Exclusive interview – Paul James, Global Brand Leader – St. Regis & The Luxury Collection
If the St Regis in New York is the flagship hotel of the St Regis Hotels, which do you consider the flagship property of the Luxury Collection?
The first St. Regis Hotel, founded by John Jacob Astor IV, in New York City over a century ago is certainly a flagship property for the brand; however, as St. Regis has grown its portfolio to 30 hotels and resorts around the world, properties like The St. Regis Shenzhen, which is currently Starwood’s tallest hotel worldwide, and The St. Regis Bal Harbour Resort in the ‘capital of Latin America’, have become flagship hotels as well.
The Luxury Collection brand traces its distinguished heritage to Compagnia Italiana Grandi Alberghi (CIGA), a company founded in 1906, which included Hotel Danieli in Venice, The Hotel Imperial in Vienna and properties in Sardinia: Hotel Cala di Volpe, Hotel Pitrizza and Hotel Romazzino. I don’t consider one particular property a flagship for The Luxury Collection, but rather, each hotel is a landmark in its own right and a portal to the destination’s indigenous charms and treasures.
That said, within the next twelve months The Luxury Collection will have the great pleasure of unveiling four of Europe’s most historic and iconic hotels, after being restored to their original glamour and grandeur. Just this July, the hundred year old Belle Epoque gem, Hotel Maria Cristina reopened in Spain’s culinary and film capital: San Sebastian, joining the legendary Hotel Alfonso XIII in Seville which reopened in May.
In early 2013, The Luxury Collection will unveil the restored Art Deco treasure the Prince de Galles which has enchanted guests since 1928 with intimate and personalized luxury, and finally, the magnificent Gritti Palace, located on Venice’s Grand Canal will re-open its doors in time for the 2013 Venice International Biennale of Contemporary Art.
St Regis is not present in key metropolis cities such as Moscow, Tokyo, Istanbul, Berlin or Paris. Do you have plans to expand to these cities too?
While we have not announced plans to expand into those cities, St. Regis is on a dynamic growth path having nearly tripled its portfolio around the world in just five years. With 10 hotels in the pipeline in the next five years, we continue to look for opportunities to grow in gateway cities and exotic resort destinations around the world. And we feel that St. Regis is uniquely positioned to cater to the new generation of global luxury travellers, who visit destinations well beyond the traditional cultural capitals of Europe, as diverse as Doha and Mauritius, Abu Dhabi and Bal Harbour.
Which international hotel chains do you consider as being the direct competitors for the St Regis? Which are the key competitive elements of St Regis?
Four Seasons and Ritz Carlton are most typically considered part of our comp set; however, there are many key elements that set St. Regis apart as the brand uniquely built for a new generation of affluent global travellers. For instance, St. Regis is the only luxury hotel brand that offers butler service in each of its hotels around the world, and our uncompromising level of bespoke, anticipatory service to accommodate the needs of our business and leisure travelers.
While other luxury hotel brands were designed for the wealthy Western Boomer, Starwood saw a real white space to create a luxury hotel brand with a new generation of Global Elite travellers in mind. In fact, 85% of our St. Regis guests are Gen Y or Gen X, born after 1961 and their approach to luxury is decidedly less formal than their wealthy brethren of old. St. Regis is growing in lock-step with new luxury travel patterns. Shenzhen, China, is a great example. 35 years ago, Shenzhen’s landscape was a collage of cow pastures. Today it’s a financial, tech and trade mecca where we just debuted a St. Regis on the top 28 floors of a 100-story building, our tallest hotel in the world.
How important is St Regis’ association with Polo and how did your company make this decision?
The St. Regis brand has long been associated with the world of polo. At the turn of the last century, the St. Regis founding family, the Astors, were a prominent fixture at polo matches on Manhattan’s Governors Island. As polo matches were a highlight on the New York social calendar, players and spectators would often stay at The St. Regis New York. Supporting the sport of polo today is important to the brand because it is at the foundation of the St. Regis legacy and a sport engaged in and enjoyed by many of our guests. It is incredibly exciting to see how this tradition manifests around the world among a new generation of affluent travellers. By continuing to play an active role in the world of polo in different countries like Thailand, the UK, the U.S., and Brazil with our first St. Regis Connoisseur, Nacho Figueras, we give our guests access to the “sport of kings” around the world. In May of this year, we hosted the fifth annual St. Regis International Cup in Cowdray Park just outside of London which has become a firm date on the polo calendar.
St Regis has been introducing famous fashion designer themed suites. Have you considered expanding this concept to all your hotels?
The collaborations with the House of Dior and Tiffany at our flagship hotel in New York City each date back over twenty years, but the recent re-launches have undoubtedly been an overwhelming success. At the moment we are not actively pursuing other fashion brands to design suites at our hotels, but we carefully look at every opportunity that comes our way. It is important that the partnership has relevance, such as the collaboration with Tiffany which has its flagship on Fifth Avenue and with whom the New York hotel has shared an active relationship since at least the 1930’s. As part of the recent renovation of The St. Regis Florence, we were delighted to unveil a suite designed by Bottega Veneta, which extends the amazing relationship with this famed Italian artisan leather goods company, building on the success of their first suite with St. Regis located at The St. Regis Rome.
The Luxury Collection still has several properties which need extensive renovations. Do you think service can compensate for a tired property?
May of our historic hotels have recently completed or are about to commence important renovations, but however complex a restoration, it can only be as successful as the service that brings the hotel experience to life. While we are focused on the restorations of our most historic icons across Europe and new build hotel openings in Asia, it is the exceptional level of service offered at all of our hotels that truly sets the brand apart. The Luxury Collection enjoys the very highest levels of ‘Guest Satisfaction’ at Starwood, in particular the brand’s Concierge Service is the gold thread that links all the properties in our portfolio together, acting as a catalyst, curator and guide to bring a destination to life for guests.
The Luxury Collection is preparing for the reopening of its flagship property in Paris, the Prince de Galles. What are the new features which guests can expect to find at the hotel?
The Prince de Galles is currently undergoing a significant renovation with Pierre-Yves Rochon leading the design direction. We’re really focused on highlighting the magic of the original features and enhancing the personality and atmosphere of the hotel while seamlessly incorporating modern day elements and technology. When the hotel reopens next year, the famous mosaic courtyard will be restored to its former glory, while the ground floor will have a refreshed new layout with elegant social areas, including a destination bar and restaurant. The hotel’s 159 guestrooms and 44 suites will feature an authentic Art Deco style using the finest woods, marbles and luxurious materials. This restoration, like that of the recently re-opened Hotel Maria Cristina in San Sebastian and Hotel Alfonso XIII in Seville, is a fine balancing act that shows The Luxury Collection’s dedication to preserving the unique character of these historic sites and restoring the properties to their utmost glory.
Which are the defining elements for a property to match the criteria of a Luxury Collection? Are all properties managed or you also franchise the brand?
The Luxury Collection now has more than 80 hotels in over 30 countries around the world – approximately 30 percent of our portfolio is franchised, while 70 percent is managed. While we do have luxury brand standards, each hotel and resort in the portfolio is unique and noteworthy for its history, architecture, art, furnishings and amenities, so we seek out hotels that are truly indigenous to their destination.
Do Starwood Hotels consider launching any other high end luxury hotel brand in the near future?
No, Starwood is focused on lengthening its lead in luxury hospitality by focusing on The Luxury Collection and St. Regis brands.
Paul James is the Global Brand Leader for The Luxury Collection and St. Regis Hotels and Resorts (Starwood Hotels & Resorts). He has over 20 years of experience in the hospitality industry, previously serving as Starwood’s Regional Director of Sales & Marketing, NW Europe.