Robb Reader: Duncan Palmer

The Mandarin Oriental, The Savoy and The Langham Hotel groups are among the prominent names on the CV of a British hotelier who took his Midas Touch east, to The Murray Hotel, Hong Kong, the flagship of Niccolo Hotels, in June 2016. His mission? To transform The Murray Building – a government office in the Central district – to be “The Matterhorn of all hotels”. So how did he make Hong Kong’s most eagerly anticipated new hotel launch in decades not just fulfil but surpass those weighty expectations?

Tasked with taking The Murray into exciting new realms, did you act upon gut feeling or meticulous analysis based on experience?
Each project is unique, its scope different. The first thing I usually do is ensure that the ownership and management teams are aligned in their vision of what the hotel will be. In the case of The Murray, we knew the hotel is needed to be positioned as the market leader in contemporary luxury. It’s been a thoroughly enjoyable and humbling journey, transforming a much-loved landmark into a luxury hotel. We worked very closely with our owning company, the Wharf Group, and international award-winning studio Foster + Partners to restore the building and its interiors and to develop the hotel as a must-visit destination for both local and international guests.

The Murray’s Lobby  michael weber

What about the project gave you the most satisfaction?
On a personal level, I enjoy working with my team and being a mentor to the younger associates. Driving the warm hospitality that the people of Hong Kong are known for, delivering the best in personalised up-to-date experiences for our guests, making The Murray relevant to the modern style of today’s contemporary living…

What is it about the building, specifically, that makes The Murray a particularly appealing experience?
The Murray is one of eight buildings under the Hong Kong government’s Conserving Central initiative, and we were extremely keen to preserve the building’s original modernist design whilst adapting the space to meet the needs of discerning travellers from all corners of the globe, attracting captains of industry as well as leaders in style. The new design by Foster + Partners reflects a certain timelessness, balancing contemporary style, comfort and conservation in a vibrant city.

What does the contemporary itinerant, in particular, want from a luxury hotel?
Travellers today, myself included, look out for a place to relax – open spaces and a sense of calm. From a design perspective [people want] a less layered approach. They appreciate well-appointed residential style facilities with a good bar and restaurant options that accommodate all kinds of uses for different occasions/uses. Modern luxury should be visually entertaining but also sophisticated in terms of atmosphere. Longevity can [come from] the placement of art and accessories, selection of day and night uniforms, equipment, music, scent and most importantly the depth of the varied experiences in our people.

We’re also mindful of breaking down the barriers of interaction with our guests: hence features such as smaller, pedestal styled check in desks, in-room check in, having a team of Niccolo Insiders always ready to provide tips, recommendations and assistance to our guests.

The Murray’s impressive interior arches 

Is the general culture of luxury hospitality changing?
In recent years, luxury travellers have shown an increasing demand for greater personalisation, and for itineraries and experiences that are unique to them. We’re committed to offering every guest new encounters, timeless pleasures, and opportunities to discover new luxury styles, tastes and cultures through unique signature experiences that engage the guests and bring them back again and again.

Is there a book that’s changed your life and why?
Expensive Habits by Peter Mayle (1991). I was general manager at The Connaught, London when I read it, and it taught me the importance of the tailored, bespoke, personalised approach to my hospitality career – and indeed in my own personal life, when it came to reaching out for unique and memorable experiences.