Today’s major hospitality providers tend to follow the strategy of operating multiple brands targeting different customers across a range of price points. One major exception is Mövenpick, where the current focus is on expansion across Asia with a single brand. New President of Mövenpick Asia, Mark Willis, recently talked to Hotelintel.co about his company’s plans and philosophy, and how the Swiss approach can be an advantage in doing business in the Asian region.
“For Western customers, there is a belief that Asian hospitality is at a high level, and people also come here for the food experience compared to the West,” began Mark. “The hospitality sector in Asia, from the start, has always set high standards for service and the guest experience. We just try to build on that with Western expertise and management. We don’t want to change it, just take the good things for our hotels across the world.”
For Mark, Swiss hospitality and by extension Mövenpick’s underlying values, has two elements: the customer experience, and the food. “There’s a great food culture in Switzerland, especially in Zurich, and you can see that on our special menus celebrating Mövenpick’s current 70 Years Journey promotion,” he said. “Of course, when a Swiss person comes to Asia they probably don’t want Swiss food, although that’s available. They want to try Thai or Vietnamese, so you have to function in the local market and consider the international guest’s perspective.”
The other key element Mark mentions is guest experience. “Our business has changed dramatically over the past 10-15 years with the internet,” he began, “but the concept of hospitality hasn’t changed – the food, the hospitality, the home environment. Technology can provide support, but it can’t replace someone smiling and offering to help. Tech can’t replace great service or experiencing great meal or a great stay at a hotel.”
The great service Mark talks about is reflected in Mövenpick’s ethos, which is all about ‘making moments’. This is based on the recognition that the smallest details and gestures can make a big impression on guests. The idea is to ‘do the ordinary in an extraordinary way’ so that unforgettable experiences are created through the genuine warmth of the hospitality. One memorable example is the Chocolate Hour, which takes place all over the world and provides guests with complimentary Swiss chocolate treats for an hour every day.
The issue of just how local and international brand should be is always interesting. Should a Swiss hotel in Thailand offer a Swiss experience, or a Thai one? For Mövenpick the answer is a blend of the best of both worlds. “We follow the brand make up, so induction and training are quite Swiss in the way they’re conveyed to team members, but you need to interact with the local environment – why would you make changes to Thai hospitality? We do local things but we also have a global brand standard so we roll out programs globally, but locally GMs have quite a bit of freedom for their local market,” explained Mark. “We set guidelines with regard to customer expectations in pre-opening, and that’s done by the GM locally in consultation with the Area Office, but we always need to maintain the ethos of the company and its brand elements.”
One area where Mark believes that Mövenpick’s Swiss heritage is a major strength is in developing business partnerships. “Relationships with owners and business partners are very important. We’ve been growing over the last 2-3 years opening seven hotels in Asia and we should double our portfolio in the next 24-36 months. The key to this success is the Swiss element of how we do business. Mövenpick is a very Swiss company, formal, structured and ethical, and we want to grow but only in the right way with the right partners.”
“It’s a huge advantage to sell Swiss hospitality from a business development perspective. The context of doing business with a company like Mövenpick is nothing but a plus. When an owner is looking for an operator for a new project, it takes 5 years to build and then a standard operating agreement runs for 15-20 years, so it’s like a marriage. Therefore, you start the relationship on a very positive footing when you can say we are Swiss and we do business the right way, with honesty and transparency. As a result, we continue to grow the brand. The foundation is in place with a number of great hotels already in operation and a strong pipeline if you look at the hotels to open in the next few years.”
The fact that Mövenpick has but a single brand, where many rivals have sought to enter different markets through different brand offerings leads to another interesting question: is this approach a strength, or a weakness?
“The mono-brand approach is interesting,” said Mark. “It certainly doesn’t hold us back, so it’s not a limitation. We don’t have the disadvantage of working across a range of brands, so we are all focused on Mövenpick Asia and we understand exactly what the brand is. We do get opportunities that we don’t take because they don’t fit our ethos, but when the right one comes along it allows us to grow accordingly.”
With its unique combination of food, ethics, guest experiences, and Swissness, Mövenpick is set to make a big impression on Asia under the guidance of Mark Willis in the near future.