HB ON THE SCENE: Growth, renovations the driving MO for Mandarin Oriental

NEW YORK—Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group, Ltd. has been raising its luxury profile with recent property openings and significant renovations, with development plans in place for an additional 17 hotels and eight Residences over the next several years.

At a recent gathering here at its U.S. flagship, dozens of Mandarin Oriental hotel general managers and executives talked accomplishment as well as strategy in the months ahead for the Hong Kong-based owner and management company.

Among the most recent openings are the Mandarin Oriental, Marrakech; Mandarin Oriental, Ritz, Madrid; and Mandarin Oriental, Milan.

According to Luca Finardi, general manager of the Milan property, business is “very good” and,  within a year of opening, has attained one Michelin star from the Michelin Guide for its restaurant, Seta by Antonio Guida, and received Five Stars for the hotel and Four Stars for its spa in the Forbes Travel Guide 2016. “It’s an incredible recognition. It’s the only hotel in Milan with Five Stars after only eight months,” said Finardi, who noted the hotel’s bar also has become a gathering spot for celebrities and socialites.

The hotel, designed by Italian architect Antonio Citterio, features 104 rooms and suites ensconced within four 18th-century buildings near La Scala.

The GM noted business is split 50/50 business and leisure.

“Milan, after Expo 2015, became such an incredible leisure destination. Milan is a point of reference in Italy if you want to go to the lakes, e.g., Lake Como, Lake Maggiore, or to the wineries or to do truffle hunting in Alba. But most of all, Milan is an art city; the most incredible modern and classical collections are there, like The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci or those in the Triennale Museum, which is our MoMA [NYC’s Museum of Modern Art]. The gastronomy in Milan is very important, too,” said Finardi. “And don’t forget the fashion, the shopping and the interior design.”

According to Christian Tavelli, GM at the Hotel Ritz, Madrid, the success of Mandarin Oriental’s Barcelona property spurred the idea of a second hotel in Spain.

“They did the best thing they could do: acquire the best hotel in town,” said Tavelli.

The Hall in The Ritz, Madrid offers afternoon tea and light refreshments.

Last year, Mandarin in a joint venture with The Olayan Group, a Saudi Arabian multinational group, acquired the 106-year-old Hotel Ritz, Madrid for approximately $148 million, purchasing all of the shares in the owning company, Hotel Ritz Madrid, S.A., from its existing shareholders, Belmond Spanish Holdings S.L.U. and Landis Inversiones, S.L.

“We are a legendary hotel, designed and built by César Ritz, the famous hotelier [also The Ritz London, the Ritz Paris]. We’re in the best location in Madrid, just across from Museo del Prado, the number-one attraction in Madrid. We’re doing great business. Madrid is a wonderful city,” said Tavelli.

Next year, the 167-room hotel is set to undergo a comprehensive renovation/restoration—currently tagged at $103 million—that would encompass all rooms and public spaces. Also to be added are a new spa and several restaurants and bars.

Tavelli stressed the renovation will be done keeping to guidelines set by Spain for historic properties. The hotel has a “Category One Protected” designation, the highest ranking given in the country.

“We are doing all our permitting for the restoration within the municipality and within the Department of Historical Protection in Spain to ensure everything we do to enhance the property and its beauty will preserve the history and culture that has been in existence for the past 106 years,” said Tavelli, noting the facade of the building was restored last year.

Also recently opened is the Mandarin Oriental, Marrakech, which features 54 villas, nine suites and a spa set on acres of landscaped gardens and olive groves, with the Atlas Mountains as a backdrop. It shares its top executive, Philippe Leboeuf, who serves as area VP/operations, with the Mandarin Oriental, Paris. Leboeuf is general manager of both the Marrakech and Paris properties.

Sited on Rue Saint-Honoré, the Paris hotel features 98 guestrooms, 40 suites, a spa, and a variety of dining options, including the two-Michelin star restaurant, Sur Mesure par Thierry Marx, Camélia, The Cake Shop and Bar 8, all under Executive Chef Thierry Marx.

As with the hotels in Spain, Leboeuf said the decision to open in Marrakech some 10 months ago was inspired by the success of the Paris property, which opened about five years ago.

“The market [in Marrakech]is about 30-35% French, so it made a lot of sense; also in terms of visa and air transfer, it’s very easy from Paris. Americans, for example, go through Paris,” said Leboeuf, noting U.S. travelers represent about 20% of the Marrakech hotel’s business, with the Paris hotel receiving almost 30% of U.S. travelers.

Leboeuf acknowledged the Paris hotel had been impacted vis-à-vis tourism following the terrorist attacks but added he was “a bit surprised” at the strong start the MO Marrakech had, with some 85% of business from leisure travelers.

“So far, Marrakech has been a great success,” he said, noting the hotel is about two hours from Morocco’s Casablanca Finance City.

In the Czech Republic, at the Mandarin Oriental, Prague, which is built on the site of a former monastery, General Manager and 20-year MO veteran Werner Anzinger has been wrangling renovations. “We have just refurbished the public areas, the restaurant and bar, and we have developed the theme of ‘monastic chic,’” said Anzinger. “We have done all of the outside spaces as well, including a new terrace for dining.”

The property has 79 guestrooms, 20 individually decorated suites, a spa located in a former Renaissance chapel, a private monastery garden, and the new Spices restaurant and bar, which delivers an Asian menu under the direction of Executive Chef Jiří Štift, as well as via a sushi master.

The property offers a wide variety of meeting spaces, including a Grand Ballroom that holds 120 guests; Dominicus Hall for 45 guests; the Monastery Lounge, a former cloister now used for pre-function gatherings; Spices’ wine cellar; and an executive boardroom.

“We’re now starting a rooms renovation; that’s the next big thing,” said Anzinger. While the idea is to bring “more monastery to the rooms,” the Prague property also will be working with GuestTek so guests can stream content directly to the television from their mobile devices.

Also recently renovated is the Mandarin Oriental, Geneva, which is led by General Manager Lars Wagner.

The Couture Suite at the Mandarin Oriental, Paris

“The company spent quite an amount of money renovating all the rooms (162) and suites (27), as well as all the public areas, which were designed by Adam Tihany out of New York. We also have a one-Michelin star Indian restaurant, a café and a bar,” said the GM. “Geneva is constantly evolving. Right now, the city is working on the summer festival, a big party for 10 days [August 4-14] around the lake in the city center,” said Wagner, who anticipated strong occupancy for the season. “We just celebrated the 65th anniversary of the building [The property opened in 1950 as Hotel du Rhône] and the renovation was needed because we wanted to upgrade all the rooms and suites. They were done by Sybille De Margerie (SM Design, Paris) who is the interior designer of our Paris property [also involved was Buz Design, Hong Kong],” said Wagner.

For Gérard Sintès, general manager of the 193-key Mandarin Oriental, Hyde Park. London, the addition of the new Rosebery Lounge in the hotel’s lobby is just one of many enhancements the property, housed in an historic 1897 building, has under way.

“We already won the best afternoon tea in London [among Condé Nast Traveler listings]. There previously was a tea service but in the bar, which was not ideal. So we converted a function room, which is overlooking Harvey Nicols [department store]and Sloane St. Also new is our gym and beautiful swimming pool; we are one of the few hotels in London to have a swimming pool,” said Sintès.

The new “Fitness and Wellbeing Facility” has been “extremely well received by our guests,” added the GM.

This September, the property will begin a major renovation of the entire hotel, which will be done in stages, said Sintès, who emphasized the Hyde Park hotel would remain open during the transformation.

Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group also just completed the acquisition of the 148-key Mandarin Oriental, Boston, which it had managed since it opened in 2008 and, over the next 18 months, expects to open properties in Beijing, China and Doha, Qatar. Also slated to open in 2017 is the 158-key Mandarin Oriental, Boca Raton along with The Residences by Mandarin Oriental. The entities will occupy two towers as part of a mixed-use development.

Additional projects are in the pipeline, although opening schedules were not available at press time. HB

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