Hong Kong's hotels still going strong amid stiff competition

Hong Kong's advantage lies in its talent pool and rich experience, Mandarin Oriental head says

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 17 October, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 17 October, 2013, 4:07am

Hong Kong's hospitality industry will remain competitive even as the mainland charges ahead, says the head of the Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong.

Hong Kong's edge comes from its large pool of talent and deep understanding of international tourism, says managing director Jonas Schuermann.

"On the mainland, growth is too rapid, and talent retention and acquisition have become a major challenge," he says.

The five-star hotel chain, which boasts three locations in the city, celebrates 50 years in the business today. Since 1963, it has hosted many men and women of note, from heads of state and British royals to captains of industry and entertainment stars.

"No other city in the world is as international and cosmopolitan as Hong Kong," Schuermann says. "Our reading and understanding of what international travellers need is much better than anywhere else."

But he warns that staff retention is still a problem for all five-star hotels. Mandarin Oriental offers "multilayered" in-house training to help employees develop their careers, he says.

"No young person wants to be a bellboy their whole life. As an employer, we must show them the possibilities available."

Located in the heart of the city, the hotel is now more of a societal institution than solely a retreat for the moneyed tourist or the elite, Schuermann says. A secret of success is that it has not let its luxury label stop it from serving a large local clientele. "Whether it's, 'I took my girlfriend there for Valentine's Day' or 'Grandma took me to high tea once', every local has at least one story to tell about the Mandarin."

Of the 2,000 people who dine or shop at the hotel each day, 70 per cent are locals. "We're a part of normal Hong Kong society."

The Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group now has 45 hotels across 28 countries, with 13 in Asia alone. Expansion is carefully planned to maintain standards, Schuermann says. "We don't want to open six or eight hotels a year. Our philosophy is based on the Asian art of hospitality, a sense of place."

The Mandarin Oriental Pudong, Shanghai, opened this year, and more openings are planned for Taipei, Beijing, Chengdu , Doha and Istanbul.