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Meet the boss of the world's most luxurious hotel
With guests paying up to US$18,000 per night, Burj Al Arab GM Heinrich Morio loves his job -- just don't mention that "seven star" rating
With a pocket square tucked into his suit and a handshake that chimes with two large gold rings, Heinrich Morio exudes the kind of polished professionalism you expect to find in a hotel general manager.
But as GM of arguably the world’s most luxurious hotel -- the Burj Al Arab in Dubai -- the U.S.-born Morio, 53, has a more diffcult task than most of his peers: ensuring the world's wealthiest guests feel like they're getting something special when they stay at his hotel.
Despite the recent rise of mega-attractions in the United Arab Emirates, and newer luxury hotel offerings around the world, Morio is adamant that the Burj Al Arab is still the best hotel in the world.
“The enduring concern of a luxury hotel is to take good care of the guest," he says. "Our guests always feel that they are individually important to us."
Walking in someone else's shoes
An example of personal service Morio likes to cite involves a guest who arrived with a pair of shoes that were too tight. The guest's hotel-appointed butler offered to break in the shoes -- he walked around the hotel an entire day in the ill-fitting footwear.
Another frequent guest of the hotel brought a son who was "desperately looking for a pair of Louis Vuitton sneakers, but couldn’t find them anywhere in England."
"Before he arrived we went out and organized the shoes in Dubai," says Morio. "When they arrived, we had a selection of Louis Vuitton sneakers available for him to choose.”
This kind of service is probably only possible in a hotel that has the biggest staff-to-suite ratio in the world -- 8:1.
“Luxury is defined by the amount of time our colleagues can spend with our guests,” says Morio, who has spent 25 years working in luxury establishments (he started out as a bellhop), the last five for Burj Al Arab.
“We have over 1,500 colleagues and 220 butlers for 202 suites, so we’re never in a situation that the interaction between us and the guest is rushed.”
Extravagant, not seven-star
Morio is clearly proud of the more extravagant features of the hotel, rattling them off like a proud father.
It sits on an island that was built solely for the hotel; it’s shaped like a giant sail in the middle of the ocean; its bold interior design uses real gold; and it has some of the most spacious rooms of any property in the world.
“We have the world’s tallest lobby atrium, 180 meters,” he says. “The whole Statue of Liberty can fit in it.
“Our smallest suites are 170 square meters, which in a lot of hotels, is the size of a presidential suite. Every suite has two levels, provides panoramic views of the Arabian Gulf, has its own concierge and a full walk-in closet. And we've just finished placing large iMacs and gold iPads in all our rooms."
For all the superlatives, you won't catch Morio claiming to run a seven-star hotel. That little myth, possibly started by an awestruck journalist on a press trip, is something the hotel doesn't like to promote.
Jumeirah eyes China for business expansion
Burj Al Arab is one of 17 ultra-luxury properties operated by Jumeirah Hotels & Resorts, part of the Dubai-based Dubai Holding company. Its properties are located in locations as diverse as Abu Dhabi, London, Maldives and Baku, Azerbaijan.
Most recently the hotel group has been eyeing expansion in China.
Jumeirah opened its first Chinese property in Shanghai last year and is planning five more in China, among its eight new hotels planned for Asia Pacific.
Expected to open between 2014 and 2015, the five new properties are located in Guangzhou, Hangzhou, Macau, Sanya and Qiandaohu (Thousand Island Lake).
The Jumeirah strategy is to be “present” in important regions.
“Four years ago, Chinese guests only accounted for 1 percent of our business; it went up to 7 percent last year,” says David Loiseau, Jumeirah vice president of sales and marketing in Asia Pacific.
“We’re hoping in the next five or six years, the number will be 10 to 12 percent.”
The Chinese push extended to Burj Al Arab last year, with Chinese New Year celebrations held in the hotel to attract Chinese travelers.
“This year, we displayed a huge red snake on the sail of Burj Al Arab, we had a big reception, lion dance, fireworks and ice sculpture,” says Morio.
How does Morio travel?
So, what does the man who caters to the world's most extravagant clientele consider indispensable when he's on the road himself?
"A universal adaptor I purchased a few years ago which can plug in all plugs and fit into all sockets," he says. "Connectivity is very important for me.
"Having said that, many good hotels have installed multiple built-in plugs nowadays. Other than that, my gym wear as I go to gym room every morning when I travel.
A key to Morio's calm demeanor might be found on his iPod.
"I'm a big fan of easy listening jazz music like Incognito, George Benson or Al Jarreau. But I also have some country music," he says.
As for Dubai tips, Morio puts in a pitch for the Burj Al Arab, before mentioning a favorite activity.
"If you have time, you should definitely try a desert safari with Arabian Adventure, which does a very professionally guided desert safari through the dunes and a nice dinner in the desert, Middle East-style.
"That will be a full day in Dubai."
Burj Al Arab PO Box 74147, Dubai, +971 4 3017777, www.jumeirah.com