CEO of Oetker Hotels shares his company’s unique vision for the future of luxury hospitality
In an exclusive interview to CPP-LUXURY.COM, Mr Frank Marrenbach, Chief Executive Officer of Oetker Hotel Collection (OHC) has recently spoken about his company’s unique vision on the future of luxury hospitality, sharing the competitive advantages which are at the core of the Oetker Hotel Collection.
Your company owns and manages four iconic luxury European hotels, each with its own identity. What prompted your company to develop Oetker Collection?
With the development of the Oetker Collection – Masterpiece Hotels we combine the uniqueness of our highly individual hotels with the strengths of a collection. We share resources behind the scenes, systems, know-how, best practices and values, thus improving the quality and the efficiency of our operation, without becoming a chain. Because true luxury has to go along with individuality, authenticity and inspiration – not with standards. We call that strategy “Individuality.Together” and we believe that there is a very interesting market niche for this concept. We are creating Masterpiece Hotels – truly individual hotels, where each of them is one-of-a-kind, and we want to grow our Collection carefully on the basis of that approach.
Oetker Group is one of the largest food conglomerates in the world, however, with a mass market positioning. How do you regard this from the perspective of the luxury hotel chain which bears the same name?
It is true that the food business has been the core of the Oetker Group since its foundation in 1891. But today the Oetker Group has a well diversified portfolio of activities in different industries: shipping, beer, non alcoholic beverages, sparkling wine, chemicals, private banking and hotels. This balances risks very well, as the global economy does not affect all areas of business at the same time and in the same way. But the common denominator of all of our activities is our aim to be the industry benchmark and the leader in quality. So we really do not feel overly exotic within our Group and we are very proud that our hotel collection was awarded with the name of our owning family.
Oetker Collection has recently announced the opening of a luxury resort hotel in Marrakech. Given the highly competitive luxury hospitality market in Marrakech, what is your strategic positioning strategic? Which are the key competitive advantages of your hotel?
First of all, I would like to stress that the presence of various high-end hospitality brands is a big plus for Marrakech. These very good hotels will promote the destination which is already enjoying an excellent reputation. When you have a closer look at the competition, it is very important to offer something different and to find a clear positioning. This is the case with our latest masterpiece, Palais Namaskar. It’s a very high-end 41-key property situated on 50,000 sqm. It is just striking how the founder and owner Monsieur Philippe Soulier and the noted architect Imaad Rahmouni spent 5 years to create it. The lush gardens, the 16 swimming pools, the Feng Shui driven layout and its fantastic interior design make it unique. It is the only property which can pride itself with its own private plane to ease access to Marrakech. This gorgeous place will enable the guests to regain energy and rejuvenate – it’s a little eden if you want. At the same time, the proximity to the city center offers you all excitement and therefore you have the best of both worlds – the retreat and the urban life. With only 41 keys, we shall be able to create the highly individualized service which will lead to these wonderful experiences our guests are used to from our existing hotels.
Will your expansion plans for the near future focus on third party management agreements, like in Marrakech and Abu Dhabi?
Yes, indeed it is our clear strategy to grow with management contracts. This model makes sense as our partners are primarily interested in holding the real estate. On the other side, we invest a lot of funds in the continued development of our operational savoir faire. Our strategic growth plan is to add another 10 hotels until 2020. The acquisition of properties each and every time does not fit in our strategy. Yet we own four heavy-weight hotels and are certainly not an asset-light company. We believe this combination makes us very interesting to owners as we do understand how we take care of the real estate part of the business as well.
The Abu Dhabi Hotel will be named Le Bristol. Do you have plans to use Le Bristol brand for your international expansion projects?
The name of our project in Abu Dhabi is Hotel Bristol and with no means it represents a branding strategy using Le Bristol as the reference for other projects. As I stated earlier on, each of our hotels is one-of-a-kind and will carry its distinctive name. Abu Dhabi is an exception as it was our first step in 2009 and because of the excellent relationship we have with H.H. Sheikh Hamdan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, the owner of the hotel, who asked us to bring a new definition of luxury to the hotel market in the UAE – a luxury which is subtle and refined and elegant, as reflected by Hotel Le Bristol in Paris.
Do you have any plans to further expand in Europe?
Our main focus to expand in the next years is the EMEA region. Despite all financial turmoil, I strongly believe that Europe will continue to play a very important role in the next decades to come. Especially from a touristic point of view, with all its diversity in cultural landscape and food, it will further attract significant amounts of high-end guests.
True values and heritage have been highlighted at this year’s edition of ILTM, as key drivers for a successful business strategy in luxury hospitality in the coming years. In this respect, which are the key elements of your long term strategic positioning approach?
As I stated earlier on, each of our hotels has its genuine own personality. They truly create a sense of place and are carefully composed by members of the Oetker family or associated partners who share the same view point. Don’t forget – the Oetker Collection is a family run business. This has a tremendous effect on our company culture, which is determined by a high level of trust and authenticity. What you see is what you get, and we keep our promises. This unique ambience creates a very powerful unity take on all company situations – we stand together because we want to be the best. It is the No. 1 success factor to attract the best talents in the market and to provide them with a frame of action where they can perform and grow the best possible way. We are embedded in a very healthy and strong company which gives us the means to fund and pursue this ambitious growth strategy. In short, it is all about the people, and we want to engage the best of them.
Le Bristol Paris has recently undergone major refurbishment works, adding new rooms, a restaurant and a brand new SPA. Do you have similar plans for your other current hotels in Europe?
Apart from Le Bristol, Hôtel du Cap – Eden-Roc has just undergone a head-to-toe renovation. We have just redone 71 rooms, with additional new suites andluxury rooms. Moreover, Villa Eleana was built, a beautiful 250 sqm mansion adjacent to the hotel. Our next heavy-weight investment is the total renovation of the Spa at Brenners Park-Hotel in Baden-Baden which is due to start in a year from now. The rational for this investment strategy is very clear: Our own hotels must be points of reference at all times.
The speakers at The Utratravel Forum at the 2011 edition of ILTM in Cannes have highlighted the following trends. Please comment from your perspective.
a. - travellers want to ‘’integrate’’ with the place – they feel the need for an enhanced sense of ‘’just being’’ rather than being surrounded by material thing
I could not agree more. In the past years, a lot of hotels were built which left the guest as a spectator. Concepts which often did not embrace the clients but moreover “used” them as audience. I believe, each guest should be the main actor and not the one who needs to applaud the scene
– an increasing number of travellers will book their hotels, spontaneously, through their smartphones in the near future
This is a fair statement as you just have to look around what people do when they sit at airports, how they communicate and how omnipresent these devices are. Every hotel company even the high-end operators are well advised to use this trend. We just have to make sure that we keep a personalized interaction in the digital world. The digital experience of the guest must be as authentic as the experience he or she will have in our hotels. I have to admit, I never travel without my smartphone.
– travellers seek real value and keeping experiences relevant
What is new about it? Since I am in this industry which is for 25 years, this has never changed and never will. Contents may change but never the expectation.
Do you agree that in the past three years travellers have been perceiving luxury differently? Does this apply to luxury travellers at your hotels?
There is an obvious change from the more material luxury to a refined one. Our Senior Vice President (Development) Middle East & Africa, Mr. Samir Daqqaq always points out very well: He says, today it is more about luxury that whispers at you, less than shouts at you. We shall obviously never reduce the comfort level of the building. However, it is the efficient and heartily service of our hotels which make the difference. And the uniqueness of concepts – for example with regards to F&B or Spa. We can see that our guests rate this dimension of the experience the highest and as all hoteliers know, it is the most difficult one to maintain. Our guests want to enjoy perfect moments in an inspiring environment, beyond standards. This is why we make great efforts to create unique places, Masterpiece Hotels.