Hamburg’s importance as a tourist location continues unabated. In December, the Statistikamt Nord reported guest growth of 5.8 per cent to over 6 million guests for the period January to October 2018. The number of overnight stays rose to over 12 million and by 5 per cent over the same period in 2017. The Elbphilharmonie building, designed by architects Herzog & De Meuron, and which houses The Westin hotel is proving a tourist magnet.
Madeleine Marx reached the 100-day mark as new manager of The Westin in late December. During her acclimatisation period, she focused on steering the hotel on the road to success. Launched in 2016, the hotel in the Elbphilharmonie building has not yet been running smoothly. Marx has vast, 30-year experience managing hotels such as the Scandic, Marriott and Renaissance and does not shy away from daunting challenges.
Hamburg News: Mrs. Marx, The Westin opened in November 2016 with the aim of becoming a “feel-good place at the gateway to the world”. Can you describe these present feel-good qualities?
Madeleine Marx: We are a lifestyle hotel in the city’s landmark. And the fantastic view of the Elbe and the city is like cinema. In addition, The Westin follows the concept of the six pillars of well-being: sleep well, eat well, move well, feel well, work well and play well and which guests can experience in special programmes and activities. Our “Running Concierge” programme offers residents of Hamburg and guests running distances of between five and eight kilometres. If you do not have sportswear, we will provide you with everything you need. So nothing stands in the way of move well. And our renovation plans in 2019 will help improve the feel well pillar.
Hamburg News: What do you have in mind?
Madeleine Marx: We are going redesign the entire eighth floor and move the reception to enliven the lobby. We will also be putting our bar centre stage. We are at a height of 37 metres here and at eye level with the bridges of all large ships. That’s why we have the Bridge Bar. All in all, we are striving for a warmer, more comfortable atmosphere. Tassilo Bost’s current design is marked by great clarity and sobriety, which is perfect for the rooms because that’s the view of the star. But the public areas need a new look. The original plans had catered more towards the opening in 2010. Now it’s time to rethink.
Hamburg News: You term your hotel a lifestyle hotel while most people think of The Westin as a five-star luxury hotel.
Madeleine Marx: We deliberately decided against the rigid star classification. If a certain aspect has not been met, this immediately leads to one fewer star. We don’t have a butler, for instance, but I think we still offer lots of luxury with owner’s suite, maisonette suites, private spa and our three concierges. Many guests have been delighted by our concierges’ successful efforts at securing tickets for a sold-out concert at the Elbphilharmonie, which is one of their easier tasks.
Hamburg News: Hamburg will soon have a dozen or so five-star hotels. Can the city accommodate so many first-class hotels?
Madeleine Marx: That’s the question. The Elbphilharmonie has put Hamburg on the world map and international luxury hotels are now more interested than ever. Beautiful new hotels enhance the location and the arrival of international chains means regular guests are interested in Hamburg as a destination. But large hotels have to keep a brand promise. They have to reach a certain price level to be economically viable. But when things get tight and luxury hotels fight each other in terms of price, both they and their rivals face economic difficulties at the same time: The price war then spreads to other categories, which is like a domino effect.
Hamburg News: What’s the range of room rates at The Westin?
Madeleine Marx: We don’t sell rooms, we sell overnight stays. And that’s a very perishable commodity; you can’t put it in storage and sell it later. The price also hinges on demand. On average, we are talking about EUR 200 to EUR 300 for a room and EUR 350 to EUR 3,500 for a suite. And that’s a really low figure by international standards. You would pay GBP 400 for a room of a comparable size in London. But you would definitely not have a comparable location.
Hamburg News: Even hotels in prime locations are finding it difficult to fill their restaurants and bars with only foreign guests. What about The Westin’s Saffron and Bridge Bar?
Madeleine Marx: Many hotels certainly have to contend with that challenge especially on Sunday evenings. My goal is to make The Westin an attractive hotspot for the people of Hamburg. So instead of meeting in one of many coffee shops, why not treat yourself to a “Hamburg High Tea” with Hanseatic specialities such as Matjessalat with beetroot and red fruit pudding or a glass of champagne at sunset? Our monthly after-work event is also geared towards Hamburg’s residents. I want the people of Hamburg to take our hotel to their hearts. And, of course, we can only achieve that by being excellent hosts.
Hamburg News: However, that can only be achieved with committed employees, who are difficult to recruit in view of the widespread shortage of skilled workers in the hotel and restaurant industry.
Madeleine Marx: That’s right. But it is up to us to convey the advantages of our profession even better. We offer excellent career opportunities even without (university) studies. From trainee to hotel manager – there are many examples. And the opportunities especially for women are very good. I am living proof. This year, we are planning a Hamburg-wide day as an industry, which highlights the multitude of different professions offered in a hotel as well as in the reception and restaurant. Under the theme “Von Herzen Gastgeber”, the current working title, we would like to give the people of Hamburg an opportunity to take a look behind the scenes and to dispel their inhibitions. Everyone is welcome, although they do not know that yet.
Interview by Yvonne Scheller
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