We sampled Marriott International’s signature hospitality at the Holiday Tours Kuala Lumpur headquarters. Themed ‘Breakfast Learning with Marriott International Luxury Brands (MILUX)’, the event was hosted by Alicia Lee, the Regional Director of Global Luxury Sales, Asia Pacific, and Melissa Ong, the Global Account Director of Luxury Sales, together with the MILUX team.
Our partnership offers our guests unique experiences and exclusive benefits they cannot find elsewhere. Expect new offerings from favourite brands such as The Ritz-Carlton, St. Regis, W Hotel, JW Marriott, Bulgari Hotels & Resorts, The Luxury Collection and more.
The morning started with wafts of aromatic coffee in the office. A professional barista was invited by the MILUX team exclusively for the event, lifting our spirits high with every cup made to order. Laid out across our pantry tables is a generous spread of breakfast selections, each crafted to perfection and delicious to the last bite – classic Marriott.
We also had the privilege to sit down with Alicia for a glimpse of good things to come and her personal favourite experience from MILUX. Here’s the conversation we had, with the transcript edited for length.
A Q&A with Alicia Lee
Q: Please tell us a little bit about yourself.
A: I’m Alicia Lee. I’ve been with the company for 20 years. I started my career at The Ritz-Carlton Millenia Singapore. From there, I moved on to be with the Portman Ritz-Carlton Shanghai. Very blessed to have been with two of the world’s largest Ritz-Carlton. The largest being The Ritz-Carlton Shanghai, with 610 rooms, followed by The Ritz-Carlton Millenia Singapore with 608 guest rooms. After that, I moved on to The Westin Singapore for two years and right now, I’m with global sales.
I’m passionate about the luxury segment. Seeing how luxury has evolved and changed in terms of trends and travellers’ needs inspires me more. We consider a guest’s point of view and determine how we can play our part operationally to give them a unique experience.
Q: In your opinion, what is the future of hospitality?
A: The pandemic has made us look at things very differently. We’ve also become more versatile when it comes to hospitality. Pre-pandemic, every year is the same. It’s just changing the offerings for Christmas, Chinese New Year, et cetera. The pandemic got us to step out of our comfort zone. In the past, work is work; travel is travel. Today, one of the things I’ve seen in terms of trend is a ‘workation’ or ‘bi-leisure’, which blends business and leisure. We see people wanting to put the mix together. Our priority is now different. It’s ever-changing, and the change is rapid.
Safety is also essential. Marriott International’s Commitment to Clean is implemented to ensure our guests’ safety is not compromised. We sanitise elevators, rooms, and high-touch areas. We introduced QR codes for secure payments with minimal handling. Technology has taken up, but not everyone is tech-savvy. We always guide our guests as they get used to the new hotel services.
Q. Could you tell us about Marriott International’s sustainability efforts?
A: Sustainability is a big topic right now. One of the key points we have is to reach net-zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2050 for over 8000 properties. By the end of 2022, we aim to have all our properties eliminate the use of disposable plastic bottles in the room. We have glass bottles in our KL properties now. The key card is made of wood. These are small steps we are taking that can make an impact and transform the experience.
The Athenee Hotel – a Luxury Collection Hotel in Bangkok, has started regulating food waste. They source sustainably, starting with local farmers’ rice to support the locals. Our team would help to farm the rice and, in turn, learn more about how rice is planted and cultivated. For wedding events elsewhere, the flowers are typically thrown away. But there, they’d air-dry the flowers and make them into potpourri. It matters for guests to know how we play a part and give back to the community and how they, too, can be part of the practice when they stay with us – it’s a wholesome cycle.
Every MILUX hotel contributes to sustainability. We work with the government or community. We want to stay related to each destination. When our guests stay with us, they can expect our consistent commitment to sustainability.
Q. What do customers look for from a luxury experience?
A: Today’s travellers are willing to pay for luxury experiences. But it is the experiential services money cannot buy that tug on their heartstrings. Experiential services touch you in a very emotional way.
One example of an experience I’ve encountered recently was at Ritz-Carlton Nikko. We had a guest celebrating her wedding anniversary, but she didn’t tell us. She was a previous guest of Ritz-Carlton Millenia Singapore. We saw her updates on social media, communicated that to Ritz-Carlton Nikko and said, “Hey, we have our ex-guests at your property. Take good care of them. It’s their wedding anniversary.” We then found out that they had a restaurant reservation, and we invited them to the whisky bar after the meal for a whisky tasting. It didn’t stop there. We took them to an outdoor area facing Lake Chuzenji where they could play with fireworks and have romantic photos taken by a photographer. It’s as simple as it is, not too complicated, but experiential. From a brand perspective, it’s about creating that Ritz-Carlton memory for our guests.
This is what MILUX is about. We ensure every one of our distinctive brand experiences comes to life for the guests. In The Ritz-Carlton Millenia Singapore, you will see 4,200 art pieces all over the hotel. Our guests don’t need to visit an art museum – the hotel IS the museum. We train our team members to give art tours to complete the experience. The Ritz-Carlton Tokyo has its one-of-a-kind cultural highlight. Every hotel is designed differently. This is what our guests are looking for today.
Q. What is your favourite Marriott International Luxury Brands hotel?
A: Oh, that’s very tricky! As of today, it’s the Ritz-Carlton Nikko. Many people have asked me why. I have very high expectations for a Ritz-Carlton, knowing the services, the culture, and the philosophy inside out. When I visited Ritz Carlton Nikko about five months ago, the whole experience started at the train station. I had the team pick me up. It was a pleasant 20 to 30 minutes drive. The team was briefing me on what Nikko is all about and why people come here. It’s a very local place, but now very international.
I didn’t feel like I’d arrived at a hotel as I entered through the main doors. I felt like I’d arrived at someone’s residence. It’s got a huge living room. I checked in and went straight to my room, which had a great view and facilities – everybody would be able to offer that. But it’s about the brand and being on-brand. You see the colours, the scent enlivening all your senses. What you see, what you hear, what you smell, and they had a whole cultural vibe. They got me to put on a robe and try the onsen. I was all game for it.
The following day during breakfast, they had a small buffet spread on the side, but I was also given a selection of a western fusion or a Japanese-style breakfast. I picked the latter, presented in a bento with a modern twist. Each item is beautifully presented, with every taste and flavour well-articulated. Again, very on-brand. I was only there for one night for a meeting. I plan to go back again for more. You can do many experiential activities within the property, such as meditation, yoga, and more. I’ve heard from many others who went to The Ritz-Carlton Nikko came back and said, “Now I know why you liked it.”
We have 14 new luxury properties opening within Asia, so it’s going to be really exciting. Several key highlights would be JW Marriott Jeju Resort & Spa, our very first luxury property in Jeju, Korea. We’ll also have our fourth Bulgari Hotel in Asia located in Tokyo, EDITION in Ginza, and The Ritz-Carlton, Fukuoka. If you ask me what’s my favourite again next year, it could be different!
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