Luxury Brands' Dirty Little Secrets - Singapore edition
Part I: Mandarin Oriental, a 5-star hotel with a zero-star experience
Have you ever felt turned-off enough by a brand so much so that you would probably not transact with the same company again?
This is the story of why we are not buying mooncakes in Singapore this year after our harrowing experience with a luxury hotel chain.
Numerous hotels and bakeries have convened at Takashimaya Square, Ngee Ann City in to sell mooncakes from mid-September till 4 October - the actual day that the Mid-autumn festival is celebrated.
After surveying some of the more promising booths, we shortlisted mooncakes from two hotels - Conrad Centennial and Mandarin Oriental Singapore.
In terms of taste, the traditional lotus paste mooncakes did not taste of anything at all but were dry and chalky.
Disappointed by the flavour but piqued by the lovely packaging compared to most other bakeries and hotels that did not look like they put much effort into the design of these pricey annual treats, we decided to go with Mandarin Oriental as they had the prettiest design of all mooncake boxes. Who could forget their unforgettable but unimaginative campaign with Dame Helen Mirren in the Mandarin Oriental's Celebrity Fans campaign.
Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group International Limited is headquartered in Hong Kong and manages the activities of the Group's hotels. Mandarin Oriental is also a member of the Jardine Matheson Group - a family-owned, sprawling British conglomerate.
Over the Singapore F1 weekend of 16-17 September, we decided to purchase the mooncakes at the hotel itself as the experience and service at Takashimaya Square was more of a pasar malam (local night market usually selling deeply discounted, counterfeit items and poor quality street food) than an event square with booths selling mooncakes that were over S$80 a box.
Ironically, Mandarin Oriental Singapore and Conrad Centennial chose foreigners who had no clue what they were selling nor cared about the history, cultural value and significance of the Mid-autumn festival to mend their hotel booths and promote the traditional Chinese pastries.
To reach the hotel via public transport which was a better choice during the F1 weekend to avoid roadblocks especially if you were travelling in the center of town, one unfortunately had to wade through a massive sprawling shopping mall - Marina Square, navigate through a poorly sign boarded route which involves walking up and down, going up several escalators and then bizarrely enough, through a public toilet on the third floor which led to a flight of dingy stairs that looked more like a fire escape exit than a path, finally leading to the hotel entrance.
Nightmare getting to the Mandarin Oriental Hotel Singapore during the F1 Singapore Night Race
After our terrible experience of the journey to the Mandarin Oriental Singapore hotel, we were greeted but an expressionless and unfriendly Chinese staff who curtly informed me that they had sold out of all classic 4-piece mooncake boxes IN EVERY SINGLE FLAVOR, island-wide and they will not be making any more mooncakes in the traditional 4-set gift box despite the fact that the season had just started and it was close to 3 weeks before the actual festival date.
He did nothing to help and just stood there staring at us in silence, hoping we would leave as soon as possible.
When we tried to hire a ride to get us to the next destination, we needed to know which F1 gate entrance was the hotel located at. There were 5 doormen and porters on duty and only one knew which gate we were at.
He told us that no private cars can drive into the hotel during the F1 season and pointed out to a fleet of white van taxis that were parked at the corner of the hotel. Starting prices would cost a whopping $55 for a short ride into town. Bearing in mind, this is a 50km by 27km wide city-state island that has increased 25% in size by land reclamation over the past two centuries, $55 would be the price to pay if you had gone around the island twice or more in a taxi.
This was also the reason why numerous tourists who easily spend a good few thousands per night during the F1 season had to take the dingy fire escape staircase route from the hotel to a shopping mall to access the outside world.
Heading to Takashimaya Square again to look for that elusive "best mooncake" in Singapore
After that horribly uncomfortable experience that was not befitting off a 5-star hotel, we found out that the Mandarin Oriental hotel staff mending the mooncake counter was lying, as there were still some boxes available at Takashimaya event square.
I spoke to the same Fillipino man that served me the week before at the booth at Takashimaya Square and asked him to reserve a box for me.
I left my number and he said he would call me on Monday. True enough, close to a week has gone by without any phone calls from the Mandarin Oriental staff.
Serious lapse of service explained
Why do staff representing luxury brands such as hotel chains, display such notorious behaviour?
Unfortunately, inferior quality or sub-standard service is becoming a troubling but increasingly common issue which separates true luxury hotels and brands or even small businesses that offer impeccable service and experience from the rest.
At just one glance, looks can be deceiving. One should not bother wasting your money on expensive mooncakes from hotel chains who have little to no regard for their customers.
From the management staff to the hiring process, total neglect and disregard has resulted in the inability to hire competent, permanent staff who care enough about the basic responsibilities of their jobs, less to say the mooncake ingredients and quality would be most probably follow suit and be less than satisfactory.
The trend is felt not just in Singapore but throughout the world in countries where quality is compromised because of cost or sheer ignorance masquerading underneath complacency.
Luxury services have compromised on their quality and standards of service too, often-times even when the prices of their goods and services have gone up multi-fold.
Next week we cover yet another terrible experience, this time with two leading brands in the luxury fashion arena.
To avoid the pitfalls of damaging and sometimes highly irreversible damage to your luxury brand or valued business reputation, what are the measures you can take besides ensuring the company is in good leadership in every division?
If you would like to avoid less than ideal brand and consultancy services for your business, contact Jun here.