Exceptional luxury hospitality insights with veteran hotelier Ingo Peters of Fairmont

With a career spanning over 20 years, Ingo Peters is one of those rare visionary luxury hoteliers with a deep understanding of the development market trends and an exceptional execution strategy. Ingo C. Peters is currently heading the Fairmont Vier Jahreszeiten in Hamburg, a heritage property which has been ranking among the finest luxury hotels in Germany and Europe and one of the landmark properties of the Fairmont Hotels & Resorts chain. Peters also serves as a Regional Vice-President.

How would you define luxury in hospitality? How different is the DNA of luxury nowadays compared to the early days of your career?

I think, today more than ever, luxury can be defined as freedom of choice and it is the „software“ of a hotel which provides it.  Luxury hotels have increasingly become flexible with regards to the ever increasing guests needs, expectations and timings.  Guests are being offered a vast choice according to their preferences and their stay is being made increasingly easy by adapting to their preferences. On the other hand, guests do expect a high level of digitalization and seamless connectivity in all areas. So in short, it can be summarized as high tech- high touch.

What are the major disruptors of luxury hospitality? 

I believe Airbnb definitely has had an impact on the sector, which can be also seen in the increasing numbers of serviced-apartments and residential offers by various luxury brands. Another big change-driver is digitalization in the hospitality industry, which will be increasingly used for simple and reoccurring processes.

To what extent luxury relates to lifestyle?

Luxury hotels show variations and samples of different lifestyles and help guests to either find themselves in their preferred ambience when traveling or they inspire people to take some aspects home and implement them in their own life.

How has the profile of luxury hospitality guests changed in the past years? (if in any way)

The luxury guest has become more informed and hence more demanding. Guests do compare, they travel globally, they experience different levels of luxury in different destinations which forms their expectations. However, it is not luxury as such which is increasingly important, it is the software and the feeling that you stay at a place where you are truly welcomed and understood.

What is the positive impact of technology nowadays? Are there any aspects which might have a negative impact for the future?

Technology helps to facilitate returning processes and will make them seamless and  more comfortable. The challenge will be to have the right mixture between technology and the human, individualized touch which makes all the difference. Having said that, every guest needs to have the possibility to use as much or as little as  technology as he wishes. In the long run, technology will completely change the way the industry works. Some job profiles will vanish and some completely new will be developing, which means that entire industry   is currently undergoing a huge development process.

What do you think are the challenges of major luxury hotel chains to maintain consistency? (especially chains that operate and do not own properties)

It will be fairly easy to align technological processes and procedures, but it will always be a challenge to ensure a consistent personal touch. In addition, internationally operating chains need to take into the account the different markets and mentalities. What might work in Japan might be a completely wrong approach in France.

An increasing number of luxury hotels innovate in their F&B offering, partnering with celebrity Chefs, including franchises. What is your view?

F&B is by nature a very labor cost  intensive exercise. As long as a luxury property cannot guarantee that they are sufficient unique, talented and determined in their F&B operation, it might be a good alternative to partner with a big name or company. I personally believe that it makes a significant difference if a restaurant is under your own management as it the best showcase for your service, creativity and the customer proposition you offer.

Luxury hotels are partnering with beauty brands, jewelry brands and more recently with watch brands and fashion. Tell us more about your view.

If it is well done and the brand fits, it can be a good marketing strategy. However, in order to make these co-operations successful the brand needs to fit the product perfectly and vice versa. If that is the case, it can be a win-win situation as a hotel always helps to make a brand come to life.

What are the secrets behind creating a successful team? How do you nurture an employee culture that leads to genuine customer service?

There are no real secrets – as long as the employee is happy and identifies himself with the hotel, he will provide excellent, genuine service which the customer appreciates. First of all, team members need to enjoy hosting in the broadest sense. By offering a fair remuneration, good working conditions, a career perspective with development opportunities as well as an open and communicative culture, where each team member is invited to take ownership, the team will most probably be creative, pro-active and successful.

Ingo C. Peters, VP General Manager Fairmont Hamburg (interview)