The art of offering old-style luxury hospitality to travellers on a 24/7 hi-speed connected schedule with little time at hand.
The hand fan, which symbolises the orient and olden times, dominates the logo for the Mandarin Oriental hotel brand. This hotel group personifies luxury hospitality and is expanding its bespoke oriental hotel service throughout the world.
Danish hotelier, Christian Hassing, joined the distinguished hotel group sixteen years ago as General Manager (GM), overseeing the launch of Mandarin Oriental, Kuala Lumpur and subsequently Mandarin Oriental, Tokyo, which both became highly acclaimed flagship properties awarded for their exceptional service and product quality.
After eight years in Japan, he recently returned to Singapore to manage their Singapore hotel and oversee operations also in Indonesia and Malaysia as Area Vice President.
“Having had the opportunity to work for other luxury hotel companies around the world, the Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group really stands out, focusing intensely on the guest experience by putting great efforts into its service quality,” Christian begins.
We meet at the magnificent Oriental Club Lounge in Singapore, which offers a very exclusive concept reflecting their exceptional levels of service.
“Very often hotel companies have a tendency to reflect that their key focus is on guest services, however profit generation and shareholder returns are very often prioritised. In comparison the Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group focuses intensely on the delivery of superior services, which generally result in much higher staff count than our competitors.”
Mandarin Oriental’s Mission Statement points out the importance of completely delighting and satisfying guests. And remaining committed to making a difference every day; continually getting better to keep the hotel the best.
No cookie-cutter hotels
“Every Mandarin Oriental property is operated as an individual hotel, linked through our distinct Oriental heritage and ability to incorporate local design and cultural components. By combining local flavours with our distinct service delivery we are able to offer unique guest experiences at every destination we operate. This in turn differentiates us from global chains standardised cookie-cutter hotels that look and feel the same the world over.”
“I think one of our strong advantages with the positioning of the brand abroad has been that our guests can feel the destination, while enjoying the Oriental service values which we instil into our employees. And as we regularly are awarded as one of the best hotel companies in the world, we must be doing something right,” smiles Christian.
“Initially the Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group was predominantly recognised as an Asian luxury brand. But approximately 15 years ago the Group was able to grow its brand globally through expansion in the U.S and Europe.”
“Because of the implementation of our refined Oriental service culture and higher levels of quality within our new hotels, we were looked upon as a new luxury brand in the U.S and Europe, which actually benefited us in terms of the positioning of our brand.”
“Generally everyone wants to excel, so if someone elevates the quality standard direct competitors follow suit, which in turn helps a city or a destination,” Christian points out.
In the heart of the harbour
Their top-ranking Singapore hotel was really ahead of the curve when it opened 26 years ago – built on reclaimed land.
“When the hotel and the Marina Square Complex were developed, many considered it to be outside of town, which resulted in limited traffic to this area at that time,” highlights the Dane.
“However, approximately five years ago, with the launch of the Marina Bay Sands Casino Resort and Convention Centre, the focus shifted to this area, and our location is now central to the attractive city harbour area and business district!”
The Dane is certainly no stranger to Singapore, where his Asian adventure began as Director of Food & Beverage with the Shangri-La hotel 30 years ago, including a two year stint back in town during the mid `90s.
Before Christian’s curiosity to work for luxury hotels in Asia, he completed a six year hotel education, consisting of academic studies and restaurant and kitchen apprenticeships at Hotel Eyde in Denmark.
“After completing my education, I was very fortunate to work for reputable establishments like the Grand Hotel in Odense, the luxurious Hotel D’Angleterre and Hotel Scandinavia in Copenhagen.”
Christian started his international hotel career after receiving an offer to join the Fairmont Hotels in the U.S, where he swiftly advanced through senior management positions within the group’s luxury hotels.
As a result of a scholarship grant by the Danish Hotel Association, Christian was able to advance his studies at the prestigious Cornell University. During his time there, fellow students from Asia shared that the world’s best hotels were predominantly located in the Far East, which prompted the Dane to head East to expand his luxury hotel expertise even further.
After four years at Shangri-La Singapore, he was promoted to Resident Manager for Shangri-La, Kuala Lumpur, where he a few years later became General Manager for the first time. During Christian’s five and a half years at the hotel, it was extensively awarded as one of the best luxury hotels in the region.
After ten successful years with the Shangri-La hotel group, he was enticed to other GM opportunities in Europe; Hotel to Scandinavia in Oslo and the Conrad Hotel & Casino in Istanbul, before a stint with Sheraton Towers in Singapore.
In 1997 it was back to Malaysia, where Christian was employed to plan the launch of Mandarin Oriental, Kuala Lumpur, which during his seven years at the helm positioned the property as Malaysia’s leading luxury hotel.
After a period of 12 years in Kuala Lumpur, Christian became a well-known hotelier within the region. With a grin he mentions that due to the many years in Malaysia, his American wife had started to tell people she was from Malaysia rather the U.S.
Management in a fast-paced world
In his new role as Area Vice President he has taken the role of mentor and advisor to the local management teams, aimed at ensuring that determined business goals are maximised and company standards are duly applied.
“When performance shortfalls occur, targets will be reviewed and strategic directions will be discussed to determine operational efficiencies that will generate the desirable goals.”
At a General Manager’s level, Christian finds it important to understand all levels of hotel operation.
“I started in the hospitality industry as a bellboy and was able to move around all operational and administrative functions of a hotel, which in turn provided in depth insight and knowledge, offering great advantages to me when participating in problem-solving discussions at senior management levels.”
“The day to day operation in today’s fast-paced world is increasingly done online, rather than during interactive meeting with your management teams. With everyone sending messages, short queries and answers, online communication has certainly elevated the speed of work. But consequently the need for brainstorming sessions with managers gets spaced out, which in turn cause further distance between senior leaders and their rank and file colleagues, which can cause adverse effects in terms of efficiency elsewhere.”
“The fast paced life style has created an environment where work and personal activities are being addressed 24/7 just to keep up. In an effort to handle issues in a speedy manner, a lot of empowerment and trust is therefore needed,” says Christian.
“Now it’s about hiring independent executives, make them understand the mission of the hotel, the quality and financial goals and then let them manage the process. With the escalating focus on generating shareholder returns, senior management responsibilities are increasingly centred on asset management tasks in today’s world, rather than being the perfect host, prioritised during past generations.”
This ‘new world’ also affects the business travellers.
“Due to new technologies and the interlinked need to process work in a 24/7 environment, our guests are also conducting their business in a swifter and more driven manner. In comparison, our clients had more time to interact when we met with them in the past.”
Room service trend, dining
“Today’s corporate guests tend to arrive early mornings or late evenings. Generally rushing off for meetings throughout the day, returning late evening to the hotel, at which stage many chose to order their meals in the guest room enabling them to follow up on e-mails and work related activities while dining. Today’s corporate guest also focuses on staying fit and healthy, often starting the day with an early workout the hotel gym. Their meals generally tend to be quicker and lighter with limited wine and alcoholic beverages compared to past generations.”
“Our in-room service tends to be very busy with early breakfast and late dinner orders, which shows the shifting trend in business travel; where executives now have to update their corporate offices almost right after their meetings.”
“With approximately 55 per cent corporate clients and 45 per cent leisure travellers, our guest mix is very beneficial, as our leisure guests utilise our restaurants and facilities more frequent than today’s corporate guests.”
“Because of the strong family oriented food culture in Asia, we offer a plethora of dining options at the hotel, with legendary brunches on weekends that draw in the crowds, as local activities are focused on going out to eat with the family.”
In an effort to also attract the local Nordic community, its Danish General Manager has also introduced Scandinavian food promotions at the hotel.
“We will continue to review opportunities to carry out special food promotions in the future, enabling us to introduce food from other regions to individuals who want to try new food types, while also giving people from that particular country who are living in Singapore to get re-acquainted with their cuisine. In addition, such food promotions allow our kitchen employees to learn new things, which create success all around.”