Philip Ho – SVP EMEA & APAC and Chris Walker – SVP Sales Americas for Leading Hotels of the World talk during ILTM Cannes to Cleverdis editor-in-chief Richard Barnes about the evolution of their group… He firstly asked about LHW’s trademark “curious traveller”…
CW: They are people who feel travel is essential to their life. It’s not an option where some years they travel and some years they don’t. It defines who they are. They’re out on the road ten times a year or more, so they’re heavy, heavy travellers, and our biggest opportunity with our broad portfolio of hotels is to really move them from one to the other. So when you stay at one Leading Hotel of the World in one city and you love it and have an amazing, unique experience that you think of us the next time when you’ve got that wanderlust and you’re going to your next destination. We have 142 hoteliers at our ILTM stand. We are the largest exhibitor at the show. A luxury travel show is our sweet spot and a great chance for us to have a show of strength and show who we are and how many options we have.
PH: Each hotel is unique and has a different story. Therefore, for each hotelier, being here to tell his or story is very important.
Who are you talking to at ILTM?
CW: At Leading we tend to talk directly to travel agencies as much as we can, and we also have a lot of meetings here with our own hoteliers, to try to figure out what’s going on on both sides as we try to match make in the middle.
How important is this show for LHW?
CW: Arguably this is the most important event of its kind for us, because of the kind of buyer that is here. Some of our hotels do get corporate business, and some get group business, but all of our hotels do some measure of leisure business, and a significant proportion of the buyers are here for that reason, so it’s a good match for us.
Everyone talks about travellers wanting “experiences”. How do you sell that?
PH: It’s so intangible that our recommended approach is that you have to see the hotel; you have to experience the hotel. I met the owner of an agency yesterday, and his goal was to visit a hundred Leading Hotels before year-end. He feels that’s his best way of sharing with his clients the experiences that can be had a truly remarkably uncommon hotel like ours. He thus becomes an advocate. On the guests’ side, some have a goal in life of staying at every single Leading Hotel of the World. For many, the LHW Directory is their “book of dreams”. At last count, our top customer had about 250 different hotels in which he’d stayed across the network, but he’s still 150 short of his goal. When we talk about cultural immersion, the reason who our hotels do that much better is because 90% of our properties are owned by individuals or families who have a passion for the business, but also for the society and the culture in which they live. And they express this through their hotels.
By definition, we are a collection of independent hotels.
CW: Talking about uncommon experiences, I have worked at chain brands in the past and there’s a certain level of consistency that you’re going for, because by definition a brand is trying to stand for something consistent across all their properties so you know what to expect. By definition, we are a collection of independent hotels. They have their own spirit and their own soul, because they are trying to maintain their independence and we are trying to foster that and support that as opposed to “whipping them into some kind of shape” that we see as a Leading Hotel. You have to have a consistent level of quality – so we are not going to sacrifice on that, but in terms of the experience, these independent hotels are going out of their way to create something unique, because it’s bringing to life an independent owner, and a very entrepreneurial team.
What remarkable new properties are being presented at ILTM?
CW: We are adding the Hotel Figaroa in downtown Los Angeles, which first opened in 1925. It has the character and soul but is being rebuilt with the same character.The current rebirth returns the hotel to its original Spanish Colonial design with a focus on comfort and welcoming service, plus all the technology a modern traveler needs. It is a home, a workspace, and a place to create and share works of art with guests and the local community. Steps from the Staples Center, LA Live and LA’s most prestigious museums and theatres, it is at the heart of some of the most vibrant and creative downtown neighbourhoods on the planet. The hotel takes part in the process, collaborating with like-minded creatives, and sharing its community with the world. We are adding two hotels in Chile, which is great for us diversifying our portfolio in that region. One is in Santiago and the other is in Patagonia.
PH: In Asia, we just added a hotel in Beijing, which is the closest property to the Forbidden City – with amazing views of the site from the bedrooms and the rooftop terrace. In Seoul, we are adding a hotel in the sixth tallest building in the world (123 storeys), with sweeping views of the city. In Lake Como, Il Sereno just opened. It’s a fabulous contemporary hotel with breathtaking views of Lake Como.
How is business sentiment at the moment?
PH: The mood seems positive. At the start of the year there was a lot of uncertainty with the stock markets going down, but things seem to have recovered, and things are looking brighter for the next year. In our segment in any case – dealing with “curious travellers”, travel for them is a necessity, and they will continue to travel.