JW Marriott Seoul sets exemplary standards
General manager Richard Saul pledges friendly but professional service
By Kim Rahn
JW Marriott Seoul is a great example of what the international hotel brand Marriott seeks to achieve, said the hotel’s General Manager Richard Saul.
Saul, who took charge of the hotel in January, highly recognized the combined benefits of the convenient location, modern facilities and impeccable service.
“This hotel is one of the best located hotels you want to possibly have, with the subway stations below, three lines intersecting, as well as Shinsegae Department Store and the other areas. It’s such a good location and such a strong business,” the general manger said. The hotel is linked to the Express Bus Terminal subway station and a leisure complex called Central City in southern Seoul.
The 48-year-old said JW Marriott Seoul is one of Marriott’s most important hotels in Asia and what makes it unique is the whole package that provides any tourist, business traveler or guest with the best factors to experience Seoul.
“It is a very sophisticated example, so when Marriott is talking to potential owners, this is the kind of hotel they would recommend for them to come and see. It’s a great example of the brand,” he said.
The Australian-native said the entire staff, called “associates,” contributes to the many reasons for the success.
“This hotel has a lot of great long-serving associates and they really know their jobs very well. And they’ve worked in different departments within hotels, which also helps. So when a guest comes, the service is quite smooth because people know how this restaurant works, how that restaurant works, and how the front office works. It comes together,” he said.
Asia’s biggest fitness center
The hotelier with 25 years of experience said JW Marriott Seoul’s guestrooms are the best in the city in his opinion from what he has seen.
“The standard rooms are excellent, 42 square meters big and luxuriously appointed: nice big broad bathroom in marble and nice lime green carpet. It’s welcoming,” he said.
But what is more notable at the hotel is the Marquis Thermal Spa and Fitness Club, the largest hotel fitness center in Asia, stretching over three floors with 22 golf tees, two squash courts, a 25-meter-long swimming pool, a scuba diving pool, therapy pools, a jogging track, a rock climbing wall, and 300 pieces of high end exercise equipment.
“Everybody talks about our health club. It’s tremendous to guests and also great for local members who live around here. The hotel opened in 2000 and they had this vision: the fitness club will be one of the signatures of this hotel. So they allocated that much space,” he said.
JW Marriott Seoul has more business travelers than leisure travelers, but many local family guests, partly owing to the leisure complex take advantage of the hotel. “On weekends a lot of families come. Most weekends we are close to full, they come and treat themselves. Again the location works, they can go to the cinema, they can go shopping, go down to the swimming pool, there’s a lot to do.”
Ideally located in southern Seoul has another advantage, as more tourists want to be situated in the neighborhood for shopping and medical tourism. Just across the street from JW Marriott Seoul is St. Mary’s Hospital where foreign patients come for surgery and other long-term medical treatment.
Saul said the hotel has some medical tourists as guests and expects the number to grow. “We have high potential because of St. Mary’s. There’s even a bridge across the road and it’s really easy for patients’ family members to visit them in the hospital while staying here.”
According to media reports, about 80 hotels are confirmed to soon open or are planning to open a branch in the future ― an indication that the existing hotels will have to prepare for a lot of rivals.
“Competition is okay. It’s inevitable and in a way it’s good, too, because new investment comes with new ideas and it can advance the product. That’s good for employment, too,” the general manager said.
But he said because it is expensive to build a hotel here, all the new hotels won’t necessarily be luxury-grade ones. “It’s probably more a limited-service kind of environment. Hotels don’t need to have so many restaurants and so many function rooms,” Saul said, adding there will come more Courtyard by Marriott-kind of hotels ― mid-priced, business-oriented ones.
As for the other JW Marriott opening in Dongdaemun in northern Seoul next March, Saul expected good feedback. “It’s not a big hotel, less than 200 rooms. Therefore they can really focus on what they do. I think they’ll do tremendously well.”
Saul joined the Marriott group in 1997 and has won many awards from the group. These include Rookie General Manager at the age of 34, General Manager of the Year, and Hotel of the Year, twice.
The multi-award winner said the 85-year-old group is a steady and successful company and what’s special about it is the culture of the staff treating each other with respect.
“Marriott’s got a strong culture of taking care of staff ― taking care of the associates, so they take care of guests. So we do a lot of work with our staff on training, developing and engaging with them in many ways, socially and also formally, with formal sessions where we ask their opinions,” he said.
“We want people to want to come to work here and want to feel they have a future, because we believe when they are happy and well-trained, the customers will feel sophisticated service, and get professional service, but very friendly-professional service. That’s what we want to be known for ― being friendly, but also being professional.”