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Le Meridien's First Art+Tech Property in Asia Aims to Raise the Benchmark
Dean Schreiber is a guy who just can’t say no. The GM of the sleek new Le Meridien Cyberport in Hong Kong has an “anything-goes” attitude when it comes to service. “Yes, you can please all the guests all the time,” he says. “There’s no way we can say ‘no’ in this hotel.”
Schreiber is pushing his “can-do” philosophy to the limit, with a number of innovations that would have more traditional hoteliers choking over their gin and tonics.
For a start, the typical reception desk has been all but banished. “Once a guest checks in the first time, he basically never has to check in again,” says Schreiber. “We use wireless check-in, or seamless check-in using PDAs and laptops, so there’s no signing of forms or filling out registration details.
“We’ve trained the barmen and waitresses to check guests in, which is one of our most unique selling features. Guests just love it when they arrive here, ready to fill out a form, and they are told, ‘No, here’s your key’.
“They offer their credit cards, but we say, ‘Never mind, we trust you’. They love it.
“We use a lot of email and the internet, so we can send the registration form by email, or we can check a guest in from the bar or restaurant.
“There is a reception desk, but we don’t like to use it for check-in. Old habits die hard, though, particularly during check-out, and some guests still prefer to go down to the desk to settle their bills.”
It’s all about flexibility and giving the guests what they want – even if they don’t know they want it, says Schreiber.
Le Meridien Cyberport Guest Room
“If a guest wants to check in at 3am and leave at 3am the next morning, he can do it. Hotels should be about convenience, not inconvenience.”
Sounds great in theory, but what about the practicalities of having guests checking in and out at all times of the day and night?
“You know there’s not going to be 173 rooms checking in at 3am – what we’ve done is devote a certain amount of inventory [three floors] to a 24-hour check-in philosophy.
“It’s the honesty level. Everything is possible – it just takes time and money. If you tell a guest that if he wants Guatemalan goat cheese it’s going to take this long and cost this much, that’s fine as long as we don’t say no straight away.”
Being an integral part of the massive high-tech Cyberport development, it’s not surprising that the hotel is proud of its own high-tech capabilities.
But, says Schreiber, the technology is secondary to the human element.
“When we conceptualised the hotel, we wanted to make sure that it was an oasis away from the surrounding glass and steel – and away from the technology itself.
“It would be a mistake to try and market ourselves as a high-tech hotel – what might be high-tech today will be low-tech tomorrow.
“We’re billing ourselves as the most service-friendly, most hip hotel in Hong Kong. And we can maintain that.”
But, surely, “hipness” can change just as fast as technology? “Trendy is whatever you want it to be,” says Schreiber, “and it’s only a problem if you are number two.
“All the 5-star GMs have been out to have a look – and you can see their eyes light up!”
Because of the fickle nature of hipness, Schreiber stresses that the hotel’s trendiness has more to do with the software than the hardware.
“It also has a great deal to do with initial marketing and positioning. You have to select very carefully what you want to go after in the future, and how you continue to nurture your positioning.
“Our strategy is to tailor the product to make it really funky, while maintaining the edge on technology. It is a contemporary design which we hope will have significant life, yet it’s not ostentatious.”
No matter how funky and cutting-edge Le Meridien Cyberport might be, there is the big question of location. Depending on traffic, the hotel is located at least 20 minutes from the core Central CBD.
“There is room for hotels outside of Central, and I guess we will be seen as the first of the niche or in-place type of hotels that are starting to develop,” says Schreiber.
“We have to appeal to a whole bunch of different markets, including local and Cyberport residents. They have different expectations, and we had to do a great deal of fine-tuning of our operating philosophy, as we can’t afford to alienate any of them.
“We quite liked the fact that we could differentiate ourselves and do something completely out of the ordinary that, in many ways, beats expectations.
“A lot of people come in and say, ‘Wow, I never thought you could do that!’ You actually set the bar higher.
“We are finding that many people who have business in Central are also looking at us because we have almost a resort feel, with cleaner air and great views from all the rooms.”
A big percentage of the business comes through Meridien’s negotiated global accounts, and Schreiber also sees a strong market for local business meetings and weekend getaways.
The hotel’s special opening rate is HK$1,250 (US$160), but Schreiber is confident of achieving about $1,600 once the Cyberport development is in full swing and the hotel gains momentum.
He is aiming for 80% occupancy this year, and in the 90s next year, with the US, Australia and the Middle East his main markets.
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