Manager lists his favorite thingsSinking into an sofa that matches his orange tie and wrist watch in a newly renovated suite in the Grand InterContinental Hotel, Hans W. Olbertz, Director of Operation Korea & General Manager of the InterContinental Hotel Group, declares, “This is the life of a GM in Korea!”
Before arriving in Korea seven months ago, Asia was a place of mystery for the Cologne-born hotelier, who has worked for 32 years for InterContinental hotels. Mr. Olbertz says his life has changed completely, mostly due to the language barrier and the city’s chronic traffic congestion. The IHT-Joong-Ang Daily caught up with Mr. Olbertz between his travels:
Q.You’ve just come back from a trip to Tokyo.
A. It was my first time visiting Tokyo and I was very impressed with the city. Before going there, I had imagined the city to be sterile and cold, but it was different. I went around hotels to see how bad my competitors were doing! Service at hotels and restaurants was just incredible. I went to the new Mandarin Oriental hotel, which had a lobby on the top floor. It seems like having a lobby on top is a trend now, but personally I didn’t like it. I’d arrive in a car and there’s only an elevator, which you share with other people. And then there’s a lobby. Once I’m there, it’s all right, but because of the gap that’s distracting, I think a lobby has to be on the street level.
In Tokyo, there were many nice European-style cafes lining the streets, and I don’t find them in Korea. I found many similarities between Tokyo and Seoul, that I don’t find in Europe. I saw a small jar of jam, which cost $15, come with exquisite packing. You’d pay for it, but still it’s impressive the way Japanese do it. Korean department stores are like Japanese and I love the food section, the way food is organized, displayed and packed ― by picking up samples around, you can practically finish your lunch there.
Would you implement your Tokyo inspiration to your hotel?
Dining in Tokyo was very impressive but I’d rather travel to London, Paris, New York, Los Angeles and Sydney for the city’s specialties. It’s more of a cosmopolitan experience I want to bring to Korea.
You got to see the completion of the renovation of guest rooms.
The renovation started two years ago and finished last March. Designing and renovating the 530 rooms by Hirsh Bender Associates cost $15 million. The change was well worth it because the hotel topped the monthly Guest Satisfaction Tracking System last month. It’s a confidential rating system filled out by guests on functionality, cleanliness and attractiveness of the room, which is then analyzed by a third-party company, which is a U.S.-based company called TNS.
The new rooms have everything business travelers need. The rooms are the largest in Korea, measuring 38 to 42 square meters (45-50 square yeards) in area and 2.8 meters in height. They are equipped with the Internet, a spacious four-piece bathroom, which means a separate shower, bathtub, a bidet and a toilet, as well as environmentally friendly wallpaper and modern furniture. A bed, with upgraded linen, is 10 centimeters higher for extra comfort. The hotel received an International hygiene award from HACCP two years ago and has maintained that high standard.
What are your favorite products you’d like to personally endorse?
My Apple iMac 5 and iPods. I purchased them in Korea two-and -a-half-months ago. With music, pictures and graphics, I can even create a women ― virtually speaking. I also like Mini Cooper. In Vienna where my home is, I drive a Mini.
The iPod advertisement, featuring young black guys listening to music, has been consistently interesting, and lately, I saw the ad include iMac, not the old “Macintosh.” I like those new images. I have two iPods, 10 and 20 gigabytes each in blue and white, which I bring with me everywhere to listen to my favorite music.
by Ines Cho