High in the sky above Tokyo’s Nihombashi district is a real oasis of elegance. The Mandarin Oriental, Tokyo has long been recognized as the epitome of luxury, offering 178 guestrooms and suites, Michelin-starred dining, innovative bar concepts, a world-class spa and some spectacular views of Tokyo Skytree, Mt Fuji and the city below from all parts of the hotel (including the toilets).
Overseeing operations is Anthony Costa who took over as general manager last September. Prior to that, Costa was General Manager at The Landmark Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong. Born in Scotland, Costa has worked in the hospitality industry for more than 22 years, including a number of senior managerial roles with Radisson SAS Group in Leeds and Helsinki as well as at Airth Castle, Scotland and the Four Seasons Hotel, Dublin.
Japan Today editor Chris Betros visits Costa at the hotel to hear more.
What was your first hotel job?
It was actually when I was 7. My father was a hotelier in Glasgow and I used to fold paper napkins for the steakhouse on Saturdays. I’d get 10 pence for every 100 napkins. I have to confess that I paid my friends 5 pence to help.
In the hotel industry, you must move around quite a bit. Do you find it easy to hit the ground running?
I don’t think this job is that different in any country. It’s about giving people experiences that they will remember or expect. Sure, Japan has its nuances, but our guests want an international experience.
What is your percentage of Japanese guests?
During the week, about 65% are Japanese. That tends to be a bit higher on weekends.
How important are seasonal packages?
They are of course important but hotels in every country offer special packages at Christmas, Valentine’s, their equivalent of Golden Week and so on. It’s not about those weeks. It’s about the other 45 weeks of the year and what we can do to attract people during those times.
How do you market the hotel?
By being innovative and by telling journalists, travel writers and good bloggers what we are doing. When people have a great experience here, they talk about it. The better and more intuitive the service is, the more people talk about it and come back.
I’ll give you an example. I had a nice letter from a guest. One of our hostesses in the restaurant noticed the loop on the back of his coat was broken. While he was having lunch, she sent the coat down to the seamstress and she stitched it up. He went home and his wife asked what happened and he said the hotel must have done it. The guest wrote to me and said it had been broken for nine years. He thought it was a fantastic gesture. That’s constructive service and our colleagues are recognized for this.
What’s happening with the hotel’s restaurants this year?
K’shiki has a slight menu change coming in the second half of the year. Signature will have a change of chef with a slightly lighter style. There will be a promotion with Chef Thierry Marx coming from the Mandarin Oriental, Paris, in late May. We also have a gourmet shop on ground floor but it is under-used space. So we might hold classes with a world champion sake sommelier over 8 weeks where you can learn about different wines or sakes – with a little bit of cheese or other food.
How are the wedding and MICE businesses?
We do 4-5 weddings every Saturday and Sunday. It’s a very strong area for us. The MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conventions, Exhibitions) business is coming back after dipping in 2011 and 2012. Our global network helps with that and we have built leads up over many years. It’s a question of getting Japan back on the radar for international conferences.
If Tokyo is awarded the 2020 Olympics, do you think there will be enough hotel rooms in the city?
I think there are enough. If you look in and around Tokyo, there are enough rooms, especially if you consider all the budget hotels. If they are not careful, there will be too many hotels the day the Olympics are finished.
How do you see your role as general manager?
I look at the overall operation and see where there are opportunities from a revenue and service point of view. I tend to map that path out and get hands on until the right people are in place. Then I typically focus on sales and marketing, finance, customer service and HR.
How do you like to interact with your guests?
Breakfast time is the easiest time to meet people because that is when you can usually catch them on a very casual basis. In a lobby, they are rushing in and out and the last thing they want to do is talk to me.
Do you like to visit other hotels to see what they are doing?
Actually, I prefer to visit small ryokans because they are privately owned and have been there for generations. I find them quite innovative and customer-focused. You see a lot there. With 5-star hotels, you roughly know what you are going to get. So my real inspiration is looking outside of our industry.
Living in the hotel, do you find it hard to get out?
No, it is easy. I have a bike and head out for 2-3 hours on a Saturday or Sunday. I end up in places with no idea where I am, but I can always see Tokyo Skytree and can navigate my way back to the hotel. That’s how I explore the city. I get fascinated by the littlest of things and I also like exploring different restaurants.
Throughout your hotel career, you must have had some strange experiences. Is there any story you can share with us?
When I was at The Landmark Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong, a guest checked out but wasn’t leaving for several hours later. He has several big suitcases delivered to the hotel. They brought all the luggage down to the storeroom. About 20 minutes later, housekeeping called security and said there was nothing in this room. The guest had taken everything out of the room – the iPod dock, bed linen, toilet rolls, dispensers. Apart from the mattress and chairs, everything was gone.
Well, when the guest came back for the luggage, we met him. He said he had paid for the room and his interpretation was that by paying for the room, that meant everything in the room. It was the first time he had ever stayed in the hotel. I gave him a couple of bathrobes. He asked for my card. About two months later, he called and asked if I remembered him, and said he was coming back to Hong Kong. He asked me to take him to a tailor so he could get a suit like mine. I said if he booked a room in my hotel and left everything in it, sure. He was a very wealthy man and now he is a regular guest. We give him private lessons with our sommelier, take him to a tailor, shopping for shoes and he loves it all.© Japan Today