Heinrich M. Morio, general manager of the world’s most glamorous hotel, Burj Al Arab, reflects on why providing generous service is essential at the very top of Dubai’s luxury hotel market
You were born in the US and grew up in Germany before returning to the States. Why and how did you enter the hotel industry?
Two of the best questions I have been asked in my life came from my mother: firstly, what is it you really want to do? And then, what is it you really don’t want to do? When you are 17, how do you know where you would like to work? Well, I knew that I didn’t want to sit behind an office desk in the same town for the next 40 years and I really wanted to see the world, so she said ‘well you have to go into the hotel business’ and that was the last of that.
I was very lucky to learn this business from a very high and intense quality level [at The Hamburg Four Seasons, at that time privately run] and the then GM gave me the second best advice after my mother: ‘only work in the five-star luxury hotels and build your career’ and that’s what I did.
My first GM role was about 17 years ago in the Bahamas at the Ocean Club which is part of One & Only. I ended up with Jumeirah about eight years ago. I started as GM operations for the group doing all kinds of jobs…but then I didn’t want to sit behind a desk and in a corporate office that’s exactly what you do and I was given, based on my desire and request to run a hotel again, [the GM role at] Jumeirah Beach hotel.
When the opportunity came up for the Burj Al Arab, I was lucky enough to get a shot at it and I have been there now for four years.
How have you seen the expectations of luxury travellers evolve?
I think what sets the Burj Al Arab apart from other luxury hotels I have worked with — from Ritz-Carlton to the Peninsula to One & Only - is because it is an all-suite hotel and demands a premium price for its product, the customers expect a complete bespoke experience.
Plus, because the Burj Al Arab has been created in such a lavish fashion and is so generous in every aspect — in its location, magnificent in its architecture, completely unique and overwhelming in its interior design — we have to match all this.
We have over 1500 colleagues, which is the highest guest to staff ratio anywhere in the world, to really deliver the luxury experience. My definition of luxury is the amount of time you allow your colleagues to spend with your guest.
And, likewise, to deliver an experience that is thoughtful and generous, which is very much one of our brand pillars. But luxury can’t be delivered when you aim to be super-efficient and super profitable in all areas. You need to be generous.
We don’t call ourselves a seven-star hotel - we are very particular and careful about that - but this is the image we have after a journalist labelled us a seven-star hotel and it never left us. This is the label we have, so the expectations are enormously high, but we are able to match these expectations and exceed them because of the fantastic resources we have to work with.
How do you approach staff training?
We do an average of eight training hours per colleague per month, it’s significant, a company standard with Jumeirah-wide philosophy to focus on training and development and the results speak for themselves.
We train our colleagues in the technical aspects of running the business but also the intangible aspects — the service element comes from one person to another, teaching young people what tremendous impact they have on the customer and that’s an on-going process, it’s an evolution and we spend a lot of time with them.
Empowerment comes from knowing how to execute your job. If you train your colleagues well, by default they are empowered, because they feel comfortable in the execution of their duties.
What upgrades are currently underway at Burj Al Arab?
The Burj Al Arab has been refurbished from day one. It is such a luxury product so it could not afford to not be in pristine condition at any point in time so we are spending literally millions of dirhams each year on the upkeep of the property.
Our guests and anybody really that visits always experiences how pristine the condition of the hotel is. If you have the landmark of Dubai you have to be flawless because it is not just a hotel, it is an icon and it represents this country.
Beyond that, we are planning our first really large renovation, or reconceptualisation, for our Al Muntaha restaurant, as well as the banquet areas — that is the big project for 2013.
But this year we are renovating all the aquariums — it’s a big undertaking, and you have to take care of the fish first, which we have, and you rip everything out and recreate the underwater world with new colours and all that.