Christopher Cowdray, CEO, Dorchester Collection, on his company’s unique philosophy of luxury hospitality

In an exclusive interview, Christopher Cowdray, Chief Executive Officer, Dorchester Collection has spoken to CPP-LUXURY.COM about his company’s unique philosophy of luxury hospitality, the company’s expansion plans and his vision of the future of luxury hospitality.

Christopher Cowdray, CEO , Dorchester Collection

Dorchester Collection has evolved from the iconic London hotel to a luxury hotel company which operates owned properties as well as properties through management agreement with third parties. What motivated the expansion and what are your mid-term and long-term objectives?

Our aim was to establish Dorchester Collection as an international luxury hotel management company, with the objective of growing to 15 properties in our portfolio pipeline by 2015.  We are looking at gateway sites in Europe, North America and Asia Pacific and it remains key that any potential properties are a strategic fit within our luxury brand of iconic landmarks with remarkable heritage.

We were awarded our first third-party management agreement last year when we started managing Le Richemond, a hotel with an illustrious history. We will restore the property later this year to ensure it is once more at the forefront of Geneva society.

In future, we will expand through fully owned, partly owned and managed properties as this allows us to have a more flexible approach.

How does luxury relate to lifestyle for Dorchester Collection?

We recognise that our guests are interested in art, culture, music and fashion. Our product offerings and communications campaigns are often built on these platforms such as our artist lunches at London’s 45 Park Lane and our annual Dorchester Collection Fashion Prize, which supports young fashion talent.  Even our advertising campaign reflects the focus on lifestyle.

What is your long-term strategic approach in this respect?

Our guests can enjoy luxury at different touch points: a latte on the terrace at Le Richemond with views of Lake Geneva, lunch in our Michelin-starred Alain Ducasse restaurants in London and Paris, cocktails in our critically acclaimed bars, a classic afternoon tea at The Dorchester, dinner in the renowned Polo Lounge at The Beverly Hills Hotel or a treatment in an award winning spa – there is something for everyone to take pleasure and secure long-term memories.

We partner with the most talented designers, renowned chefs and the best spa brands in the world whilst highlighting the individuality of each of our hotels.

How have you achieved consistency and how will you maintain this in the long run?

We invest heavily in our people, including their training and engagement. We maintain that people are our greatest asset – through highly skilled and decisive leadership we aim to attract, develop, retain and inspire the most talented people.

Additionally, we monitor closely our guest engagement through tools such as Gallup and Leading Quality Assurance.  All of this helps to contribute to our exceptionally high guest repeat factor of over 60%.

Hotels such as The Dorchester and Hotel Principe di Savoia have been undergoing refurbishments in the past years. Do you have similar plans for Le Richemond and Hotel Plaza Athenee?

Le Richemond was earmarked for refurbishment right from the start of our management agreement and we will shortly be announcing details of the renovation plans for the suites and public areas.  The hotel will remain open throughout and we will minimise disruption to guests.

At Hotel Plaza Athenee in Paris, the Royal Suite has just been renovated by Marie-Jose Pommereau to create the largest suite in Paris offering four bedrooms, four bathrooms, two living rooms and an office.

We’ve made a commitment to offer guests an unrivalled experience and continually exceed expectations.  Investment in our properties is a must to ensure we meet this level of excellence. We are also about to unveil 22 new suites at The Dorchester designed by Alexandra Champalimaud. The Beverly Hills Hotel, which celebrates its centenary this year, is also undergoing a phased restoration by Adam Tihany, enhancing the hotel’s fabled design.

Do you think service can make up for a tired product in luxury hospitality?

A warm, friendly welcome combined with genuine engagement contributes to the retention of guest loyalty.  We combine high levels of service with continual investment in all our properties.  We are fortunate to have owners that share our focus on regular product improvement.

With 45 Park Lane and Coworth Park, your group has introduced several innovative concepts, especially in terms of dining and SPA. Please elaborate.

We have a strategy of working with top of mind luxury brands and operators such as La Prairie, Dior, Alain Ducasse and Wolfgang Puck to create award-winning world class destination experiences.  CUT at 45 Park Lane is Wolfgang’s first restaurant in Europe and the high quality of the meat has been widely reported.  Coworth Park focuses on local produce and there is even a herb garden on the roof of the spa.

How important is technology nowadays for luxury hospitality?

We have invested heavily in our in-room technology, especially at 45 Park Lane and Hotel Bel-Air. In addition, we invest in our back office systems and business services as well as digital platforms for marketing and sales.

We have to respond to our guests’ requirements and reflect what they are used to in their own homes and businesses. Families checking in to our hotels will bring multiple digital devices (iPads for the children, smart phones, laptops, DVD players).

There is an iPad in every room at our newest openings Hotel Bel-Air and 45 Park Lane, which offer guests a variety of hotel-specific services such as ordering room service and destination guides with maps and directions; at 45 Park Lane, there is a guide to the art found in the hotel with a background on each artist. The technology has been well received by our guests.

Now that your company has expanded through third part management agreements, Le Richemond in Geneva being the first such project, please describe the ideal hotel that would fulfil your criteria? – location, number of rooms, F&B, SPA, reputation, etc. Would you consider newly built properties for third party management agreements?

Our aim is to expand in prime locations with hotels featuring ideally up to 250 rooms.  We look for iconic architecture that reflects the essence and culture of these cities with an opportunity to create outstanding restaurants and bars, spas, world class suites and meeting facilities.  However, we would also consider a new build in the right location where we would work with the top architects and interior designers to develop an eye-catching building with innovative design.

What are your top three destination priorities in terms of expansion? Would you consider resort locations?

Our priorities are key gateway cities in North America, Europe and the Far East with a focus on city centre hotels.  Since the sale of The New York Palace Hotel in 2011, New York remains a priority.  Other prime cities for development are Chicago, Madrid, Rome, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing.  We would consider resorts but it is not our priority at this stage of our company development.

Has your business been affected (if in any way) but the current international financial crisis?

Generally our luxury hotel business is good despite economic uncertainty.   We have seen increased business from many of the emerging markets, which has helped keep occupancy and rate close to the more favourable results of 2008, and the impact of significant world events such as the Olympics is also contributing to strong results.