Interview: Mandarin Oriental’s Adelina Wong Ettelson on the rise of branded residences & five-star living

Continuing our series of interviews with women leaders in the world of property, PrimeResi speaks with Adelina Wong Ettelson, Global Head of Residences Marketing at Mandarin Oriental, finding out how the luxury hospitality brand plans to double its resi portfolio in the next five years, and what’s driving the surge in demand for hotel-style living in London – and around the world…

Continuing our series of interviews with women leaders in the world of property, PrimeResi speaks with Adelina Wong Ettelson, Global Head of Residences Marketing at Mandarin Oriental, finding out how the luxury hospitality brand plans to double its resi portfolio in the next five years, and what’s driving the surge in demand for hotel-style living in London – and around the world…

Adelina Wong Ettelson

A recent report by Savills named Mandarin Oriental as one of the fastest growing players in the branded residences space, due to expand threefold in the next five years; what is driving the explosion in demand for this type of product?

The surge in the popularity of branded residences is directly attributed to the range of benefits afforded to both developers and purchasers. Brand affiliation provides market differentiation, and often value premiums as well as strong resale values. Owners at Mandarin Oriental enjoy a true turnkey experience with the assurance of a five-star hotel group taking care of their every need 24 hours a day, access to luxury amenities, and hassle-free living with lock up and leave capabilities that complements the UHNWI lifestyle.

Can you give us a flavour of the Mandarin Oriental schemes currently in the pipeline around the world? Have plans for future growth been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic?

Mandarin Oriental will double its residential portfolio with a total of 16 diverse projects in the development pipeline in the next five years. While the birthplace of The Residences at Mandarin Oriental began in the U.S. (New York in 2003), we are seeing expansion in all regions. The next two years are projected to be record years for us with seven of the 16 aimed for completion; from our most recent announcement in Da Nang, featuring 18 exclusive Residences each with private pools, to Muscat, Honolulu and beyond we are expanding in locations that support our brand and unique level of services and offerings.

Our development pipeline for Residences have not been affected at all…In fact, we have increased interest as more buyers recognise the benefit of having a five-star hotel manage their home

Whilst Covid-19 may have affected vertical living, some markets are seeing record breaking growth and sales especially in areas near urban locations. With buyer priorities shifting to an ease of life with an increased focus on improved well-being, the idea of five-star hotel living is only increasing in appeal. Our development pipeline for Residences have not been affected at all. In fact, we have increased interest as more buyers (and therefore developers) recognise the benefit of having a five-star hotel manage their home, ensuring and executing the highest level of safety protocols.

Most Mandarin Oriental residences are adjacent to a hotel; are there plans to open more standalone schemes, and if so, where?

In the future, Mandarin Oriental will expand further into the standalone business model where appropriate, providing a new offering to buyers with heightened privacy & exclusivity. In 2022, we anticipate the completion of our two standalone schemes (Barcelona on Passeig de Gràcia and New York, on 5th Avenue) which will mark our first foray into this business model. We look forward to working even more closely with residential developers to curate spaces and programming that complement the ever-changing needs of UHNW homeowners.

How is the mix between hotel and resi determined, and how do you ensure that hotel guests and residents live in harmony?

Most of the new developments in our pipeline will have a residential component which is on par with the trend and demand for this type of product. The strength and recognition of our brand makes us a desirable partner for developers globally. We continue to improve upon and refine our service delivery anticipating the needs of our homeowners and providing professional management of their asset. We look forward to further extending our hospitality and renown legendary service to new residences owners as we open new properties.

While the convenience and access to a five-star hotel is a key benefit to ownership, privacy and security is also of utmost importance. All our new residence projects are designed to have resident exclusive spaces and entrances, giving owners the flexibility to enjoy the hotel amenities when they choose while providing seamless and secure access to their homes.

A partnership with Clivedale London, The Residences at Mandarin Oriental Mayfair are due for completion in 2021; what does Mandarin Oriental look for in a new site – and a development partner?

We focus on opportunities that allow us to bring the best of both worlds to our clientele – the comforts of an exceptionally designed private home combined with our legendary hospitality. We seek out the best locations in prime city centres and resorts where our unique mix of service, hotel and residential management expertise will provide the most delightful luxury living experience.

For a project to be successful we must strike the perfect balance – a strong luxury development partner, desirable location, buyer profile and the potential to sell-out

Location of the site is obviously a very important factor; however, we also look for a partner who shares our unwavering commitment to quality, service, lifestyle, and distinctive sustainable design. For a project to be successful we must strike the perfect balance – a strong luxury development partner, desirable location, buyer profile and the potential to sell-out.

Penthouses at the Mayfair scheme have set record prices for the local area; what differentiates the offering from traditional super-prime apartment schemes – and other branded residences?

Clivedale London achieved a record-breaking £8,000 per sq. ft. after exchanging on the second of the two penthouses at The Residences at Mandarin Oriental Mayfair, London. The purchase price exceeded the sale of the South Tower Penthouse which sold for £25m in 2018, with both apartments achieving Mayfair’s highest price per sq. ft.

The combination of the Mandarin Oriental brand, location on Hanover Square, global class contemporary architecture, 5-star amenities and services, dedicated 24-hour residential concierge, and access to the hotel’s fine-dining restaurant and rooftop terrace bar overlooking Mayfair, has achieved the scheme a record £ per sq. ft. Buyers are aware of Mandarin Oriental’s success with One Hyde Park in Knightsbridge and, unlike at other branded residences with an unproven track record of management, know what to expect from this scheme, something which has no doubt contributed to the development standing at 81% sold a year ahead of delivery.

Is there a typical Mandarin Oriental buyer you have in mind when planning and marketing new schemes? Do they tend to be existing guests?

Many of our owners have had experience with the Mandarin Oriental brand having stayed at our hotels prior to purchasing. Being frequent and loyal guests, they are true fans of the Group and appreciate our legendary service and exceptional attention to details. They covet privacy, discreet yet attentive service, a hassle-free lifestyle and take pride in the status of ownership. Although most of our owners are our existing “fans”, we also appeal to UHNWIs who seek a strong investment asset associated with a global brand while enjoying the lifestyle that living at a Mandarin Oriental affords them. In terms of specific target profile for new schemes, it depends on the market and location aside from fans and guests of Mandarin Oriental hotels and residences.

Roughly what proportion of buyers use their apartment as a principle residence, rather than a second home?

We estimate that roughly 75% of our owners live in The Residences part-time; however again, this is heavily dependent on the market. We find that urban residences tend to have higher primary or co-primary users. For example, New York and London have a higher percentage of primary occupancy over a property like Bodrum which is undoubtedly a secondary or even tertiary home used primarily in the summer months during the season.

How do residents’ services – and service charges – compare to unbranded luxury developments?

Hotel branded residences typically offer unrivalled five-star service and amenities enhancing the residents’ lifestyle. This dedication to the highest level of service and quality in facilities usually translates to fees at the top of the market. I must say that in recent years, unbranded luxury developments have caught up with amenities programming and some developments’ service charges rival that of branded residences. At Mandarin Oriental, we provide property management directly, not outsourcing it to a third party which means that all colleagues, from the Director of Residences to the valet, are trained to our brand standards with oversight from the local hotel management and Head of Residences Operations. The primary differentiator is our dedicated residential colleagues who are trained and empowered to deliver our distinctive service to our homeowners.

The interiors at The Residences at Mandarin Oriental Mayfair are being created by Thomas Juul-Hansen; how do you select the design teams for each project, and do the briefs for the residential and hotel elements differ significantly?

We firmly believe in translating global trends to suit the local sense of place

Design briefs for Residences and Hotels differ primarily in their intended use (resident versus commercial). Whilst Mandarin Oriental has brand standards for both, the residential design brief is typically imagined by the developer with input from our Technical Services colleagues. We work very collaboratively with our developers, sharing best practices gained from designing and operating 33 hotels and seven residences across the globe. This has proven to be a significant benefit to our developers who tend to be more local. We firmly believe in translating global trends to suit the local sense of place, with a nod to our Oriental heritage in each of our properties.

London and Hong Kong will soon be the only world cities with two Mandarin Oriental hotels; how do you foresee the future for urban centres like these in a post-pandemic world?

While it may be difficult to picture what urban life will look like in a post pandemic world, we have no doubt that urban city centres like London, Hong Kong and New York will bounce back, as they always do, with a unique opportunity to transform and come back stronger. Innovation, change, and growth are often born from challenging times. In the meantime, it is a great opportunity to make great deals!

Are you allowed to have a personal favourite among the Mandarin Orientals around the world?

You are leaving the trick question to the end!! While I appreciate the variety and individuality of our hotels and destinations, there are a few especially close to my heart. Mandarin Oriental, Bodrum for a resort getaway. It is truly the most idyllic setting. I also love our first and flagship hotel, Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong; there is nothing like afternoon tea in the Clipper Lounge to give you a flavour of Hong Kong society. In the near future, I look forward to visiting the historic Mandarin Oriental Ritz, Madrid (opening Spring 2021), and further in the pipeline our debut hotel and residences in Moscow (slated for 2023), Tel Aviv (slated for 2025), and Vienna (slated for 2025).