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Luxury verified

March 15, 2019

For fans of Fawlty Towers–that supremely unforgettable send-up of hotel life in a small town in Cornwall–“The Hotel Inspectors” remains one of its funniest episodes.

As usual, the brilliantly manic general manager, Basil Fawlty, essayed by John Cleese, gets it all wrong, pandering to a guest whom he mistakes as a hospitality rater. Discovering his faux pas in the end, he boots the unwitting fellow out, but not before smashing two pies in his face and pouring milk into his briefcase. Then, he ambles over to the reception counter to face three officious-looking gentlemen, who have witnessed the spectacle. He emits a blood-curdling scream–they are the inspectors.

Doing the job

Fortunately, the scenario at Marco Polo Ortigas Manila is much more serene, civilized and collected. It doesn’t need the prospect of hotel snoops or pesky citizen reviewers to motivate Marco Polo employees to do their job of serving anyone, who arrives at their porte cochere (driveway). The attendant 1) immediately helps to open our Grab car door, 2) takes our computer trolley without our asking, 3) gets the security canine to sniff at it (which it did very politely) and 4) hands it to the porter who wants to escort us to the lift lobby, which we declined. Of course, smiles are as plentiful as wreaths during the Christmas season and come so naturally. This is, after all, the Philippines.

FRANK REICHENBACH

General Manager, Marco Polo Ortigas Manila

For the third straight year since 2017, Marco Polo Ortigas Manila appears in the prestigious Forbes Travel Guide, capturing the Five-Star Award, the only “non-gaming hotel” in the country to do so. Sky Tower at Solaire Resort and Casino likewise triumphed for the third time in the same premium category, while Nuwa at City of Dreams was second time lucky. The Peninsula Manila also joined this select club, moving up from its four-star category last year, helping the chain to become the first company to have all its properties rated as five star, a milestone in the Forbes Travel Guide rating history.

Receiving a four-star rating as they did last year were Fairmont Makati, Hyatt Regency Manila City of Dreams, Nobu Hotel Manila, Raffles Makati, Sofitel Philippine Plaza Manila and Nuwa Spa.

Filip Boyen, chief executive officer of Forbes Travel Guide, welcomed the 2019 winners, saying “the outstanding collection of hotels, restaurants and spas demonstrated a strong culture of service.”

He went on to add: “In a time of information overload and fake reviews online, Forbes Travel Guide is the ultimate trusted source in luxury travel. Our objective, data-driven Star Rating list features properties that achieved an impeccable standard of excellence in hospitality.”

New Forbes territory

In 2016, Frank Reichenbach, Marco Polo Ortigas Manila general manager, approached a Forbes Travel Guide representative during a company powwow in China about the possibility of the hotel being signed up for the rating exercise. “Forbes had never entered the Philippines or Manila,” Reichenbach recalls. “So, they sent people to see if we qualified.”

They did, and Reichenbach and his team “went for it.”

The Forbes Travel Guide, regarded as the oldest of its kind in the US, was launched in 1958 under the Mobil brand. Forbes published ratings results for luxury hotels, restaurants and spas in guidebooks up until eight years ago, when it migrated to an online platform (http://www.forbestravelguide.com). Each hotel or establishment is rated anonymously by paid staff, who are extremely well travelled. Scores are based on a set of criteria. As of last count, there are over 800 criteria that needs to be ticked off, from the cleanliness of the housekeeping cart or the leg of a dining table to the tone a front liner uses to greet a guest.

REGIONAL PLAYER. Gstaad-born Reichenbach has witnessed the Asian hotel industry flourish during the 40 years as a hotelier posted in cities such as Manila,Beijing, Surabaya and Singapore among others, with wife Norge and son Francis on holiday and paragliding in the Swiss Alps

Those are just few of the numerous points considered in a face-to-face encounter or wander about the property. Then, there are over the phone engagements such as when a customer books a guestroom or hotel facility. Says Reichenbach: “We get thousands of calls in a week, and one of them could be from Forbes.

“Not only are we judged on response time and accuracy, but overall knowledge of the product–our hotel. They are also able to discern if they get an automatic or mechanical response. For that, you could get points deducted from your overall tally.

“Our concierge could also get an enquiry or request for advice about city tours and the like. We just never know when the call will come.”

Unannounced, unexpected

Inspectors, like those in Fawlty Towers, pay lightning visits, usually staying two nights. At the end of the year, Marco Polo Ortigas Manila is presented a thick dossier with corresponding images to illustrate highlights of the exercise.

Reichenbach, a 40-year hospitality veteran, regards the yearly Forbes assessment, not so much as an ordeal or added pressure to standards already promoted by the Hong Kong-headquartered chain, but more as a invitation to surpass expectations. “Forbes,” he says, “used to attach 75 percent on luxury service and 25 percent on hardware. Now, it’s 85 percent luxury service and 15 percent hardware. They keep raising the bar.”

The hotelier was born in Gstaad, Switzerland, the jet-set ski resort where no one batted an eyelash if they bumped into superstars Liz (Taylor) and Dick (Burton) at the bar or shared the same piste (ski run of compacted snow) with Italian industrialist Gianni Agnelli or three-time Winter Olympics gold medalist Jean-Claude Killy of France. Reichenbach’s French mother, Genevieve Reichenbach-Cibert, a native of gastronomic hub Lyon and an avid cook and traveler, convinced her offspring to enter the rarefied world of plush interiors and delicate china by heading for Ecole Hoteliere de Lausanne, one of the city’s top hotel institutes. Madame Genevieve, who passed away last year, “was always my strongest supporter,” says Reichenbach. “My mother visited me wherever I was assigned.”

TEAM VICTORIOUS. (Front row, from left) Marita Marcos, sales & marketing director, Adlaine Marvilla, assistant front office manager, Joanne Bernardo, housekeeping manager, (back row, from left) Roel Constantino, resident manager, Michael Cruz, assistant chief engineer, Alisdair Bletcher, executive chef, Reichenbach, Stuart Stancomb, restaurant, bar and experience director, Andy Tutaan, security manager and Barbara Reyes, human resources director

Reichenbach has certainly done the rounds, his first Asian assignment being Manila at the former Manila Midtown Ramada, where today Robinsons Place Manila stands. From there, it was six years with The Peninsula Hotels and six and half years with Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts in various posts around the region including Beijing (China), Penang (Malaysia), Surabaya (Indonesia) and Singapore before returning to Manila for Marco Polo Hotels, part of The Wharf Group founded in Hong Kong in 1886. “It’s like I’ve come full circle,” says Reichenbach, who, with Philippine-born wife Norge, are parents of Abby and Francis.

Daily challenge

With Forbes Travel’s ever heightening accent on luxury service, Reichenbach and his executive team face the daily challenge of sharpening their competitive edge, but not at the expense of losing the personal touch with customers and the ability to surprise and delight them. Reichenbach observes: “We greet everyone in a nice manner–that is normal and one can be trained to do that. But what about the little things that can go a long way to making a guest’s stay memorable? Things you may not necessarily get elsewhere.”

Creative room amenities such as artisanal chocolate bars in combinations like chili and caramel and calamansi and dayap (local lime) and a pre-departure service the night before check-out are some of the perks Marco Polo Ortigas Manila offers to enhance the guest experience. “It’s what is not put in black and white that makes a guest return often,” Reichenbach remarks.

How to constantly improve staff-guest engagement, in light of the Forbes Travel checklist, is the perennial subject of daily management meetings and discussions between Duty Managers and employees assigned to various areas of the 316-room property that also includes a lobby and all-day restaurant on the 24th floor, the Chinese restaurant and executive lounge on the 44th floor and the Vu Sky Bar and Lounge on the 45th floor among others. Role-playing during training activities is another way to get staff to understand guest mentality and preferences. Of the current plantilla of 200 employees, 70 have been with the hotel since it opened in July 2014.

The Grab car we booked has pulled into the hotel driveway, and as we make a move to approach it, the young doorman offers his arm to help us down the slight step. This is the first time in recent memory that someone in a hotel has shown us Old World courtesy.

So, this is luxury. We love it.

* * *

So, YOU WANT THAT FORBES STAR…

Be prepared then to hurdle up to 900 criteria, and pass them with flying colors. Some details Forbes is fussy about.

• ROOM SERVICE-Did the order taker think about all aspects of your meal? Was the food beautifully presented, original and thoughfully plated? Did the server make an effort to create a mini-restaurant in your room?

• THE BED-The mattress must be of exceptional quality, the linens have to be soft and comfortable, the pillow full and plump and thoughtfully placed on the bed.

• MEALS–It’s not enough for food to be memorable. Inspectors are asked to think about their meals a few days after they’ve dined–can they easily recall a dish because it stands out as unique, remarkable and something they’d have to go to that specific restaurant to get?

• HOUSEKEEPING–It isn’t about simply cleaning–it’s about restoring space to its original condition with the guest’s items in it. But how are those items handled? Did the housekeeper see your sunglasses and provide a hotel-logoed microfiber cloth? Did she notice that you’re a fan of gummy bears and leave a bag?

SOURCE: FORBES TRAVEL GUIDE

PHOTOS BY HERMES SINGSON

Credit belongs to : www.manilatimes.net

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