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We meet a general manager of international stature, who has lived through the transformations of the luxury hotel industry over the years, and who now runs one of the legendary hotels on the Côte d'Azur.


We meet a general manager of international stature, who has lived through the transformations of the luxury hotel industry over the years, and who now runs one of the legendary hotels on the Côte d'Azur.

Category: Europe - France - - Interviews
Interview made by Vanessa Guerrier-Buisine on 2024-02-23

Michel Cottray, General Manager of Hotel Martinez, part of The Unbound Collection by Hyatt

Michel Cottray, General Manager of Hotel Martinez, part of The Unbound Collection by Hyatt
Photo credit © Hôtel Martinez

We caught up with the man who heads the Hôtel Martinez on La Croisette in Cannes, which hosts the prestigious Cannes Film Festival jury dinner every year.

With more than 40 years in the business under his belt, including 25 years managing luxury hotels, Michel Cottray brings a wealth of experience and a keen eye to all those who cross his path.

An international career and mentors

As early as his BTS at the Paris hotel management school, Lycée Jean Drouant, the Parisian was considering a career with an American group because he is an epicurean. His desire to see the country pushed him towards the most internationally developed groups in the 80s. “At that time, only Hilton, Sheraton, Méridien or InterContinental offered an international career”, recalls Michel Cottray. A time when the major Asian groups had not yet penetrated the Western market, and when only a few international luxury hotel brands coexisted.Since then, the hotelier has witnessed the transformation of this industry, with group takeovers, brand absorptions, the proliferation of luxury hotel brands and the diversification of offerings.

It was through the restaurant door that he entered the hospitality industry in the 1980s. He started out in Germany, before joining the Sheraton group in Luxembourg. It was an adventure that took him through four countries, from Germany to Australia and Thailand, and lasted over 12 years.

An interlude in Cannes of almost two years as F&B manager at the Sofitel Méditerranée hotel enabled him to meet the man who was to become his mentor, Jean-Pierre Duten. A man who taught him about perseverance, attention to detail and the high standards required in the hotel and restaurant business. Even today, almost forty years later, he still regularly talks to Jean-Pierre and shares moments of conviviality. They share a passion for their profession, an openness to others and an international culture, to the extent that they both have German wives.

After this meeting, Michel Cottray left France to work in Germany for a few years, before taking on his first responsibilities in the hotel business in 1992 on an island that had not yet been explored by many Western workers, Phuket. At the Sheraton Grande Laguna Beach Hotel, he met his second mentor, Erhard Hotter. Of these two people, he recalls: “They taught me a lot, sometimes even using a certain rigour. In fact, I didn't understand at the time that they wanted to train me, and it was only much later that I realized how much time they spent, their time, helping me to evolve”.

From GM's cocktails to presidential meetings

In addition to this encounter, his assignment in Phuket confirmed his desire to experience international life. He discovered the pleasures and duties of hotel management, developed his palate for spicy flavours, and got a taste for “GM's cocktails”. One evening a week, during which he receives his most loyal guests, as well as the disgruntled ones. It's an evening that allows him to forge links, and a format that he will adopt in the other resorts he has managed during his career. “I think I organized and took part in 500 GM's cocktails”, he recalls.

Although he no longer organizes such events, which are typical of resorts where travellers are on holiday, he has kept the natural link with guests. Today, he seizes every opportunity to spend a moment with loyal guests, to meet new guests during a lift ride, a visit to the beach…

After three and a half years as the second in charge at the Sheraton Grande Laguna Beach, which later became Angsana Laguna Phuket, he flew to Australia, to the Sheraton Mirage Port Douglas. He stayed there for four years, rising from Hotel Manager to his first role as General Manager. It was here that he experienced the greatest emotions of his career. From an apéritif with President Clinton to dinner at the table of Chancellor Helmut Kohl and eight of his ministers, always accompanied by his wife, on the evening of their wedding anniversary.

A man of openness

He lived through the transformation of the finest Sheraton-branded hotels into The Luxury Collection, such as the Sheraton Mirage Port Douglas, a period that coincided with his entry into the Westin family. First in Saudi Arabia, where in 2000 he opened the first Westin in the Middle East, The Westin Jeddah, before moving to Bali in Indonesia, and returning to Germany for a few years, where he obtained an MBA in Tourism Management.

After seven years managing Westin hotels, the Starwood group sent him to the Principality of Monaco to take charge of Le Méridien Beach Plaza Monte Carlo. He spent five years on the French Riviera, taking on regional responsibilities as Area Manager South of France & Monaco for Le Méridien Hotels & Resorts. There he got a taste of the French Riviera's character, “very seasonal guests and employees, and very loyal employees, who can spend more than 20 years in the same property”.

For the man who describes himself as “an advocate of working abroad”, the Monégasque and French parenthesis is coming to an end, as he takes off for Greece. He looks back with pleasure on this other highlight of his career, “the grand opening of two luxury hotels at Costa Navarino in the Peloponnese, The Romanos - Luxury Collection, and The Westin Resort Costa Navarino, with a total of 775 rooms and suites, 20 restaurants and bars and 350 swimming pools”. After another stopover in Paris, then Hong Kong, he heads to Belgium to manage the Steigenberger ICON Wiltcher's for five years. This experience was accompanied by professional recognition, as he was named “General Manager of the Year 2019” by Deutsche Hospitality.

His career has taken him to 12 countries, giving him an exceptionally open mind.

A vision of luxury and teams

Michel Cottray is not only a seasoned professional, but meeting him means you quickly come to appreciate his humour and generosity. “Every day is a new opportunity to shine, so let's approach each day with enthusiasm, determination and a smile on our faces”, he likes to quote, and apply.

Having managed hotels ranging from a hundred rooms to more than 1,000 rooms, multicultural teams, resorts and airport hotels, and adopted “an American chain culture”, he was the perfect choice to assume the helm of the Hôtel Martinez, The Unbound Collection by Hyatt, in November 2022.
The iconic hotel on the Croisette now benefits from this expert and benevolent eye. “It's an industry where the human touch, in addition to all the classic or contemporary working tools, delivers a personalized service that goes beyond expectations”, he describes when asked about his definition of luxury hotels.

A definition that he also applies in his relationship with his teams, and in his desire to produce a service of excellence. What's his role? “To instil this sense of responsibility, and for everyone to ensure that the guest experience is surpassed. However, this requires a personal effort, and this effort is subtly perceptible by the guest”. An effort that enables him to achieve a level of excellence, “attention to detail makes the difference between good and exceptional”, he reminds us.

Le Martinez, his new Eden

Not only does the manager seem convinced by the commitment of his teams, he is also delighted by the dynamism of his new place. Convinced that he is “lucky enough to work in a hotel that is constantly on the move and also to oversee the embellishment projects”, he points out that “the Hôtel Martinez continues to embody the charm of the Roaring Twenties, in a setting that is constantly reinventing itself “.

It's a hotel that stands out from the crowd in a destination whose history is associated with luxury hotels. “In particular, we have focused on rooms and suites that have all been refurbished, and that are bright, elegant, and luxurious, without being stuffy. In spring 2022, we inaugurated our L'Oasis du Martinez, a 2,800 m² haven of lush vegetation located outside, at the centre of the U-shaped hotel, with a Spa whose expertise has been entrusted to Carita, an outdoor swimming pool and a spacious fitness room opening onto the Mediterranean garden. A few months earlier, on the seventh and top floor, two Penthouse flats facing the sea and overlooking the Bay of Cannes were transformed into a setting dedicated to the cinema”.

These embellishment projects have been ongoing since the arrival of the new chef. “Since the summer of 2023, the focus has been on the restaurant business, with the arrival of Jean Imbert, who is giving a new impetus, where nothing is left to chance, but where guests will find sincere, generous and tasty dishes. Last summer, we completely renovated La Plage, its restaurant and its beach area, with top-quality facilities and a refined décor. The next big event is the reopening of the legendary 'La Palme d'Or' restaurant for the next Cannes Film Festival, which will be breathtaking!

The French Riviera, his adopted home

It's no surprise that Michel Cottray and his wife have fallen in love with the French Riviera, of which he speaks with such enthusiasm. “It's a destination that never ceases to amaze me. I discovered it in the 80s when I was working at the Sofitel Méditerranée, then twenty years later in Monaco at the head of the Méridien Beach Plaza with regional responsibility. In Cannes alone, the development, modernization and embellishment of the infrastructure is breathtaking,” he enthuses. He goes on to stress the importance of those who are involved on a daily basis in making the destination more attractive: “At the same time, the private sector, my colleagues in hotels, beach resorts and restaurants, continue to invest, to perpetuate the magic of the French Riviera and to believe in the destination”.

A convert to French Riviera life, he adds that the charms of this region are not limited to its seaside attractions, “far from the Croisette, excursions into the hinterland, often with grandiose panoramas, perched villages, between sea and mountains, are just waiting to be discovered and appreciated” he recalls. “So it's no surprise that my wife and I became true Cannes locals with a permanent pied-à-terre in town”.

An inspiration to the younger generation

While he puts his generosity at the service of the EHMA association (European Hotel Managers Association), for which he has recently become national delegate for France and Monaco, he is above all committed to encouraging future and young professionals to embark on the adventure of an international career.

His career path and longevity in the profession give him real legitimacy when it comes to supporting and advising young people in their career development. Despite his responsibilities, he applies a “hands-on management approach”, striving to remain accessible and humble. “I try to make myself available, to generate ideas, to develop new concepts and new approaches, but also to make decisions when we have to decide, and we're not sure which way to go. I also recognize my failures and share them,” adds the director.

And he gives advice to young people considering a career in the luxury hotel industry: “Before considering the luxury hotel industry, is the young person predisposed to the hotel industry in general? The basics are the same in a 3-star or 5-star hotel, only the expectations change. So we're talking about open-mindedness, availability, attention to detail, but also the ability to anticipate, take risks and solve problems.

It's an industry that's constantly changing, and one that still offers fantastic opportunities for development, for discovering the world, for mixing the strategic with the operational. You don't need to be an expert in every department, but you do need to know enough about the key departments to get an overview and make progress in both guest satisfaction and the achievement of financial targets, which often go hand in hand”.

From his career to his vision of the profession, Michel Cottray should undoubtedly inspire the younger generations of professionals to follow in his footsteps.

The Oasis at the Hotel Martinez, opening in 2022

The Oasis at the Hotel Martinez, opening in 2022
Photo credit © Jérôme Kelagopian / Hôtel Martinez

The Hotel Martinez, part of The Unbound Collection by Hyatt, is one of the emblems of La Croisette in Cannes
Photo credit © Ylenia Cuellar / Hôtel Martinez

The Isabelle Huppert penthouse apartment, nestled on the 7th floor of the Hotel Martinez
Photo credit © Michel Figuet / Hôtel Martinez

The Plage du Martinez, unveiled in summer 2023
Photo credit © Boby / Hôtel Martinez

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About the author

As a journalist and luxury hotel expert inspired by the men and women who embody it, Vanessa aspires to enhance and sublimate the beauty and elegance of palaces through her writing. "In a palace, simplicity serves the quest for excellence" she admires.

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