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Richard Curtis, Vice President Marketing EMEA for Small Luxury Hotel of the World (English version) Interview réalisé le par Sonia Taourghi
As membership demand continues for Small Luxury Hotels of the World, Journal des Palaces asked Richard Curtis, Vice President Marketing EMEA for SLH, the key to success, and what hospitality industry can expect from the label that already seduced more than 350 hotels worldwide.
You say that you represent the collective interests of the most luxurious independent, exclusive hotels and resorts around the world. But more specifically, how would you explain the aim of Small Luxury Hotel of the World?
SLH members are independent, privately owned hotels (some with as few as six rooms) and so individually they are not able to benefit from the economies of scale that the large international chain hotels do. Through membership of a group such as SLH, hotels have access to a wide range of powerful marketing services and activities which are designed to enhance the hotels’ international reputation and occupancy levels. Not only does membership of SLH provide member hotels with a “consumer seal of approval”, it also lends automatic credibility to an otherwise potentially unknown hotel. In addition to having direct association with a global brand, hotels have access to a state-of-the-art reservation system and an extensive network of PR and marketing support, all of which help deliver high paying guests to the individual properties.
You are very selective regarding to your members. What are your criteria? Is there a characteristic that you really can’t accept for your members?
Only independent, privately owned hotels will be considered for membership.
In addition to this, several broad criteria must be met:-
- the hotel must be viewed as one of the best, if not the best, in the area
- the hotel’s marketing policy should be consistent with the overall aims of SLH
- the hotel is required to move its GDS representation to SLH’s dedicated “LX” code
- the operational management of the hotel must be of the highest standard
- service should be personal, efficient, prompt and friendly
- food and wine must be of the highest quality, properly presented and expertly served
- the hotel’s décor must be of the highest quality and well maintained
- the hotel must have access to email and the Internet, as a considerable amount of SLH communication is carried out by electronic means
- the minimum sign up for membership is three years in order to allow sufficient time for the hotel to benefit from affiliation with the SLH brand
There is a need to ensure that there is a balanced representation of the brand and so there may be occasions when SLH has to decline a membership application due to the fact that there is already sufficient presence of the brand in that particular city or country. This is also the case if existing member hotels view the addition of a new member in the same locality as a conflict of interest.
While there is no definitive limit to the number of rooms an SLH member hotel can have, by pure definition the collection comprises “small” hotels with an average of 55 rooms. However, there are member hotels that are larger than this but due to the layout of the property they still create the perception of being small and exclusive. Large properties that are not able to achieve this will not be considered for membership.
How did you criteria evolve since the creation of SLH?
Since the company was created in 1991, SLH has been aware that in order to operate effectively in a competitive market there is a need to excel in every aspect of the business – from comfort, luxury, service, facilities to location. As such, SLH’s selection criteria have always been strict, thus ensuring that only the very best hotels with the highest standards are accepted into membership. Equally important is that once a hotel has been accepted into membership the standards of excellence remain exemplary.
The definition of “small” has had to differ from market to market as thee are some countries or regions where a 250 room hotel is considered to be “small”. As such there are no fixed criteria in terms of the size of the hotel that can be accepted for membership.
In the same respect, SLH tends to keep its criteria broad and so it is not so much a case of “evolving” it is more about providing luxury and unique experiences.
Do you plan to modify you criteria? What can you tell about the future members of your collection?
SLH believes that the current selection criteria are extensive and so there is no intention or need to modify them at this particular time. However, each of our member hotels has an individuality and exclusivity that guests have come to associate with the brand, and it is this pursuit of excellence that will continue to be applied to all future applications for membership.
A label is an image. Could you define the spirit of SLH?
Which image do you want to reflect with your collection?
The SLH brand is very diverse and global and so it is difficult to define it with one image. In essence though, the SLH brand is about delivering unique and memorable experiences. Whether a guest stays at an SLH spa retreat, country house, golf resort, island retreat, city sanctuary, waterfront property, eco-reserve or game and wilderness lodge, he or she is guaranteed unprecedented levels of luxury and excellence. SLH is about consistency.
Each SLH hotel offers its own interpretation of luxury, and although every property commits to a single standard of excellence, the experiences that a guest encounters is unique to each property. With a collection of over 360 hotels in 59 countries around the globe, the Small Luxury Hotels of the World brand is, without a doubt, able to meet the needs of every traveller.
SLH is also an aspirational brand – while some people may view it as out of their reach at the moment, it is hoped that at some point in the future they will consider an SLH hotel for a special occasion, confident in the knowledge that the brand can meet, if not exceed, their expectations.
I imagine that all your members fit to your requests, but are there properties that are most meaningful for your collection because of their story, their location, their originality…?
The range of properties within the SLH collection is vast, and with such a strict selection criteria each property has something very special to offer. However, properties that have particular significance for the brand would include those that are located in cities or countries where the brand hasn’t previously had a presence. Examples for 2006 include Russia, Estonia, Laos, South Korea and St Lucia, as well as the cities of Berlin, Milan, Brussels and Turin.
Your label is well-known, and your website enables people to select a hotel. What is the customer of a SLH hotel generally looking for?
An increasing number of leisure and business travellers are choosing to stay at a hotel that provides a personal service, rather than experiencing the feeling of being just another “number”, which can often be the case at the larger international chain hotels. Without exception, SLH hotels are able to provide the exclusive, personalised service that makes every guest feel like an individual. SLH hotels are renowned for their consistently high standards of service and excellence and so guests are confident that whichever SLH property around the world they select they will have an exceptional experience. Adding to this, once guests become used to the high standards offered by SLH hotels they become very loyal, and as the brand continues to expand into new markets SLH is able to provide them with even greater choice.
An increasing number of travellers are conscious of the impact that tourism is having on the environment and as such many seek out hotels that display a degree of sensitivity to this. SLH has recently launched a “Caring Luxury” initiative in a bid to demonstrate that luxury is not always about extravagance. A number of SLH member hotels have adopted responsible tourism initiatives which support the environment, society and economy in which the hotel operates. SLH is the first group of luxury, independent hotels to adopt such an initiative and it is expected that this will give the brand a competitive edge, and provide prospective guests with even more reason to select an SLH hotel.
We can see that there is a growing demand of the membership. How do you explain this success? Is it a response to a strategy you launched?
The awareness of the SLH brand is probably at its highest ever. As a growing number of hotels realise the benefits that membership brings, so the demand increases. SLH’s strategy has always been to deliver high paying guests directly to the hotels – it does not operate a discounting strategy and so the yields generated via the SLH booking channels are always healthy. For the small, independent hotel this service is seen as incredibly attractive. SLH’s responsibility is to deliver a return on investment for the hotels.
You have more than 300 members. What kind of relationship is there between them? Do you think you create a “family” feeling?
Each hotel has a dedicated Account Manager who is responsible for ensuring that the individual hotels maximise the benefits of SLH membership. This direct point of contact for the hotels also ensures that any queries are dealt with quickly and efficiently. There are also several joint initiatives carried out during the course of the year – one example being the “SLH Luxury Escapes” brochure which features dedicated packages offered by regional groupings of hotels. The SLH Conference, which is held every 18 months, also provides an excellent opportunity for the hotels to network with each other. A close relationship such as this helps the hotels feel part of the “SLH family”.
What are your big challenges for the months or the years to come?
The SLH brand is well established and brand awareness is probably at the highest it has ever been. However the challenge over the coming months and years will be to expand into markets where the brand presence has not been maximised, whilst at the same time ensuring that the standards of excellence that SLH is renowned for are maintained.