Having started his hospitality career in a hotel bar at age 16 and then working for the Mandarin Oriental group for than 37 years, Torsten van Dullemen was the clear choice to take over as General Manager of Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park. After working for the group in other hotels around the world, including senior positions in Washington D.C, Hong Kong, Manila, Chiang Mai, and Bangkok, this appointment marks the fifth time van Dullemen has returned to the iconic London property.
You began your career at Mandarin Oriental—what drew you to the brand when you were starting out and how has it changed over the course of your career? I was here right from the beginning, when Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group took over back in 1996 and reopened in 2000. The truth is, I like the Asian heritage. I like the fact that they choose the right location. I like the fact that they are ahead of the competition in terms of wellness. I like the fact they have the most innovative and creative food and beverage concepts and use world-class designers. Every hotel in the group has a great sense of place that really reflects the area where they are operating. I joined the group more than 27 years ago, and I’ve only grown to respect the brand more.
I don’t need to tell you what a crowded market the London hotel scene is—what does Mandarin do that no one else can offer? We have an exceptional strong brand. The oriental heritage gives us this position. This hotel in London is the only hotel located right in the park, with no cars allowed. It is a tale of two cities—we have buzzing Knightsbridge in the front and the calmness of the park behind us.
How do you ensure you keep up with the ever-changing demands of the market and wants of your clientele? What will never go out of fashion nor one should lose sight of is that people are constantly seeking to be inspired. That can be something as simple as the shape of a beautiful building, or a calm park, or that can be world-class service. People want experiences inside the hotel, such as an amazing spa treatment or incredible dining.
We have guests who come into our imperial suites five times a year: they travel and stay in the best rooms, drive the luxury cars, and they have worked very hard to get to where they are. There are others who save a lifetime and want to celebrate a special anniversary with us. Or it may just be someone off the street who just wants to have a really good coffee. It is important that we create memories for all those people coming through our doors.
Where is your favourite spot in the hotel and why? The lobby and in particular the front steps next to the doorman—they are the ones who know exactly what is going on. They greet every guest who arrives, and you pick up so much talking to them.
How do you strike a balance between tradition and innovation in a hotel like the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, London? I feel the Brits do this so well. We have the royal family, but on the other hand we have some of the most innovative designers and fashion houses, as well as a leading music scene. And Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, London is a great reflection of that. We are an iconic building built in the 1880s but inside we have the most cutting-edge rooms and food and beverage outlets.
I’ve read about how passionate you are about Mandarin Oriental’s global sustainability—what does this look like in practice in terms of the day-to-day operations within the hotels? And how individual is the approach from each hotel? Or are you looking to put in place something more unified and global? I am deeply passionate about sustainability. I will always buy organic. I am a vegan. I drive an electric car. I will always buy suits and clothes that are timeless and last many years. I am very careful as to what I throw away. And I avoid plastic as much as possible.
This spills over to what I do from pleasure to business. It very much part of our culture and is part of every decision we make. Some things we will do across every hotel, we will try to eliminate plastic from all outlets; we won’t put any endangered species on our menus across any of our hotels. There are certain practices at each hotel that are relevant to each property. What is relevant to a resort hotel in Turkey would be completely different to what is relevant and important to a city hotel such as London or Paris.
What continues to excite you about travel and the hotel industry? I love my job. I have been working in hotels for almost 40 years now. I was 16 when I had my first job working at a bar in a hotel. I would never change a single day. Travel is now extremely accessible, and people can visit places that you did not think possible some 50 years ago.
I imagine you travel a fair bit—what do you always pack in your suitcase? My running shoes. I run every day and if I don’t run, I need to run. Books and my headphones—I listen to audiobooks a lot. I can go through an entire book on a long-distance light. I don’t travel with my laptop. I always say to my team if you can make the decision without me, I will back you up, but if you’re stuck, give me a call.