Mandarin opens opulent doors to Washington

By T.K.MALOY, UPI Deputy Business Editor   |   March 30, 2004 at 12:25 PM   |   0 comments

WASHINGTON, March 29 (UPI) -- Languishing in the presidential suite of the new Mandarin Oriental, sipping champagne and martinis while wolfing down generous helpings of sushi, the news correspondents took in the upper-story view of Washington's Potomac River Tidal Basin, dotted like an impressionist painting with hundreds of cherry blossoms.

The price for the suite -- $8,000, but for the day it was occupied by the press corps.

The 3,500-square-foot presidential suite at the Mandarin Oriental hotel features a series of well appointed rooms from the high-ceilinged center living parlour/meeting area, to the office, boudoirs, kitchen and dining room to the marble bathroom that one waggish visitor described as a "near religious experience."

No matter what room one is in, there seems to be a flat screen television, with the bathroom having two.

The views throughout the suite are exceptional.

The Mandarin Oriental Ltd., a luxury hotel group known from the Orient to London, has put its opulent foot forward into Washington during cherry blossom season with the 400-room property already getting solid bookings and the cocktail lounge fully populated. The name alone has a certain draw, adding to Washington's other luxury hotels, such as the Four Seasons, so that a reference to "meet me at the new Mandarin" will probably get a knowing nod based on just the brand-recognition.

But the question is: Will the out-of-the-way waterfront location work along with the sheer number of expensive rooms in a town that isn't always known as a pricey-hotel destination. The Mandarin may be known for luxury in London and swank style in Singapore, but how about wealthy accommodations in Washington?

Perhaps so. The world is filled with well-healed travelers, and Washington is the intersection of much goings on in the Western World. One certainly need not doubt where many Saudi dignitaries may consider staying when in D.C.

For now, the $155 million Mandarin is Washington's only five-star hotel, with its next nearest competitors in terms of luxurious ambiance being the Willard on Pennsylvania Avenue, the Hay Adams across from the White House, the Ritz Carlton in the West End and Georgetown's Four Seasons.

"People are thrilled. ... There is nothing like this in Washington," said spokeswoman Ellen Gale.

Describing the demographic of the hotel group, Gale said that it "is people who expect the best in service -- and we think we deliver this."

Traditional clientele for the Mandarin group can range from persons in the "tech world, doctors, lawyers to celebrities," Gale noted, adding that the expectations for Washington will include the former category of guest along with heads of state and diplomats.

The new Mandarin is built on the exterior to reflect the French neoclassical architecture the characterizes much of Washington. Located on Maryland Avenue, S.W., between 12th and 14th Streets, the hotel's exterior features a limestone facade, with columns, cornices and ornate bay and portal windows topped by a metal mansard roof.

The entranceway rotunda was fashioned in homage to John Russell Pope, the designer of the Jefferson Memorial.

In total, the Mandarin Oriental group operates 19 luxury hotels in what it says are "key business and leisure destinations," and the group has another five hotels under development -- including Chaing Mai, Thailand; Hong Kong; the Riviera Maya, Mexico; and Tokyo and Boston.

The Mandarin Oriental's properties collectively represent some 7,500 rooms in 12 countries with 12 hotels in Asia, 10 in the Americas and three in Europe. The company's original flagship properties are the Mandarin Oriental in Hong Kong and the Oriental in Bangkok.

The Hong Kong trading conglomerate Jardine Matheson owns about a 75 percent stake of Mandarin Oriental International Ltd.

"The Mandarin Oriental's aim is to continue to be recognized as one of the top global luxury hotel groups, providing exceptional customer satisfaction in each of its hotels," the company said in statement. "This will be effected through a strategy of investing in facilities and people while maximizing profitability and long-term shareholder value."

The company's latest gambit in Washington is, at first glance, an interesting choice of locales, situated slightly distant from the new convention center and set aside on the waterfront area of southwest D.C., which has been slow in gentrifying. Surrounding much of the Mandarin is a gray mass of federal office buildings. Unlike hotels elsewhere in Washington, the Mandarin isn't in a charming, walkable area -- but it is in close cab distance to Capitol Hill, the Mall and the White House.

Gale added that the hotel has built a pedestrian walkway that extends from the Mall to the waterfront.

That said, in its enclave on the waterfront the new Mandarin affords a spectacular view southward across Washington's famous Tidal Basin and its cherry blossoms, the Jefferson Memorial, and looking toward Virginia, the Pentagon and Arlington National Cemetery.

In terms of convenience, the hotel is within minutes of Reagan National Airport.

Gale said the hotel has over 33,000 square feet of meeting space -- which she said was the most of any luxury hotel in the Washington, D.C. market. The 8,300-square-foot Grand Ballroom, which divides into three equal sections, can accommodate up to 800 people for a formal dinner, while the nearly 5,350-square-foot Oriental Ballroom can seat 450 for a banquet. There are seven meeting rooms ranging in size from 443 to 1,278 square feet.

Gale added that there is wireless Internet and mobile phone capabilities throughout the meeting and public areas of the hotel.

In part what defines luxury is the price and the Mandarin in Washington boasts the following prices for its rooms -- a night in a Water Deluxe (meaning it faces the water) is $545; a Water Deluxe Club is $645; Water Deluxe Executive Suite, $1,400, and a Water Deluxe Suite, $1,700.

Rooms feature Fili D'Oro linens, customized furnishings, high-speed Internet access, three dual-line phones with voicemail, flat screen televisions, Aromatherapy Associates bath amenities, and marble bathrooms, with many rooms having tubs with a view.

Guests of the Mandarin Oriental can also avail themselves of a 10,400-square-foot spa.

The Mandarin group began with the opening of their flagship property in Hong Kong in 1963. According to company history, the "initial concept was to create a deluxe hotel that would cater to the growing number of business and leisure travelers who were coming to Hong Kong as the territory grew in regional and financial importance." In 1974 Mandarin International Hotels Ltd. was formed as a hotel management company, with the intention of expanding into Asia and to operate hotels that would reflect the standard of service that had become synonymous with their property in Hong Kong.

The company's hotel interests expanded through the acquisition in that same year of a 49 percent interest in The Oriental, Bangkok, which was already something of a legendary property. Through the management of both the Mandarin and The Oriental the group was in an unusual position of having two "flagship" hotels whose names the group pushed to represent as "the best in hospitality."

In 1985, the company rationalized its corporate structure by combining these two properties under a common name, the Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group. The group's express aim has been to concentrate on the development and operation of deluxe and first class hotels worldwide.

The group had combined total revenue of hotels under management of $541.2 million for fiscal year 2003, ended December 30, and employs around 3,200 staff.

In trading Monday, shares of Mandarin Oriental Ltd., closed at $5.45, down 35 cents or 6.03 percent.

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