|Luxury Leaders: Jonas Schuermann, Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong; Lars Wagner, Mandarin Oriental, Geneva; Amanda Hyndman, Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok and Tony McHale, Mandarin Oriental, London.|
Luxury Travel Advisor hosted a roundtable as part of its Affluent Traveler series recently at the Mandarin Oriental, New York, with top general managers from Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group. Included in the discussion were Jonas Schuermann from Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong; Amanda Hyndman from Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok; Tony McHale from Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, London; and Lars Wagner from Mandarin Oriental, Geneva. The group was in New York with their colleagues from around the world to meet with the top 250 luxury travel advisors in the Manhattan area.
Ruthanne Terrero, Luxury Travel Advisor: We’ve run a series of roundtables over the year examining the behavior of the American affluent traveler. What we’ve found is, in general, they are still looking for the deal or at least want to know what they are paying for. If they’re given a cost for an overall trip by a luxury travel advisor, they want to unbundle the whole thing; they want to know how much the transfer and the hotel costs. They will often still go with the price, but they want that transparency.
What are you seeing in your markets?.
Tony McHale, Mandarin Oriental, London: It’s the added value but it’s not value of the room rates or the transfer. It’s what you are going to do for me once I get there from an experiential perspective? But they also expect the unexpected. They want to know that we are interested in making their stay memorable. I think they want more added value. That’s not necessarily saying if it’s a £500 or a £15,000 [suite] that they want a discount on it. It’s the added value over and above the basics that they are really looking for.
|Jonas Schuermann, Hong Kong and Lars Wagner, Geneva.|
Ruthanne Terrero: At a past roundtable, a hotelier noted that if a guest has booked a suite, by the time they actually arrive, they’ve already viewed it several times online, so they are almost blasé by the time they get there. That “wow” moment of arrival is lost.
Tony McHale, London: Exactly. But if we know that they are going out jogging tomorrow and we put a kit in their room with an energy bar and a towel, they’ll say, “Oh, how nice!” It only cost us $10 but we just wowed them with a simple thing. We had one little girl who left a teddy bear behind. We found the teddy bear and we sent it back in a box with a photo album that showed what the teddy bear had been doing in the last three or four days; dining at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, having breakfast overlooking the park with a couple of friends that he had met, one of which was a monkey, and so on. Of course, the parents and the little girl absolutely loved that.
Amanda Hyndman, Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok: As you said, people are doing research before they go and they have expectations. They are really looking for unusual things and exclusive access. It’s not necessarily about what it costs, it’s more a case of understanding what they are looking for and being able to organize that and build that into the package or the itinerary.
|Tony McHale, London; Ruthanne Terrero, Luxury Travel Advisor and Jonas Schuermann, Hong Kong.|
The other thing is multigenerational travel. We’ve got so many more families with the next generation coming along; it’s almost as if they are bringing their tiny kids to give them a taste of travel; then they take the kids out of school saying, “This is a better experience than school.” A lot of American families are bringing what I call “grown-up kids,” in their early 20s, and they are doing half of Southeast Asia. It’s almost like a rite of passage for the parents to show them [this part of the world], which is very special.
Lars Wagner, Mandarin Oriental, Geneva: I’ve been in Geneva for the past six years; previously, I was in our Munich hotel for five years. Munich is an FIT hotel; it’s high-end with a high average rate and Geneva is more of a corporate group hotel. The difference being that the IT part of our businesses comes more and more into play. I find that particularly in Geneva, being a group and a corporate hotel, the IT experience is shaping the overall guest experience. We all travel with different devices and connectivity just needs to happen, it needs to function and it has to be fast. Multigenerational travel is strong, particularly in Munich. We get a bit from the U.S. in Geneva, and from Latin and South American families.
Ruthanne Terrero: What are you seeing in Hong Kong?
Jonas Schuermann, Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong: I think price is irrelevant today. It’s the value. People do not care how much things cost as long as they feel something is being returned for their money.
My hotel has 500 bedrooms and that’s a lot of corporate. But we also get a lot of leisure travelers; and the high-end travelers want to be taken seriously. Somebody needs to listen to them and understand them; the high-end travelers expect a tailor-made experience. They do not want the template; this is across all generations.
|Amanda Hyndman, Bangkok and Tony McHale, London.|
A couple of years ago, we were all concerned that everyone would want to check in online; I see that 180 degrees in reverse now; people want to interact because they are [on social media] more and more in their daily life, so for me it’s a paradox. There is absolutely nothing social about social media. It’s all about what “I” do, it’s “I, I, I” and I think when they come to a hotel it’s very much what do “we” do.
Hotels today, be they four star or five star, all have good rooms; they all have good bathrooms; they all have nice soaps; when you switch off the light at night in the bedroom, they all look the same. It’s the people who make that difference in a hotel. We see that the most precious commodity today is time and what we endeavour on a daily basis is really making time for people.
Simple example, if you come to Hong Kong and you need to get your visa for China, instead of doing it yourself, you give us your passport in the morning at 9 o’clock and by 5 o’clock we have your visa done. We are trying to take hassle and time-consuming things away from the client, to give it back to them so they can use it for their own consumption, so to speak. That’s where luxury is heading.
|Ruthanne Terrero and Jonas Schuermann, Hong Kong.|
Luxury has nothing to do with gold-plated faucets and crystal chandeliers, it is all about “I am the only guest in this hotel; they know me in this hotel.” It’s all about that whole experience, that’s what luxury is for me today.
One of our pillars is to anticipate this and that can be on every level, be it the corporate travelers or family travelers, high-end leisure travelers or honeymooners or whatever, to surprise people and they go on multigenerational trips. We see that very often when parents come, they bring their parents and their kids to places like Vietnam, Cambodia, China or Myanmar in Asia; Hong Kong is a fantastic gateway to all.
We see a lot of families. I think mainland China will become even more important to the luxury segment, not only in Asia but around the world. And in China, cross-generational travel is very much engrained.
Ruthanne Terrero: How do you train staff so service appears to happen intuitively and subtly?
Amanda Hyndman, Bangkok: At the heart of it, we say it’s about delighting the guests. We want to be that home away from home. So anything we can do to customize that visit, we’ll do it.
Ruthanne Terrero: Do you try to get a lot of information before they even stay at the hotel?
Amanda Hyndman, Bangkok: We try to, depending on the way that they booked. We will look at guest preferences—at dietary preferences or travel preferences; you can take that to many, many different levels. If they have stayed at a sister hotel, we have a Global Guest program. It’s a big thing to welcome people back, even if it’s because someone has just stayed in New York last week.
Jonas Schuermann, Hong Kong: It can also be simple things; if somebody stays with you for four days, you pick up certain things. It’s not complicated. You have to look at the client as a guest that comes to your house. You welcome him, you give him his favorite foods, and you make sure that he or she sleeps well. The next morning, you ask, “How did you sleep?” When they are leaving, you say, “Please come back, it was wonderful having you here.”
Tony McHale, London: Just like Jonas said, “It’s just all about me; I am the only guest.”
Ruthanne Terrero: Is the U.S. traveler willing to spend more than they had been?
Lars Wagner, Geneva: We’ve seen an increase in the number of travelers. The number of American [travelers] is up; it’s very positive.
Jonas Schuermann, Hong Kong: Multigenerational travel is much more emphasized and has made people aware of the time they have together as a family; it’s about experiencing things and creating experiences as a family. Ten years ago, I hardly saw any teenagers traveling with their parents. Now it is all about quality time and spending more money on experiences rather than on goods.
Jonas Schuermann, Hong Kong: Fifteen years ago, you set an Xbox up in the room for the kids. Today, parents are much more in tune with what their teenagers are interested in. That has been a big positive change.
Amanda Hyndman, Bangkok: When I was a kid, my parents used to take me camping; I didn’t stay in a luxury hotel until later, and now these kids coming through are very aware about what the luxury experience is.
Ruthanne Terrero: Let’s talk about social networking in terms of dealing with people’s reactions to their stay.
Amanda Hyndman, Bangkok: There is nothing worse when you get a complaint after the event [takes place] and they are gone. You could have resolved it while they were still here if you knew.
Jonas Schuermann, Hong Kong: We had a client who was in her room who tweeted that the air conditioner wasn’t working properly. She went out and when she came back, the air conditioner was working; she said, “Thank you.” I said, “Yeah, of course.”
Ruthanne Terrero: But that’s great, because there’s a service recovery there and they may be a more loyal customer after something like that happens.
Jonas Schuermann, Hong Kong: If the guest has a valid grievance and if you deal with the grievance in a professional, timely and proactive manner, they become your best clients.
Amanda Hyndman, Bangkok: And they tell everybody.
Lars Wagner, Geneva: For the past six months, I have been responding to comments on TripAdvisor. I try to package my comments to say what else is in the hotel and in the destination. I try to be transparent by putting my e-mail address under my name, and guests love it and respond to me. So transparency and approachability on our level, I have come to understand, are very important these days.
Ruthanne Terrero: Let’s talk about what the luxury travel advisor means to you and how you work with them.
Lars Wagner, Geneva: Having a direct relationship is very important; approachability I think is very important. They are our partners; our extended arm and that is very important. They are also our marketing people. So it is a win-win and it is a great partnership that we value, and will continue to value.
Amanda Hyndman, Bangkok: When we gather as a staff at the hotel and we may have 100 or 200 arrivals coming in, we’ll pull out those [affiliated with the top travel advisors] because we’ve prioritized these relationships.
Tony McHale, London: The other side of that is the value to the client because these travel advisors are extremely knowledgeable, especially once they have stayed at our hotels. The client is looking for that experience. We say that it’s not just about a room. When they go to London, they want to have a plan from beginning to end, absolutely everything. If the travel advisor has been to London, the client barely needs to call the concierge because the advisor has said, you need to do A, B, C, D, E, F and G. And if it’s a multigenerational family, then it’s going to be anything from the kids to mom and dad having a great evening out. The value is unbelievable. They are like a global concierge in my opinion.
Amanda Hyndman, Bangkok: There are many gorgeous hotels. The only thing that makes the difference is the people. There may be newer or smarter or sexier hotels but we know we get the business because that [advisor] is going to say, “Make sure you have this [client taken care of] for me, it’s really important.”
Jonas Schuermann, Hong Kong: The role of the advisor has changed. Ten to 15 years ago, the Internet almost put travel advisors out of business. Everybody said, “Oh, they are going to disappear like dinosaurs because the Internet is going to take over.” The Internet adds great value, but to have a person to talk to, especially when things go a bit bumpy and this person is able to call the right person and just make it go away is priceless. A travel advisor can get you access to things that the Internet can’t provide you with. The travel advisor’s role has changed, like our role has changed and the stronger we are together, the better we can achieve the ultimate goal of having a really happy customer. And if the customer is happy, we both win. As Lars said, it’s all about relationships because when I said before that the clients want to be taken seriously, that’s true, too, for the advisor.