Michael Hobson, Mandarin Oriental Group’ s CMO on his unique insight on the future of luxury hospitality

Michael Hobson, Chief Marketing Officer of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group shares exclusively with CPP-LUXURY.COM his unique vision on the future of luxury hospitality and the secret behind the success of his company, one of the leading international luxury hotel chains, with a 48 year history. 


Many luxury international hotel chains have been implementing recently, advertising campaigns to illustrate their commitment to providing personalized service. Most campaigns instill the idea of being closer, friendlier to the guest. Mandarin has remained rather conservative, pursuing its simple, yet sophisticated “Fans of Mandarin Oriental campaign”. What is your view in this?


We believe that service is ” an entry ticket to the game ” of luxury hotel keeping. If one doesn’t provide personalized service, it’s surely not luxury. Constantly changing marketing and advertising strategy I believe, results in inconsistency in image. I’m proud of the fact that we haven’t felt the need to change our award winning campaign which is constantly refreshed with the addition of new celebrity fans who are willing to endorse our brand each and every year. The premise of the campaign is that successful people like our fans typically know the best things in life like Mandarin Oriental. There’s definitely power in staying on course. There’s an old saying in the advertising business “just when you’re bored with your own campaign, is just when the customer is starting to notice it!”. I think that’s very true. Customers like consistency. Look at the Rolex campaign as an example….


Mandarin Oriental has recently opened in Paris. Designed and subtly conceived as a more feminine hotel, the Mandarin Oriental, Paris targets mostly leisure guests. What is the positioning and target of the hotel?


Like all of our hotels, we aim to be perceived in the minds of our customers at the very top of the luxury hotel market and to perform as such. The majority of our guests are discretionary spending and discerning leisure guests who appreciate our subtle blend of quality, tradition and innovation. We like to say that we stand for 21st century luxury with Oriental charm !


Mandarin Oriental reputation is linked to its exceptional SPAs. What is your company’s long term communications strategy on SPAs.


Our strategy is to stay true to our philosophy and continue to provide personalised dedicated service using highly qualified therapists. Our studies and financial performance demonstrate that our guests are seeking good quality massage and relaxation. Our aim is to continue to develop the therapeutic benefits of these services. We are analysing every aspect of the guest experience from reservations to departure in order to ensure a consistent level of service throughout the experience. This is communicated in a simple manner where we ask each member of the spa team to think how they can enhance the experience to make it memorable for the guest.


The area of beauty treatments is evolving rapidly and we have therefore developed a beauty concept and set of guidelines to define the position that Mandarin Oriental have in regard to the various skin care and ‘anti-aging’ programmes available. Our beauty strategy falls in line with our philosophy and holistic attitude. It provides a variety of services that focus on healthy aging and good skin care using long term solutions.


Finally we continue to expand on our wellness programmes offering wellness destinations such as Dhara Dhevi and Sanya and wellness lectures at our city locations. The results speak for themselves.  We now have 8 Forbes 5 star spas – more than any other hotel group!


With the internet gaining tremendous ground in marketing communications, what do you think are the key advantages luxury hotels should consider and what are the key elements they should avoid and why? Do you think social platforms such as Facebook will take over entirely communications channels with consumers of luxury, particularly services?


Mandarin Oriental have been early adopters of the Internet and the technology boom and I believe we understand our customers well and how they would prefer we communicate with them. Facebook and similar social media channels are but one aspect of an integrated marketing communications approach. I am a firm believer in the marketing mix, ie we must use multiple channels, often simultaneously, to reach our audience in the most appropriate manner. I think the question we always ask ourselves before we do anything is “ is this on brand or not ?”.


What is your present strategy for online communications versus print media? Do you consider major changes in your strategy in the near future?


Again, I think we have been relatively early adopters of the online opportunities that present themselves but we see a clear role for both, one reinforcing the other. The customer research and feedback we receive supports this view. We see no reason to change what has worked well for us but we are consciously adjusting our plans as we go and grow.


Your company has had a consistent environmentally friendly policy. Tell us more about future.


Acting with responsibility is a guiding principle of our company, and we are becoming increasingly active in communicating our corporate responsibility efforts  around the world, both from an environmental and social, community perspective.  This year, Mandarin Oriental launched its first Sustainability Report internally, designed to educate and engage all colleagues on our corporate responsibility values and accomplishments.   We are currently preparing our first ever public Sustainability Report, consistent with the Global Reporting Initiative’s methodology. Our public report will be released next year, informing all our stakeholders – guests, clients, partners, investors and colleagues – on how Mandarin Oriental is doing more for a sustainable future. As a company, we believe that long-term success requires sustainable business practices, and we’re deeply committed to responsibly managing our environmental impacts and contributing to the communities in which we operate.


Innovations such as valet box, tech butler and cuisine (anti aging menus) have been creating headlines. To what extent is Mandarin Oriental perceived as an innovator in luxury hospitality and what is your desired positioning.


I think Mandarin Oriental is indeed considered an innovator in many areas such as spa, food and beverage, design and technology but I think more importantly, we have been able to bring all these new ideas together, with consistency in very varied parts of the world. I believe our brand is sufficiently intriguing to induce trial amongst those who don’t yet know us and comfort and familiarity among our fans and followers.


What has been the biggest challenge in terms of marketing from the debut of the international crisis and what has been the opportunity you have seized?


We are very blessed to operate such an international portfolio and therefore we have not been wholly reliant upon any one geographic market. While we are of course as concerned as the next person about the poor economic state in many leading industrial nations, our results so far in 2011 have been stellar.  While we keep our product and marketing ideas fresh, we are proud to be able to act with consistency and my experience over these many years tells me that this is what our customers value the most.


Your company does not have a loyalty program. Why?


We believe that true loyalty comes from the heart, not necessarily from the mind.  We don’t believe that a true luxury brand such as ours, should operate a “ points and prizes “ programme. We have the ability to recognize our guests’ needs, wants and preferences on property and deliver recognition of those through the interaction with our colleagues. This tends to drive a far deeper loyalty than a traditional, mass transit type of loyalty programme. Broadly, I believe such loyalty schemes to be an excuse for not building a brand through good marketing and more importantly, through the reality of the guest experience. Why is it that luxury brands (other than hotel companies) don’t operate loyalty programmes ?!


Do you plan to implement in the near future a centralized system with detailed client preferences profiles so that each property can implement these before the arrival of the guest ?


We offer the ability to recognize customer preferences today but it is true to say that we are enhancing our on line and property management platforms as we speak and you can expect to see some significant enhancements in 2012.


What do you think about luxury hotels implementing a unique contact point for communicating with the in house guest ? (dedicated 24 hour email address to respond to any request) or dedicated lifestyle manager to handle all requests throughout the stay?


The culture in our company is for any of our colleagues around the world, both on and off property, to completely delight and satisfy our guests. I think it would be a sad day if we were directing our guests to an email address or a faceless concierge. We all feel the responsibility of this hospitality industry which we signed up for. Our philosophy is to do anything for a guest at any time ( provided it is legal and moral to do so). I would shudder to think of us directing requests to a “ customer service department “ or such like.

Oliver Petcu



Michael Hobson, Chief Marketing Officer, has more than 30 years experience in the hospitality industry, joining Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group in May 1994.  He has lived in Hong Kong since 1985.

Mr Hobson joined the Group from Omni Hotels Asia-Pacific where he held the position of Vice President of Sales and Marketing Worldwide.  Prior to that he worked with Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts as Group Director of Sales and Marketing. His hospitality career began with Grand Metropolitan in 1978, and in his nine years with the company, he concentrated on sales and development and was stationed in the United Kingdom, Latin America, USA, Singapore and Hong Kong.

A British national, Mr Hobson holds an MBA from the University of Leicester having previously studied Hotel and Catering Operations at Brighton Technical College in the United Kingdom