Marriott Mulu – an oasis in the heart of the Sarawak rainforest – Interview: Benjamin Wolff, Resort Manager
Traditional elegance and contemporary luxury coexist harmoniously at Mulu Marriott Resort & Spa. They have the proud distinction of being the only 5-star hotel in Mulu; their unique location in the tropical rainforest of Borneo, five minutes from Gunung Mulu National Park, sets the stage for an enchanting visit. We began by asking Mr Wolff about his staff.
The Resort currently employs 95 associates, with 40 of them from Batu Bungan & Long Iman; two Penan longhouse settlements of an endemic ethnic group.
Other tribes that are represented by the Resort’s workforce are the Berawan, Kayan, Orang Ulu, Bidayuh, Iban, Kenyah, Kelabit, Lun Bawang & Melanau.
As the Gunung Mulu National Park & the Resort over time created more and more work opportunities, more people settled in the area closer to the National Park, which led to Mulu become an “official” village recently.
Associates whom reside in Mulu or Batu Bungan are able to commute between work and home daily, whilst associates whose houses are located further downriver stay at the Resort’s staff quarters, as they are unable to travel back and forth daily.
When I first arrived in Mulu I had no idea of what to expect. It took me a while to understand the many different tribes and their cultures & structures.
What impressed me the most is their community spirit which is much stronger then what I have seen anywhere else.
Were you the first GM here?
No. The Resort was opened under the Marriott brand in 2015 by an Australian gentleman, Grant Young, who stayed here for a couple of years.
What is the biggest challenge running this place?
From an operational point of view, it is the logistics. Due to the Resort’s very remote location, sourcing for certain items or spare parts can take a while, as there are no shops or markets in Mulu. We have to contact someone in Miri, which is the nearest city to Mulu, to find the right items for us and if it is too heavy for air freight, they can only send it by barge, which is even more time consuming and costly.
From a netizen’s point of view, the only challenge is the connectivity with the internet. Therefore we sell Mulu as a digital detox or unplug destination.
How important is the fact of being an “eco-resort”?
I think it’s extremely important for Marriott International and from our guests’ perspective – especially Europeans, for whom recycling is very common. As there is no local garbage collection or recycling centres nearby, we hire local boatmen to collect our rubbish and send it downriver to the nearest landfill. Although it is a taxing exercise, the National Park and Marriott have a responsibility to keep the surroundings clean. We collaborated to guide the community, demonstrate the practice and benefits of recycling daily. I am happy to say that we are on the right track. The National Park employs a research & education associate whom works with the local schools, educating students on the long-term impact of recycling on mother nature. Our wet waste is not a big issue as locals collect it for their animal feed nightly.
What’s new at the Resort?
We currently have Mandara Spa on site – a reputable spa chain, with all four therapists from Bali. We plan to further expand our wellness offerings and recently built a new yoga studio and created yoga retreat packages. At this point we are still new in the wellness market compared to better known destinations like Bali and Phuket. Tapping into the wellness market took time, but since last summer, the response has been very positive. We work with freelance yoga instructors whom tailor make their retreats to different demands. Eventually, we plan to offer a broader selection of activities and services such as Tai Chi, Chiropractic, Meditation, Forest Bathing, etc. and are about to launch a Wellness Menu consisting of local, organic products catering towards the vegetarian and vegan guest.
Furthermore we want to keep our services and products as authentic as possible and therefore turn the Spa into a “Sarawakian” Spa, with Sarawakian music, oils and scents. We should officially launch a new product in this respect during the first half of 2019. We have guests that come now saying they like this destination because Bali and Thailand are too commercialised and crowded. Mulu is a very unique place – something you can’t find anywhere else.
What about promotions?
In Q2, for one month we will have a 30-second promotional video playing on-board Malaysian Airlines flights. This will be our main promotion in 2019. It will focus on our wellness programs, in collaboration with the Mulu National Park.
Chinese tourists are flocking to many parts of Southeast Asia. Do many come here?
Not many Chinese tourists come here. Currently they seek different tourism products than what are available in Mulu. On the other hand, Asian visitors i.e. Japanese, Korean, Singaporeans and Taiwanese belong to our main groups.
How is transport infrastructure evolving?
Part of Mulu’s charm is that you can only arrive here by plane – without road access from Miri or Kuching. But with a little effort to reach us, you will have an experience of a lifetime. The Mulu National Park and the surrounding UNESCO World Heritage are definitely worth a visit.
What are your three main USPs?
Of course, that we are literally connected to the UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The second unique selling point is the authenticity of the local staff… with the food we try to be as local as possible as well… so everything is authentic, local and tribal style.
The third point is that we are the only Marriott property located in a rainforest worldwide, where you will indulge in five-star facilities deep in the jungle of Borneo. You have the spa, a fitness centre that is bigger and better than any city hotel’s. An outdoor pool, a yoga studio equipped with on trend facilities, snooker tables. Our rooms are well furnished with very high-end products and amenities. Yet, you are in probably the most remote place you can imagine anywhere in Southeast Asia.
To summarise, it is an authentically high-end luxury comfort in an exceptional UNESCO World Heritage site.