Markus Marti, the General Manager of Mövenpick Hotel Colombo, the first new international five-star hotel to open in Colombo in more than 25 years, gives an insightful preview ahead of the highly anticipated January, 2017 launch.
By Dilrukshi Fernando
Colombo is fast becoming the city of the high risers; with a number of new properties in various stages of construction. The landscape of the robust and bustling commercial capital of Sri Lanka is gearing up for a massive face lift by the time these projects are complete.
Tourist arrivals to the country have seen a steady growth, reaching 1.36 million from January to August 2016, which according to the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority is a 16% increase compared to last year. This positive influx of travellers is perhaps a salient reason to attract several key international brands to invest in the leisure and property sectors in the recent years.
Mövenpick Hotel Colombo; located in Colombo 3, with its eye catching abstract exterior; makes Sri Lanka the latest addition to the cluster of properties listed alongside the world renowned Swiss hospitality brand, Mövenpick Hotels & Resorts. The hotel will be the first new international five-star property to open in Colombo for the last two and a half decades. Construction now completed and interior fit-outs currently underway, the 219-room five-star property marks the entry of Softlogic Holdings PLC into the domain of luxury city hotels.
As the hotel and its team gears up ahead of its January, 2017 launch; the Daily FT sat down with Markus Marti – General Manager, Mövenpick Hotel Colombo for his first interview with the Sri Lankan press to get insights on how the brand sets out to change the hospitality benchmark. Following are excerpts:
Q: Could you elaborate on your journey with Mövenpick Hotels & Resorts and where it has taken you?
A: I have been with Mӧvenpick for more than 30 years, since graduating from Hotel Management School in Zurich. Currently I am managing the pre-opening of the Mövenpick Hotel Colombo, a role taken up in September, 2015; which marks my seventh stint as a General Manager with Mövenpick Hotels & Resorts. Previously I have been with Mӧvenpick properties in Egypt, Mauritius, Maldives and Qatar to name a few.
Q: What do you think are the key factors in selecting Sri Lanka to be a part of Mӧvenpick’s extensive global footprint?
A: Mövenpick is on a global expansion and growth phase. Our entry into South Asia was marked in India three years ago. Sri Lanka and Switzerland have enjoyed a very special relationship. The highest expat community in Sri Lanka is of Swiss origin and a little known fact is that the Swiss Consulate in Sri Lanka started 100 years ago.
Sri Lanka is enjoying a fabulous image worldwide. The industry catchphrase would be to say ‘the dashboard is definitely green for Sri Lanka!’ The obvious reasons such as climate and diverse natural terrains to the more important factors of human capital – people are extremely friendly and hospitable.
Soon after arriving in Sri Lanka, I scaled the five-star hotels each evening to feel the beat, the pulse. The present setting is very positive and I believe there is much more to come that will lift Colombo’s hospitality scene even further, making new synergies and helping to build up to the industry that will create more job opportunities.
Q: Taking on the seventh successful assignment as General Manager with the world renowned Mövenpick Hotels & Resorts, how has your experience in Sri Lanka been thus far?
A: Pre-opening is a special time. Teams are still getting to know each other and learning to work together. Whenever I am assigned to a new operation, there is a single line of advice that always works right: “Pick the positive things” I always tell myself. So when I leave, I want to have good memories.
In each operation you are working with different cultures and different people. How well you make these differences work will be evident in results you achieve. South Asia is so different to the Middle East from a cultural perspective, where I had been based during the last few years. It needed some adjustments from my side which is normal for a frequent traveller like me.
The hotel pre-opening phase goes through many stages: Pre-opening, purchase of operation supplies and equipment, hiring, training phase and soft opening; a lot of work but exciting work. Everyone has the same target to work towards and this is a place where leadership comes into place. Where bringing in the ‘ship of wisdom’ is not always the best move and you need to keep room for flexibility and unplanned occurrences!
Q: Mövenpick Hotel Colombo not only marks the first five-star Mövenpick hotel in Colombo, it will also be the only five-star property to be built in Colombo for the last two and half decades. What differentiations can the clientele hope to expect from your team to make their experience unique?
A: The Mövenpick Hotel Colombo has a mission. To become the most preferred upscale hotel in Colombo by providing cosmopolitan comfort with panoramic views of the City Sky Line and Indian Ocean, top quality service embraced by a personal touch and seamless technology. Our food and beverage offering and service are unique and impeccable. We make room for business and pleasure with quick access to high end shopping and our fun in-house recreation.
200 rooms and 19 suites will be housed in this property, all of which have panoramic windows. All spaces within the hotel enclosure, including rooms are furnished with material of the highest quality, with products being flown in from various parts of the world; from Middle East to South East Asia and the Fareast.
To extend our vision a bit more, I would like elaborate on the Mövenpick dining experience. Our brand is world renowned for its high standards in food and beverages. We are extending that legacy to Colombo property, which will have five restaurants, three lounges, banqueting and room service to embark on a gastronomical adventure. Guests will experience bars in two of the restaurants as well as whiskey and cigar lounge.
You can choose from multi cuisine dining options, to name a few: A Japanese Robata Grill (‘Robatayaki’ – which is a method of cooking food over a white-hot charcoal grill) or be seated at a French brasserie type of setting, enjoying classical French cuisine in a relaxed atmosphere.
The rooftop Vistas bar is another attraction we are excited to offer the guests. Apart from its stellar 360-degree view, it includes an 18 metre infinity pool and a roof-top bar that can comfortably accommodate 150 guests.
Several recreational activities will be available ranging from spas, salon, pool, steam rooms, nail salon, yoga and aerobics.
Typical products of Mövenpick will be incorporated into our service offerings, catering to worldwide travellers. Those walking in to Mövenpick Hotel Colombo, can expect to find the same high standards and quality we maintain in our chain of properties in Africa, Asia, Middle East and Europe, whether it be room service, menu selections, all day dining or Sunday brunch.
Q: Where do you see the tourism industry heading for South Asian countries in the next three to five years?
A: The industry already has and will establish a few clear leaders in the South Asian region. Maldives, pitches at very high priced prospects. Colombo on the other hand will be an ideal place for the pre and post leisure travellers who like to spend a few days in a tropical setting before heading back home after a beach holiday in Sri Lanka. The variety on offer in this part of the world in terms of tourism makes it all the more appealing all year round.
Economy is also on an upward trend and this will certainly be favourable to the industry. The possibilities are endless. I hope all the channels will work perfectly and more big names in the industry will be here in the near future.
Q: In that light, how will Mövenpick deliver on its brand promise?
A: Our brand promise is ‘Natural Enjoyment’; this means delivering a relaxed, uncomplicated experience that makes our guests happy. Natural Enjoyment is allowing our guests to relax, be themselves, have fun and feel completely at ease. Natural Enjoyment brings a smile to people’s faces.
Our brand promise is aligned to our values of quality, reliability and care with a personal touch and blends perfectly with our hotel’s positioning as a place where visitors can experience hospitality with a Sri Lankan soul and a Swiss heart.
Natural Enjoyment will be brought to life by implementing our company’s signature concepts in our menus and in the way we present our entire dining experience for all ages. We have a range of dining experiences lined up to delight and surprise our guests and they are very unique to our hotels around the world.
For our Colombo operation, we have ensured that 99% of our employees are Sri Lankan. There are only three expats; the Japanese Head Chef, the Swiss Executive Chef and myself! There will be several Sri Lankan employees from various global Mövenpick operations who will be joining us here as well and creating special memories for our guests.
Mövenpick Hotels & Resorts is the most Green Globe certified hotel company in the world. 90% of our properties are certified and Sri Lanka will be aspiring to achieve the same stamp of approval. We have a keen focus on environmental sustainability. One example is the ‘Green Wall’ which will have 14,310 potted plants, you can see as you approach the promenade of the property. We also plan to initiate several Corporate Social Responsibility ventures that will give back to the community in which we live by bringing in the elements of fun, human factor and wellbeing of the society.
Q: What are the future business ventures which we can hope to see from the synergy of Mövenpick and Softlogic Holdings PLC?
A: It’s a pleasure to work together with such a well-established conglomerate. Many synergies are coming up in the near future. Softlogic City Hotels Ltd. has diversified their enterprise also into resorts, an area which Mövenpick Hotels & Resorts has a keen interest to consider for future partnership.