputed leading luxury hotel in the Bavarian capital, a top hotel in Germany and the whole of Europe.

Mandarin Oriental, Munich is also the best perfoming and the highest rated* Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group property worldwide. (*independent review websites such as Tripadvisor but also lead travel magazines). Lars Wagner’s ultimate achievement for any hotelier is by far the fact that Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Munich is recognized an institution, loved by the local elite – top business men, top executives, celebrities and the most sophisticated clientele from abroad. Events such as the Chinese New Year Gala at the Mandarin Oriental is a ”must attend” event on Germany’s elite social scene.

With the exception Hong Kong (Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong) and Tokyo, none of the other Mandarin Oriental Hotels worlwide have achieved the same status. In terms of quality of service, Mandarin Oriental  is simply flawless. Apart from being a hotel, Mandarin Oriental, Munich could easily be a training centre for the Mandarin Oriental chain, as it perfectly reflects the values Mandarin Oriental stands for – ”the Hermes of hospitality”

In an exclusive interview, Lars Wagner shared with CPP-LUXURY.COM his expertize, vision and business philosophy.

Mandarin Oriental Munich has been constantly rated as one of the best luxury hotels not only in Germany but in Europe as a whole. Which are the key ingredients for continued success and therefore consistency in product offering and services?

It is all about a dedicated and committed team of colleagues and department heads who live and breathe Mandarin Oriental’s mission; “to completely delight and satisfy our guests. We are committed to making a difference every day; continually getting better to keep us the best”.

This is something we instil in our colleagues every day in order to deliver superior service. Our staff has come to understand that “service from the heart” means much more to our sophisticated travellers than any hardware which anyone can offer. Continuous training on how to delight our guests, on how to anticipate guests’ needs as well as how to apply genuine “wow” factors are key to success. This is led by a team of executives that are the best and live and drive our service culture.

Within the Mandarin Oriental Group, Mandarin Oriental Munich is one of the smallest properties. To what extent is size an advantage and a challenge?

Being a property with only 73 rooms, space will be a challenge, however one that we are constantly addressing in order to delight our guests with offering a product that corresponds with guests’ evolving travel needs and expectations.

Over the past few years the hotel has relocated its administrative offices to a neighbouring building in order to gain further space for additional facilities for our guests.  We have become creative in turning unused space into revenue generating areas that many years ago nobody would have thought of. Our latest idea was to turn the Sales and Marketing office into a Fitness & Wellness Centre which the hotel never had due to its size restrictions. We are now at the stage of offering all the services and facilities you would expect from an international luxury hotel, whilst having the greatest advantage of TIME: It’s the TIME our colleagues can spend with guests that is so much appreciated by our international travellers and this is what I believe is reflected in the fantastic awards and recognition we are receiving around the world.

We at CPP-LUXURY.COM have recognized Mandarin Oriental, Munich as one of the most creative luxury hotels worldwide, from the point of view of allocation of space (roof top swimming pool in summer, roof top restaurant in winter, a new fitness centre) but also from a marketing point of view, coming up with the most innovative and attractive offers and packages – from dinner with a world famous soprano, a Valentine’s package (2012) with a high end jewellery git, to the complimentary use of a Mercedes Benz car. What is your strategic approach in developing all these projects?

We believe that only innovation and creativity can set us apart, not only from our local but also international competitors. It is so important that a hotel has a story to tell. Whilst we try to integrate the local community with our exclusive opera packages, we also try to appeal to the international traveller with the said Mercedes Benz package, our partner for many years. Travellers and locals seek experiences where exclusivity is packaged with a down to earth approach, i.e. taking a picture with Anna Netrebko during an exclusive dinner event or enjoying a simple beer on the roof terrace of a luxury hotel in a chalet environment. The contrast between luxury and simplicity has been fascinating and attracted many clients and these are just some examples of what has helped put our hotel on the international map.

You have recently introduced complimentary mini-bar and wi-fi internet in your junior suites, both amenities being progressively introduced by many international luxury chains. How important are these perks for your customers and how do you think potential customers will be motivated by these additional amenities ?

Our complimentary minibars which have been in place for the past ten years have always been a competitive advantage. In many of our feeder markets this has been a very simple and successful USP.

Only recently the hotel introduced, after having invested into our own upgraded 100 mbit hotel WiFi system, complimentary internet for Junior Suites and higher categories. We find that our clients want to buy a suite product with proof of value and that is what we have implemented.

How important is the internet for your marketing / communications strategy? How far do you think engaging with consumers should go?

75% of all travellers prior to making a final decision on their hotel booking consult various websites on the internet. It is therefore extremely important that channels such as your very own website, Facebook, TripAdvisor are managed and monitored with a lot of care and diligence. Consumers expect a very active and engaging interaction with the hotel on social media websites and we treat this just as importantly as any other interaction with our existing and potential clients.

Mandarin Oriental Munich offers every year special Ramadan packages and organizes a grand evening event for the Chinese New Year. How important are Middle Eastern / Arab and Chinese consumers? What are the three top nationalities of the most loyal guests at the Mandarin Oriental Munich.

Since Munich has developed a great reputation as a tourist, shopping and medical destination in the Middle East we have become creative in enticing some Middle East families during the Ramadan period to Munich. This is very attractive long stay business and by providing the right environment like a shuttle service to the mosque, a prayer mat and compass in our rooms and by being able to provide authentic Halal food to this clientele by our very own Lebanese Chef. The hotel’s annual Chinese New Year event has become the most important social party of the year for the local community. Since our company roots are in Hong Kong and since we want to say thank you to our local community we have taken advantage of this Chinese New Year event.

Your career in luxury hospitality spans over 26 years, your previous tenures including Four Seasons and Hyatt. For the past 4 years, you have been leading the team at the Mandarin Oriental Munich. What are the three most important professional achievements in your career to date?

Constantly striving for and achieving good results, even during the economic downturns is something that makes me very proud. We have a large number or repeat guests and continuously surprising our guests with new ideas, innovative changes and offering them a home away from home is as important as my first point.  It goes without saying though that the most important milestone was becoming and holding the title of a General Manager. Being part of that exclusive club makes you soooo proud and motivates you to keep going for years to come.

What motivates you to excel in your work time after time, without falling into a routine? How do you instil this motivation to your team?

The best part of our job is that no day is like the previous one and you never know what the chocolate box will offer you tomorrow. Running your hotel as an entrepreneur allows you to be creative and innovative. I can say that at Mandarin Oriental, Munich we are blessed with this advantage which allows our managers to take on that spirit which in turn motivates them tremendously. Our colleagues will to drive for excellence combined with a “service from the heart” approach has led us to where we are today.

How do you think hospitality is different from other luxury industry sectors? Have you ever been tempted to work in a different luxury industry field?

I believe that our industry is not very different to other luxury industry sectors like luxury cars or high end fashion labels. It’s all about providing genuine and intuitive service to your customers; it’s all about attention to details as well as caring and listening not only to your customers but also your employees. It is the last meter in the chain that executes and delivers the mission and vision.

What is your favourite past time in Munich? Which are your personal favourite spots in the city?

The English Garden in Munich in summer is what Central Park is in New York with the difference being that Munich has an amazing array of beer drinking spots for locals and tourists alike in the green oasis. Another of my favourites is to cheer on a Saturday the Bayern Munich soccer team with 69.000 other fans in the Allianz Arena to the Champions League final. 

interview by Oliver Petcu

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