Dino Michael, Global heaD of WalDorf astoria hotels & resorts
Global Head of leading hospitality group Waldorf Astoria Hotels & Resorts, Dino Michael, talks to Can Faik on what Waldorf Astoria have planned for the next few years…
Waldorf Astoria Hotels & Resorts is a portfolio of more than 30 iconic properties that creates a unique sense of place with a relentless commitment to personal service and culinary expertise in landmark locations around the world. Unified by their inspirational environments and True Waldorf Service, Waldorf Astoria Hotels deliver graceful service from the moment a guest books through checkout.
What was your background in hospitality prior to working for Hilton?
I have been in the hospitality industry for over 20 years, having previously held senior positions across several high-profile venues in the UK including roles with branded operations, various hotel groups and fine dining establishments.
What is your position within Hilton?
I am Global Head of Waldorf Astoria Hotels & Resorts. Having led brand development for Hilton’s luxury portfolio, as well as having overseen the restaurant and bar strategy for Hilton’s luxury and full-service brands, I now spearhead all areas of the Waldorf Astoria brand, from development, operations and customer experience, to culture and brand identity.
What are the personality traits that define a successful and happy hotel proprietor, in your opinion?
Passion, people skills and flexibility. This industry is built on people serving people, and I feel privileged to truly love what I do and deeply respect the people with whom I work. That being said, I strongly believe there should be a constant striving for improvement at both the hotel and corporate levels. There should be a desire and passion to be best in class, and with that, often comes a need for change and growth. The hotel industry and what our guests are looking for is constantly evolving and we need to ensure we are always ahead of the game and anticipating our guests needs, delivering the unexpected, every time.
What are Waldorf Astoria’s unique selling points?
At Waldorf Astoria, experience and service are at the core of everything we do. We offer guests unforgettable experiences in our landmark locations all over the world. For example, we recently announced a four-year global partnership with Aston Martin Lagonda, bringing together two icons of luxury to offer a season of unforgettable opportunities for guests. From exclusive access to Aston Martin’s most recent cars, to bespoke drive and stay packages in some of the most sought-after destinations in the Waldorf Astoria portfolio, the collaboration brings to life for our guests the exceptional standards of sophistication and service that are at the heart of Waldorf Astoria.
True Waldorf Service is at the cornerstone of the Waldorf Astoria brand. ‘True Waldorf Service’ delivers graceful, anticipatory service from the moment a guest books through checkout. Personal Concierges work to create flawless experiences by tailoring guests’ stays to their exact specifications, and we are not talking about hotel concierges who can give you a bit of advice about the local area, we go way beyond that. At different properties we have Bath Masters who can be called upon to draw milk and honey bath blends, Book Masters who can help guests choose their perfect holiday read, as well as Jet Lag Gurus and Tea Sommeliers; and we even have concierges at a few hotels who can take guests’ pets for ‘pooch personal training.’ Each hotel has its own unique concierge offerings and experts, making every stay at Waldorf Astoria unique and truly unforgettable.
Tell me about Waldorf Astoria’s plans for expansion into South East Asia with the opening of Waldorf Astoria Bangkok?
We debuted Waldorf Astoria in South East Asia in August 2018 with the opening of the grand Waldorf Astoria Bangkok. With properties already present in Beijing, Shanghai and Chengdu, we were thrilled to add Waldorf Astoria Bangkok to our rapidly expanding luxury portfolio in Asia Pacific. Consumer expectations in Bangkok are rising, with the explosion of the dining scene and the hospitality sector, and we were able to tap into this demand. We saw huge potential in introducing Waldorf Astoria to the region and we are already seeing success, as we have been able to attract different segments of travellers, including the rising wave of South East Asian and Thai luxury travellers. Waldorf Astoria Bangkok is located in the very heart of the city, and with 171 guest rooms and three restaurants, the hotel is a dining destination in itself.
Responding to the needs of the modern luxury traveller, renowned architect André Fu adopted the concept of ‘Relaxed Luxury’ as part of his vision for the hotel, creating a highly relaxed and comfortable space that maintains a sense of grandeur, while still appealing to a young and dynamic demographic. This is expressed through careful attention to detail, especially in the selection of materials and colours. André also took inspiration from the richness of Thai culture: for instance, to signify the purity of the Magnolia flower, a lot of white stones are used both in the façade of the building, as well as within. Another source of Thai inspiration was the hand-postures of traditional Thai-dance, expressed in the sense of fluidity that is carried throughout the hotel journey through hand-crafted antique brass screens and sculptured solid stone partitions that appear to fold and unfold into each distinct moment.
What other exciting projects do you have in the pipeline?
We are growing our luxury presence in the Middle East, with the opening of the third Waldorf Astoria property in the UAE this summer – Waldorf Astoria Dubai International Finance Centre (DIFC). Inspired by 1960s architecture, particularly New York’s Madison and 5th Avenues, the hotel will feature 247 guest rooms and suites and 28 residential apartments and is located just a stone’s throw from Dubai’s most iconic attractions – the Burj Khalifa and Dubai Mall.
Waldorf Astoria Maldives Ithaafushi is also set to open this summer. Spanning three islands in the South Malé Atoll, a short 30-minute yacht journey away from Malé International Airport, Waldorf Astoria Maldives Ithaafushi will have 122 villas, each with exquisite, uninterrupted views of the Indian Ocean. Every spacious villa will open onto a wide deck that has a swing daybed, dining gazebo, an infinity pool and in-water lounges. It will be Waldorf Astoria’s first hotel in the Maldives.
We are also very excited to open Waldorf Astoria London Admiralty Arch in 2022 following an extensive on-going refurbishment programme which will restore and protect the iconic landmark’s architectural and historical features.
How do hotel trends differ, if at all, between hotels in the US, Asia and Europe?
Personalised service, unforgettable experiences and exceptional design are universal. But, if we have done our job right, our guests should walk into our hotel lobbies with a great sense of the location they are in. Our hotels should be as unique as the destinations themselves, underpinned by our exceptional True Waldorf Service.
For example, Waldorf Astoria Ras Al Khaimah has an opulent, grand design which is reflective of the region which is already famous for its decadence. The interiors of Waldorf Astoria Amsterdam, on the other hand, reflect Dutch restrained elegance. The design features a classic contemporary interior with a strong reference to location and maritime history.
Is the Middle East a focus for the Waldorf Astoria brand?
The Middle East is a significant market for Waldorf Astoria. Waldorf Astoria arrived in the region with the opening of Waldorf Astoria Jeddah – Qasr Al Sharq more than ten years ago – it was the first Waldorf Astoria property to open outside of the US. In 2013, Waldorf Astoria Ras Al Khaimah opened its doors as the first Waldorf Astoria property in the UAE and a year later, Waldorf Astoria Dubai Palm Jumeirah opened as the first Waldorf Astoria branded property in Dubai. This year, we’re delighted to expand our presence in the region with the opening of Waldorf Astoria DIFC and we also will be opening Waldorf Astoria Doha West Bay in 2022.
How important do you feel hotel design has become when launching a new hotel?
Hotel design is extremely important, from the functional – such as well-placed light switches and electrical sockets – to the aesthetic. First impressions are long lasting and a beautiful design can create a real impact.
I worked with a team to research the concept for Waldorf Astoria Amsterdam, visiting shops and restaurants to understand the Dutch culture. The concept of togetherness, and relaxed environments, came out strong in this market and it influenced the hotel’s design including that of the intimate, low-ceilinged bar which lacks the traditional barrier separating the bartender and guests. Additionally, the interiors of the hotel reference Dutch canal waters and the atmosphere pays homage to the history of the original buildings with modern accents.
Waldorf Astoria Ras Al Khaimah has an incredible lobby with interior design derived from the centuries-old practice of pearl diving. Behind the reception desks, framed wall panels recall the colours of the sea; covered in turquoise silk, they have been meticulously hand-stitched with gold sequins in a flowing wave pattern. In the centre of the lobby lies the ‘pearl’ of the hotel, an iconic clock based upon the ancient astrolabe which was used to discern the precise times for prayer in the Islamic faith. Over six metres tall and modelled after a compass, the timepiece has five rotating gilded rings around its base that show the exact minute of each prayer throughout the day. As the largest of its kind in the world, the clock is an attraction for visitors in its own right.