The Set Hotels, the new contemporary luxury hotel collection – an exclusive interview with VP Mark Allvey

Cafe Royal Hotelin London, due to open December 2012, is the second member of The Set, a visionary new contemporary hotel collection founded by Alfred and Georgi Akirov. It was created to redefine the concept of the luxury hotel for sophisticated, design literate travellers in the 21st Century. CPP-LUXURY.COM has recently interview, exclusively, Mark Allvey, VP Sales & Marketing, The Set Hotels

When  was The Set Hotels set up and what is the business model of the company? (ownership / management or  both)

The Set, a collection of luxury hotels, was conceived by father and son, Alfred and Georgi Akirov. It was borne out of the Akirov’s love for travelling, tapping into local communities and discovering the inside track on destinations through local culture, cuisine and beautiful historic buildings. The aim of The Set was to combine these passions to redefine the concept of the luxury hotel for sophisticated, design-literate travellers of the 21st century.

The Set wholly owns and manages its properties.

How  would you define the DNA of the brand of your company? What are the  competitive advantages of The Set Hotels versus other similar international smaller hotel chains?

The two central tenets of The Set are: location and infusing heritage buildings with modern design. Location is paramount and we always look for luxurious yet artistic and central places in dynamic cities. We want our hotels to be more than the fabric of the local area but also destinations in their own right. The idea of an incredible sense of place is key for us and we want our guests to feel elements of the city throughout the hotel, be it in its design, food and beverage venues and service.

With respect to the properties, we look for landmark buildings that tell a story and are both rich in history and architectural detail. For example, the Conservatorium is a magnificent Neo-Gothic building that initially housed the Rijkspostspaarbank and then became the Sweelinck Conservatory of Music. Café Royal, originally, founded by Frenchman Daniel Nicholas in 1895, was a famed restaurant and wine cellar that has been the preferred haunt of artists, writers, musicians, actors and politicians through the ages whilst the Lutetia was the first Art Deco hotel in Paris.

In transforming each of these buildings, we work hand in glove with leading architects and designers to create contemporary spaces that are simultaneously evocative of the style and glamour of the past. The Conservatorium was designed by Piero Lissoni, at Café Royal we are working with David Chipperfield Architects and we have appointed Jean-Michel Wilmotte for the Lutetia.

Our competitive advantages are that we offer a highly bespoke service and favour an intuitive approach where we aim to enhance both the guest’s experience of the hotel and the destination. Also, due to our hotels’ location in the heart of the city, we are really able to offer guests a genuine sense of place.

Which other hotel chains do you consider your competitive set?

We don’t consider ourselves to have a competitor set and this is because we have such a unique offering. There are hotels that pay homage to the past while others are the cool kids on the block, however we believe The Set has filled the gap that exists between the two. We respect the history of the building (without getting lost in the nostalgia) while adding contemporary design ultimately creating hotels that are destinations themselves.

Another factor that sets up apart is our attention to detail from the level of service we offer right down to the type of sheets used in the bedroom to the products in the spa.

The first The Set Hotel, The Conservatorium in Amsterdam boasts an impressive architecture and interior  design. How would you define the positioning of the hotel? How has the  hotel performed since opening?

The Conservatorium is a luxury, design-led hotel that has reinvented the top end of hotel industry in Amsterdam. The hotel has charmed and surprised all who visit – from Amsterdam’s vibrant local residents who frequent its bars and restaurants through to international visitors from Europe, the Americas and Asia.  The Conservatorium is leading its competitive set and has been performing extremely well, outstripping normal market expectations for a property of its size in the first year of its operation.

Cafe Royal Hotel in London which opens in December is housed in a landmark building with an exceptional location, on Regent Street. What are  the other key features which make up the individuality of the hotel?

The design of the building is a key feature. In collaboration with David Chipperfield Architects, we have strived to create the perfect balance between restoring the splendour of the grand historic public rooms (for example, the legendary Grill and Domino Rooms) and designing serene new rooms and suites in a contemporary style. The result is a visually stunning hotel.

Other elements that make us stand out are our facilities. Guests staying at our hotel will also have access to our private members’ club, the Café Royal Club. It comprises a lounge overlooking the Ten Room (our brasserie-style restaurant), a Gentleman’s bar, a private dining area that seats up to 14 people and a creative space (supported by a finishing kitchen), which can be transformed into a sleek screening room or a live chef’s theatre. We also have an array of restaurants, cafes and bars as well as Akasha, the holistic wellbeing centre

What is the positioning you aim for in London’s competitive luxury hospitality market?

We want to be positioned as a 21st century luxury hotel that appeals to an international clientele. Rather than a particular demographic, we hope to attract a particular mindset – people who are curious, interesting and interested, entrepreneurial and of all ages, people who really want to get under the skin of a destination and appreciate a refined yet discreet luxury offering.

To what extent the Café Royal Hotel will likely attract leisure versus corporate guests?

We believe that we will have an equal mix of both leisure and corporate guests. This is because we believe our location – right in the heart of London’s West End – coupled with our facilities which include an array of food and drink venues, a private members’ club, a selection of meeting rooms and a holistic wellbeing centre, will attract both segments.

One of the  highlights of Café Royal Hotel is the SPA. Tell us more about the motivation behind such an impressive  facility and how do you see the return on investment. Do you plan to  attract non hotel guests to the SPA too?

Café Royal will be home to Akasha, a holistic wellbeing centre. We live in busy times – technological advantages and in turn the global nature of our jobs means we are always ‘plugged-in’. Akasha is a calm space for our guests to retreat, unwind and reconnect with themselves.

Akasha spans 1200 sqm and is named after the eternal source of the four basic elements of nature enabling life: fire, water, air and earth. The spa will offer a variety of Watsu hydro-experiences, a private and public hammam, signature Akasha treatments and a large lap pool. The gym is fully equipped with the most advanced fitness equipment including Kinesis machines and a private training room. We will also be offering our guests bespoke yoga, Tai-Chi and Pilates sessions tailored to suit their needs.

The idea of Akasha is to take our guests on a unique wellbeing journey that brings together the four natural elements in harmony, allowing transformation and a balancing experience. We believe that the combination of the Akasha Spa, gym, yoga and organic bar gives our guests a full holistic experience and ultimately enhances their stay.

Once we are up and running, we will be offering membership to non-hotel guests.

Which are your  key foreign target markets for the Café Royal hotel?

Outside the UK, USA is our second biggest market. Other key markets include Europe, the Middle-East and the BRIC nations. In particular, we are definitely seeing a rapid growth in the luxury market in Brazil.

How important is the F&B offering at The Café Royal Hotel? Do you have a fine dining concept?

Café Royal has a celebrated history of serving excellent cuisine and fine wine. In fact, it was renowned for having the greatest wine cellar outside France. Regular diners included Edward VIII and George VI before they were kings and half a century later, Noel Coward, Cary Grant and Elizabeth Taylor were regular patrons. We hope to continue this legacy and we have appointed Andrew Turner to be our executive chef. The Grill and Domino Rooms will be working in tandem where guests can enjoy a fine dining experience and a live contemporary show.

Do you have  future expansion plans for The Set Hotels? Which would be the ideal destinations you would consider?

We definitely see The Set growing, particularly in cities where there is a high demand for luxury hotels and where we can find properties that combine heritage with an artistic and central location. There must be an incredible sense of place. However, we have a long-term vision and we are dedicated to quality, not quantity. Consequently, we are currently focused on our three projects: the Conservatorium (opened at the end of 2011), Café Royal (opening in December 2012) and the Lutetia (coming soon).

Mark Allvey, Vice President Sales & Marketing, The Set Hotels