Options: Welcome back to KL How does it feel to be returning after so long?
Martin Schnider: It feels great to be back after a long time. I always reflect fondly on my experience here when I was with the Mandarin Oriental, Kuala Lumpur, from March 1999 to October 2005. The thing that always captured me was the cultural atmosphere and the exciting experiences a city like KL provides. Which is why Malaysia has a special place in my heart.
And how has the city changed in your opinion?
It is almost a completely different city from when I was here in the early 2000s. There are a lot more buildings now, hotels, people and, of course, free-standing restaurants. The culinary scene, for example, has evolved beyond what it was then. All this has made the environment more competitive which, ultimately, is good for the industry.
What were the factors that made you say yes to a Malaysian posting again?
I was here when the Mandarin Oriental, Kuala Lumpur, launched almost 25 years ago and it excited me to see its possibilities. Now that I am here again in a different capacity and with more experience and knowledge of the business, my goal is to make the hotel better. But ultimately, what brought me back was my previous capacity as director of food and beverage. The memories and experiences from pre-opening days make it feel like coming home to family. This hotel holds a very special place in my heart.
What is top of your to-do list?
My focus is always on delivering legendary service and exceptional hospitality. Right now, I aim to familiarise myself with the current practices of Mandarin Oriental, Kuala Lumpur and at the same time, analyse and identify areas on how to further improve the brand’s standing. I believe that when it comes to the hotel industry, especially at Mandarin Oriental, what truly sets us apart is our passion for quality service. These are the things that guests remember, along with amazing facilities, amenities and dining options.
Your hotel’s durian pancake at the Lai Po Heen Chinese restaurant remains as iconic as ever. Were you, pardon the pun, ever a fan?
To be honest, I am not a fan of durian but the pancakes are truly decadent. I do, however, enjoy a nice slice of chocolate cake once in a while.
Why do you think hospitality remains such an in-demand industry to work in?
While the industry can be volatile, there will always be demand for great hotels as people want to feel safe and comfortable when there is a need for them to travel, be it for leisure or business. Hospitality remains a very competitive industry, and our guests are continuing to evolve at the same time in terms of their needs and wants. Travellers now have greater means and ability to travel in search of new experiences, for business or leisure. As such, the world will continue to rely on the hospitality industry.
What are some of the qualities you look for when recruiting talent?
Personally, I always look for the right personality. We are always looking for colleagues who are motivated and passionate, especially when it comes to service. I also often look for talents who we can build, develop and make into managers. Having said that, skills can be developed, of course, but having the right mindset or approach is more important.
What are you reading right now and why?
I am an avid reader of news, whether it is in a newspaper or online, as I like to be informed and to keep up with current events and trends regarding anything, from sports to politics, governance, culture and lifestyle content.
What does your travel schedule look like for the rest of the year?
Travelling is something I enjoy and for the second half of 2023, I will be travelling to a few places in Asia, namely Manila, Macau and Hong Kong. Of these destinations, Manila is my favourite. I feel that the Philippines is steeped in culture and there is always something new to experience there.
If memory serves us correctly, you hail from Switzerland. Tell us what are some of the key things to experience and enjoy in your home country.
Yes, I am from Switzerland, specifically Lucerne. It is my hometown and a wonderful city. If I had to make some recommendations, it would be to stay at our newly launched Mandarin Oriental Palace, Luzern. It is located next to the Lake of Lucerne, with a stunning view of the Swiss Alps. I would also suggest making a day trip to Jungfraujoch to enjoy a magnificent view of the longest glacier in the Alps. It also has the highest railway station in Europe at 3,454m. Another place worth visiting is the Chapel Bridge, or Kapellbrücke. It is a wooden footbridge that spans the River Reuss in Lucerne.
Describe your idea of a perfect day off.
My idea of a perfect day off is to have a tranquil day in nature, somewhere where there are fields or beaches.
This article first appeared on July 10, 2023 in The Edge Malaysia.