David Matthews made a fortune manufacturing all size of busses in Great Britain. Germany’s Oetker family’s fortune, which according to Forbes tops $8 billion, was made through the invention of ready-to-use baking powder and later an array of businesses ranging from insurance to frozen pizza and beer.
Oetker bills its hotel collection as “Masterpiece Hotels” and with icons such as Le Bristol, Brenner’s Park-Hotel & Spa and Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc who’s to argue? Privately held, the company says it spent about $180 million when it renovated its Paris palace. More recent additions such as 16-villa Freegate Island Private in the Seychelles and L’Apogee Courchevel that just finished its first season in the French Alps have only added to the company’s prestigious reputation.
As Oetker in recent years has looked to expand via management contracts instead of only buying hotels, it got a good glimpse of Eden Rock during its year of running Hotel St. Barth Isle de France. In fact, Oetker Marketing and Operations boss Didier Le Calvez said during a press breakfast in New York that his team did too good a job. With rave reviews and increased bookings, another titan of the universe, Bernard Arnault’s LVMH purchased the property sending Oetker packing.
Of course Matthews (right) had a chance to see Oetker’s work while managing the competitor, and at the same time had aspirations to continue his company’s expansion on the fantasy like Caribbean island. As he was fretting about how new projects might stretch himself to thinly, he ended up meeting Le Calvez. As the story is told, the two men hit it off. Matthews went on to do some “comparison shopping” and decided the small, privately held Oetker Collection would be the perfect manager for his hotel. The deal includes a minority stake by Oetker. It also marks an opportunity for both Oetker and Eden Rock to increase their global wingspan.
Matthews says when the 2008 recession hit, he and his sales team hit the road to develop new markets and the result is last year the resort hosted guests from over 50 countries ranging from Lithuania to Malaysia. Le Calvez who became a darling with elite travelers from his tenure as Managing Director of Four Seasons George V (for owner Saudi Prince Alwaleed) says Oetker has a deep database of over 350,000 guests who are loyal to the group’s eclectic collection of ultra memorable hotels. He said the company was able to increase revenue to Freegate by 50 percent mainly with its database of followers, many who hadn’t even considered the Seychelles until Oetker arrived.
The owner of Eden Rock thinks that type of following will be a good fit for the new partnership. Nearly 70 percent of guests are repeaters, and Matthews says, “They arrive as customers and many have become friends.” He says while prices are obviously high – it is St. Barths of course – guests comment that the innkeepers are “generous.”
Le Calvez (right) believes one way or another Oetker’s return to St. Bart’s will be longer this time. “We weren’t as protected as we could have been. We had a tag-along clause (when Ile de France was sold). We are more protected this time.” Which just shows when you have billionaires battling over trophy resorts, one needs more than sunscreen. In the meantime Matthews is succinct about the resort he bought after spotting it while on a yacht in 1994, then spent over a decade restoring it to world class. “St Barths is such an interesting place and is unique in the world. There is so much more we can do.”