Hospitality Design - March 2011 - 55
interview: richard baker
By Stacy Shoemaker Rauen
the ultimate concierge
Richard Baker knows luxury. From rising through the ranks at Four Seasons to becoming a regional vice president with Rosewood, and now as Mandarin Oriental’s executive vice president, operations director for the Americas, he has worked with some of the best. With a Paris opening on the horizon, we decided to pick his brain on what luxury means for hotels today. Here, he talks about organizing elephant rides in Chiang Mai, why luxury became obscene, and going back to the basics. HD: What did you learn working at Rosewood and Four Seasons? RB: Having the ability to be on the line with servicing our guests and exceeding their expectations was so important, and when you have that opportunity through multiple cultures—different cities, hotels, countries—it helps you understand the basic of service delivery and understanding the guest expectations. I think as you grow in your career and you ultimately have the opportunity to be in senior leadership and inﬂuence part of the culture and experience of guests, you ultimately go back to that foundation. It is fairly simple what we do, and yet it has a lot of moving parts—great sleep, food and beverage experience, and cultural experiences for each city. More and more luxury hotels are expected to help guests put together their experiences in the city [they are in]. Mandarin is very much a part of the fabric of that culture within that destination. It may be elephant rides in Chiang Mai, or the night market in Bangkok, or great theater in New York with a backstage pass. We are really helping our guests experience the environment they are in. HD: With the economy, the deﬁnition of luxury has changed. How would you deﬁne it today? RB: The word luxury more today than ever crosses all kinds of boundaries into different levels of service or products. Luxury before the crisis became almost obscene. Everyone wanted to tag the word luxury onto everything they did. And there is a lot more to it than that. It was way overused and it was used for things it wasn’t meant to be used for. So I think now that we have to go back to the basics. Luxury in my opinion it’s discreet, it’s elegant, and not bling bling. I think luxury is about reﬁnement, innovation, certainly not about price—you can get luxury experiences at relatively different price markets around the world, and the service experience. HD: Have guests been asking for anything more? RB: It is interesting, everyone in our industry thinks guests want more for less—the third night free or free breakfast—and that gets obscene after awhile. Mandarin guests don’t come to us for a third night free. They really connect with our brand because of our ability to understand them in the destination they are going to and helping them connect to that. Our employee culture is so important because they are ultimately the ones who inﬂuence our guests and sharp when they come to work, so they have designer clothing [by] local designers. We provide amazing amenities—between extended education and the colleague dining area, and helping them and their family experience other Mandarins. And then certainly a detailed training experience that is very unique and different than other brands. It is really about the colleague experiencing what the guests are experiencing. It is so important in our industry to have secret spotters come in and tell us how we are doing. We think it is also important that the colleagues understand what the guest experience is—the other way around. We put them in training environments HD: What are your secrets to building the right team? RB: We start with the basics with our staff. They have to feel deliver the service and meet the that needs of our guests. and knowing Having that rapport connection, the guests’ names, knowing ahead of time their personal situation, and making sure we connect with them throughout the year. Our global guest database has become so powerful to us. We know if a guest who has stayed in New York is traveling to Bangkok or perhaps to London. We know what their experiences were in the other hotel. We are able to take that information and create these very unique experiences for them and they are just blown away by the recognition.
Above: A rendering of the lobby of the Mandarin Oriental, Paris set to open this summer.