Sexy in the City.
By Steve Shellum, Editor, HOTEL Asia Pacific
Monday, 24th April 2006
The Landmark Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong is determined to achieve the city's highest room rates.

THE VIEW FROM THE TOP at the Landmark Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong is direct and clear: to be the leader in a city where room rates are climbing through the roof. The property - dubbed by some as "the hotel without views" - is determined to knock The Peninsula from the top spot, not to mention its ageing sibling across the street, the Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong.

The recently opened 113-room property has set its lowest room rate at HK$4,000 (US$515) for a 450 square foot room, rising to $5,400 for a 600 square foot corner room and $8,800 for a Landmark Suite. The Presidential Suite goes for $42,000.

Built as part of a former office building, the hotel is surrounded by rather non-descript edifices, and the views from the guestrooms are nothing to write home about.

But GM Susan Hartje does not see the lack of harbour or mountain views as a major disadvantage. Her target clientele are well-heeled travellers who have been there, done that, and consider a spacious guestroom, central location and exemplary service more important than picture-postcard vistas.

The hotel's press material declares, in classic PR-speak: "The Landmark Mandarin Oriental has established a new benchmark for luxury, elegance and dedicated service combined with state-of-the-art technology and the latest in contemporary design."

The down-to-earth Hartje puts it more succinctly: "We are positioning ourselves not only as a luxury hotel, but as a lifestyle luxury hotel. As for the location, we couldn't have anywhere more perfect," she says.

"We have the most central location in Central, and are connected via sky bridges to the most international buildings in Hong Kong.

"Time is very important for a lot of our guests, who need to get where they want to go without any hassles or disturbance, and without having to worry about transport or the weather."

The opening of the hotel marks the first time that renowned hotel designers Peter Remedios and Adam Tihany worked together, with Remedios designing the guestrooms, suites and spa, and Tihany the restaurants and bars.

What the hotel lacks in views, it certainly makes up for in the guestrooms, which Hartje claims are the largest in Hong Kong. They are eye-poppingly cool, and dripping with that all-important - and often over-hyped - "wow factor".

Unashamedly contemporary, they manage to incorporate genre-busting technology that is in reach, but not in your face.

The most obvious bow to the altar of technology are the two wall-mounted flat-screen TVs with video-on-demand technology, 56 channels and high-definition content which, the hotel says, is available for the first time in Asia.

The entertainment system allows guests to plug in their iPods or other MP3 players and video cameras, while a DVD player surrounds the room with sound.

Other tech touches include both wired and wireless internet access with corporate VPN access, and colour touch-screen phones with dual lines.

Impressive as all this digital wizardry might be, the real wow effect comes from that most basic of all amenities - the bathtub.

Rather than being hidden away behind blank walls as a kind of afterthought, these shamelessly opulent, freestanding, circular spa baths take pride of place behind glass walls in the centre of the guestrooms. Who cares about soaking up non-existent views when you can slip into one of these?

Another major point of pride for the hotel is its extensive spa, stretching over 21,000 square feet and claimed to be the most comprehensive in Asia, with Turkish Hamam baths, 15 treatment rooms, separate his-and-hers spa areas and a high-tech gym (see panel page 24).

The hotel's signature restaurant, Amber, has a touch of the avant-garde, with a dramatic ceiling sculpture setting off the burned-amber hues, while executive chef Richard Ekkebus' menu combines French, Asian and southern European cuisines. The MO Bar, meanwhile, makes extensive use of fibre optics to create multiple moods.

The much-abused term "boutique hotel" might spring to mind when describing the Landmark Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong, but Hartje will hear none of it. "I would not call this a boutique hotel because, based on where I come from in Europe, a boutique hotel is one with a traditional facade but with very modern interior design.

"I do not think that this hotel is modern - it is contemporary, with interestingly designed public areas.

"If you look at the design of the hotel, I would not say that we are trendy or fashionable - we are not aiming for that because that type of hotel goes out of fashion. If you look at the design, it's very well thought through in terms of being long lasting, timeless and very, very sophisticated.

"The designer aimed for comfort and beauty - he didn't want to come out of the box and make a fancy statement. He went to great lengths to ensure that everything in the hotel is the kind of thing that people would love to see in their own homes. It's a comfortable, very residential, quality product."

With intense competition from sexy newcomers as well as well-entrenched and recently refurbished established hotels in Hong Kong, the hotel was meticulous in its design and positioning.

"We thought it was a great opportunity to have a second, and even a third hotel, in Hong Kong to complement our existing hotels [the Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong and Excelsior].

"With what's happening in Hong Kong now, and especially with more hotels coming in, it's become an increasingly strategic destination. And, considering how Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group has developed over the past year or so in terms of new design concepts, the hotel is also a highly strategic move for the company.

"There have been many changes in Central over the past few years, and we want to show the new facade of Mandarin Oriental, as well as of Central.

"We believe that this will show companies coming to Hong Kong how really strategically important it is for luxury brands to be present here. Even though this will result in more hotel rooms, I believe the demand is there - the industry is nearly back to 1997 levels, which is very promising.

"You've got hotels outside the city, some on Kowloon side, some here on the Island side, with different sizes and different offerings - it's very important that everyone can see that those brands are present. Hong Kong is well prepared for all markets, for the China market, for the business traveller, for the family, for the long-haul market, for the leisure traveller. Obviously, the Landmark Oriental doesn't have a big ballroom or extensive meeting facilities, but we never wanted those. We decided to look for a particular market, and we have found it.

"We offer a lot, especially when it comes to entertainment, shopping, fashion and the whole lifestyle thing. Now we can offer something unique to the business traveller who wants somewhere where there are not large groups of other guests. For the restaurants and bar, we have a lot of people coming in not just because it's Mandarin, but also because its easy to get to."

This year, Hartje is seeing a large percentage of corporate guests, but next year she and her team are aiming to attract more leisure travellers, particularly long haul from Europe [particularly the UK] and the United States, followed by Japan and Australia.

Crucial to the success of the hotel is its much-heralded personal service and, with 300 staff for just 113 rooms, its staff room ratio is a throwback to the glory days of the '80s when Hong Kong hoteliers paraded such figures with pride. [That was before a series of economic shockers sent employee numbers falling, and the new mantras of hotel professionals became multi-tasking, staff re-engineering and technology.]

"We have close to 300 people here - that's three to one - but, at the end of the day, it doesn't matter how many people you have if you don't train them, if you don't provide them with the tools, if you don't have the dedication and support. Our recruitment was like a big happening, an event in itself. Our people need to know what our culture is all about, so we have very extensive training with people from our properties all over the world flying in and staying here as 'cultural exchange ambassadors'.

"We always answer questions and explain anything that's not understood or clear, so they can concentrate on the little things that make our guests' lives easier.

"Obviously, in the run-up to the opening, we had all the usual things go wrong that could go wrong, but that's the whole idea of working together, of planning and of our company's way of doing things - that you are prepared and you put them right.

"In many ways, we put everything together in a very short period of time, including recruitment and opening the restaurant, but that's because we have a company behind us that knows about service and knows how to get things done.

"At the end of the day, it depends on leadership skills and, with a hotel of 113 rooms, you need a mindset that says, 'Whose coming to my house? - and that is my style. Today, it's about finding a balance between being a hotelier and a business person. We have a real luxury brand here, so we provide more of the traditional style of hotel service, which means knowing your guests, knowing what they want and making them feel at home.

"We try for intimacy with our guests as well as with our staff."

Copyright: HOTEL Asia Pacific

Email: steve@hotelasiapacific.com

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