InFocus: Executive Insights – Hotels

19/03/2024

Welcome to the latest edition of psd’s InFocus. Featured in this edition are two themes which are highly relevant to the world of Luxury Hospitality.

In the first, Helen Morris talks to Kym Kapadia about the expectations of the Luxury Traveller and how topics including sustainability, hyper-personalisation, wellness and technology emerge.

The second article addresses the topic of transferability of skills between luxury retail and hospitality. Lesley Reynolds talks to Andre Devillers about his career diversion into the luxury retail space before returning to hotels with a new perspective and fresh ideas.

Do let us know your thoughts and if you might like to feature in any future InFocus editions.

Luxury Travel Expectations – in the Eye of the Beholder

Kym Kapadia is currently the Chief Operations Officer of Four Corners Hospitality Group, a hospitality acquisitions, advisory, consultancy and asset management company. Kym joined her current CEO and former colleague Tim Shearman to launch Four Corners Hospitality Group back in 2020. Kym, first partnered Tim when she held the Chief Commercial Officer and Head of Hotels at Aprirose. Here she was responsible for strengthening and managing the company’s hotel business, including its hotel portfolio and its management company, Almarose.

Prior to this she was a founding partner and board member at Michels & Taylor as Vice-President, Commercial, for 11 years.

Helen Morris talks to Kym on her take on Luxury Travel Expectations – in the Eye of the Beholder

In today’s post-pandemic era, and with people spending more time on travel, what do luxury guests really want when staying in high-quality hotels and resorts?

The pandemic-era lockdowns ushered in the rise of “travel experiences” — or meaningful, purpose-driven activities that take a deeper, and often slower, dive into a destination. For most, it’s not enough to simply go to a place anymore; many want to learn about it and be mentally transformed along the way. On our watch list, and in our focus are these evolving top trends:

Sustainability – a commitment to Green hospitality. The rise in sustainable luxury will continue. For example, high-end hotels will offer eco-friendly amenities, farm-to-table dining and furnishings made from ethically sourced materials. It’s suggested that consumers are willing to pay 38% more to make their experience more sustainable.

Hyper-personalisation – exceptional, authentic, tailored, exquisite experiences to luxury guests’ exacting needs. It’s quoted that 78% of luxury travellers are more likely to book with properties that offer personalised experiences, and almost 50% said they’re willing to share the personal data that hoteliers need to provide a truly individualised and human-centric stay. Moments of unscripted care being regular occurrences…is the norm.

Technology – Cutting edge features that were once a novelty or a nice-to-have are what today’s increasingly tech-savvy travellers have come to expect. Higher-tech amenities might include AI, mobile check-in, digital in-room dining, touchless payment systems, online concierge, wireless charging ability, in-room tablets.

Wellness and well-being – a recent GWI (Global Wellness Institute) report found that high-end wellness tourism, is still a rapidly growing market, with 6.5% growth from 2015-2019. Between 2024 and 2030 it’s estimated to rise c. 7% each year.

Elevated food & beverage – Culinary experiences in luxury hospitality are becoming more immersive and personalised. Expect to see more chef’s table dining experiences, personalised culinary classes, and food and beverage pairings curated by sommeliers and mixologists. Moreover, the push for locally sourced and organic produce enhances the culinary experience while aligning with the trend towards sustainability.

Who does this best today? Those with the strategic vision, the investment capability, and the boundless obsession with providing an amazing luxury experience.

Kym Kapadia, COO, Four Corners Hospitality Group

About

Andre Devillers

Andre Devillers is the recently appointed Director of Operations overseeing Luxury and Managed Hotels across Southern Europe, the CIS and Georgia for IHG – his properties include iconic brands such as Regent, InterContinental, Kimpton and Vignette Hotels.

Andre’s early career was in Sales and Marketing and later in Operations with high end luxury brands including Mandarin Oriental and Four Seasons – he was Hotel Manager at the re-opening of the Mandarin Oriental London before he took an unusual step in 2020 of stepping out of hotels by joining The Bicester Collection at Bicester Village – the multi luxury brand retail destination – as Director of Guest Experience and Services – a role he held for nearly  4 years.

Here Andre talks to PSD Managing Director, Lesley Reynolds, about his perceptions and experiences of the luxury consumer space and of the similarities and learnings he has gained from these interesting career steps.

Taking a step back Andre, what tempted you to move away from high end hotel operations and into the luxury retail world?

Embarking on a new chapter in my career was an unexpected twist after a decade at Mandarin Oriental, where my roles in Sales and Marketing and Operations were enriched with memorable experiences and remarkable encounters. Collaborating with brilliant senior leaders in an iconic brand made those years truly fulfilling. My professional trajectory was on a positive upward ascent, making the decision to part ways with such an esteemed company, and an industry that I love, quite a difficult one.

However, when the new opportunity presented itself, I found myself at a crossroads — continue along the familiar path, foreseeing the next decade with a sense of predictability, or embrace a change by taking a leap into an unknown industry. Intriguingly, the new venture maintained a connection to the luxury segment, with most brands at The Bicester Collection hailing from industry giants like LVMH, Kering and Richemont.

The challenge was very attractive. Not only did it promise the acquisition of new skills but also exposure to alternative values and leadership styles that could reshape my perspective on the luxury market. It became a personal wager — could I adapt to an unfamiliar luxury industry and carve out a distinctive career trajectory? Stepping out of my comfort zone, I found myself re-evaluating and re-calibrating my skills to seamlessly integrate into this uncharted professional terrain. The journey, though uncertain, held the promise of personal and professional growth, making it a venture well worth undertaking.

 

You were nearly 4 years at Bicester Village, and during a challenging period with Covid-19 on the scene very quickly after you joined. A) What attracted the leadership of The Bicester Collection to appoint you to the role? B) How did your hospitality background support you?

Within three months of assuming my role, we confronted the unprecedented challenge of the first lockdown, compelling the closure of Bicester Village outlet — an unparalleled situation for an establishment that had operated continuously since its inauguration in the ’90s. Leveraging my background in hotel openings, I found myself uniquely positioned to navigate this crisis. My approach mirrored the meticulous orchestration of an opening critical path, a methodology I had honed during my hotel-opening experiences, albeit now executed in reverse.

Surprisingly, this period unfolded as an unexpected opportunity. A new routine of reporting directly to the Board every Friday was established, providing updates on the dynamic regulatory landscape across the region. This task involved vigilantly monitoring and adapting to the regulations of each country, granting me invaluable insights. Engaging with Board members from the luxury retail industry during these interactions was both enlightening and intellectually stimulating, exposing me to diverse perspectives and innovative strategies.

The Bicester Collection recognised the value of my expertise in crafting and implementing luxurious, personalised guest experiences—a skill set refined over 16 cumulative years with iconic brands like Four Seasons and Mandarin Oriental. My leadership style, cultivated in the hotel industry, places a strong emphasis on fostering close connections with the entire workforce. This approach nurtures a team ethos dedicated to creating memorable experiences for our guests, a philosophy which aligned with the core values of The Bicester Collection.

What were the biggest challenges that you had to overcome in the retail environment that you could impact because of your hospitality background?

To foster alignment among the strategic leadership in marketing, retail, and our on-the-ground colleagues, I assumed a pivotal role within the senior leadership responsible for shaping our overall strategy. Recognising the impact these colleagues could have on our results, I initiated a shift of mindsets.

Take for example, the extensive security team deployed daily around the site. In conjunction with our efforts to expand our loyalty program, I devised a strategy that went beyond merely utilising marketing materials. Instead, we integrated a program that empowered our guest-facing colleagues, allowing them to not only secure more memberships but also to create what we termed “moments of kindness” – personalised gestures when opportunities arose. Remarkably, the security team emerged as the best-in-class in executing this approach. Witnessing a security team engaging so effectively with high-end guests was a testament to the success of merging the tactical nature of retail with the emotionally driven experience inherent in hospitality.

In essence, I aimed to bridge the gap between more tactical approach of retail and the emotionally charged realm of hospitality. By successfully merging these two elements, the goal was to create a best-in-class experience that resonated with our guests on a profound level, which also translated into superior financial results. This holistic strategy aimed to leverage the strengths of each sector, resulted in a synergistic approach that elevated our overall performance and guest satisfaction.

 

There must be many learnings that the hospitality industry can take from luxury retail – there is a lot of talk now of merchandising in hotels and creating further revenue streams. Can you share some of your observations.

 

Absolutely! The retail industry’s strategic agility and rapid adaptation to trends sets a commendable standard. This prompts an intriguing exploration of how similar principles could invigorate the hospitality sector, especially in food and beverage and room design.

When examining the perpetual evolution of displays in top brands, one notices a dynamic adjustment week over week, influenced by factors such as weather and prevailing mood tendencies to optimise sales. This adaptability raises a pertinent question: shouldn’t restaurant menus follow suit and become more agile? There seems to be a distinct opportunity for innovation within the food and beverage industry.

Similarly, the interior design landscape of boutiques undergoes frequent changes, with a cycle of every 2-3 years, extending to 5 years for flagship locations. This stands in stark contrast to the relatively more stable environment of room design in the hospitality sector, where changes typically occur over more extended periods, ranging from 7 to 15 years.

This observation prompts an intriguing exploration of whether there is room for increased dynamism in restaurant menus and interior design within the hospitality sector. Could adopting a more agile approach enhance the guest experience and keep pace with the ever-changing expectations of today’s consumers? This juxtaposition of practices in different industries invites reflection on how the principles of adaptability and responsiveness could be harnessed to elevate the offerings and ambiance within the Food and Beverage and hospitality realms.

Drawing inspiration from successful luxury brands such as Louis Vuitton and Dior, introducing pop-up concepts in luxury beach resorts can forge valuable connections with the local community, boost colleague motivation, give excellent media exposure and contribute to incremental revenue. The temporary and exclusive nature of pop-ups adds an element of surprise, aligning well with the fast-paced, ever-changing dynamics seen in the retail world.

Commercially, integrating retail corners within the main restaurants, featuring enticing items like chinaware and products for patrons to take home, mimics the dynamic and constantly evolving displays prevalent in the retail industry. This not only enriches the dining experience but also serves as an additional revenue stream.

Taking a cue from the successful model of Soho Home, venturing into the creation and sale of branded hospitality products emerges as a promising avenue. Crafting a unique marketing approach, leveraging social media for consistent exposure, and integrating creative display corners within hotels can be pivotal in the success of such product lines. By infusing these retail-inspired strategies, the hospitality industry can infuse a perpetual sense of excitement and adaptability into its offerings, ultimately enhancing guest satisfaction and bolstering business outcomes.

As Search Consultants, we are often asked to look to luxury retail for potential fresh talent. From your unique experience here, what would your thoughts be on this, specifically which functions do you see adjusting best and what additional skills and development would a luxury retail specialist require to make this transition?

Certainly, the symbiotic relationship between hospitality and retail is noteworthy. In particular, the strategic functions within hospitality could benefit from insights gleaned from the tactical agility of Retail Directors. Their unique perspective often yields efficient solutions, and their ability to think differently can unearth results in unexpected niche areas.

Furthermore, the inclusion of Marketing Directors from retail backgrounds could introduce a fresh viewpoint to our business model. Whilst a robust induction process would be crucial to help them grasp the nuances of the hospitality industry, their granular approach could offer valuable insights and perspectives.

Additionally, marketing specialists from retail may bring an appreciation for content and social strategies that differ from traditional approaches, enriching the overall marketing landscape in hospitality. This cross-pollination of ideas has the potential to foster innovation and elevate the performance of strategic functions within the hospitality sector. Each experience in a hotel or restaurant should be considered a potential “Instagram moment” with the capacity to go viral. In the age of social media, these moments have a profound impact on the reputation of a place. Guests are not just patrons; they are potential brand ambassadors, sharing their experiences with a vast online audience. Ensuring that every aspect of the hospitality experience is visually appealing, memorable, and shareable can significantly enhance the online presence and reputation of the establishment. This strategic approach recognises the power of social media in shaping public perception and underscores the importance of curating experiences that resonate in the digital realm.

Anne Pitcher, Ex General Manager of Selfridges often said: “Are you creating and promoting a Space or a Place?”

And Andre, could you picture a GM being appointed from retail?

Why not? In my mind it would depend on their appetite to learn and ability to get up to speed quickly and of course the strength of their leadership skills. It would be refreshing to welcome their different strategic viewpoint and of course it would be essential that they must enjoy connecting with people – guest and colleagues – and be passionate. If I were interviewing, I would dig down and probe on this point because in my experience maybe they appear less passionate and more transactional – and I would also want to be sure of their ability to create strong relationship and trust with owners.

 

And about your new role ….

Returning to IHG holds a special significance for me, as it marks a journey to my first job in Barcelona during my early twenties, creating cherished memories that have stayed with me. I am particularly thrilled to re-join IHG, and the prospect of integrating into the Southern Europe, CIS and Georgia region fills me with excitement.

This region boasts a stunning collection of iconic hotels, each with its unique charm, and is led by a team of brilliant leaders. What adds to the allure is the foundation laid by the 5 Area General Managers, who, with their more than two decades each of commitment to IHG, have become formidable pillars in building this impressive collection.

The years ahead promise to be exceptionally exciting as we navigate the hospitality landscape in this vibrant region. I am eager to contribute to the continued success of IHG and to collaborate with the talented individuals who have played a key role in shaping this extraordinary portfolio.

Andre Devillers; Director of Operations Luxury & Managed Hotels – Southern Europe, CIS & Georgia

About

Lesley Reynolds

Managing Director