In one of the world’s most competitive cities for luxury accommodations, Chief Executive Officer Stephen Alden joined Editor-in-Chief Douglas Gollan for afternoon tea at The Connaught where he discussed how he has reinvigorated and differentiated the current portfolio and why he is ready for the future.
Elite Traveler: What’s the history of Maybourne?
Stephen Alden: Maybourne is what used to be the Savoy Group, after investors bought the group and went on to sell the Savoy, the remaining three hotels were baptized as Maybourne. The idea was to make the hotels the best they can be through a series of refinements, capital investment, technology and new concepts combined with an infrastructure to support the three hotels.
ET: What does it take to have a hotel at the top of the luxury pyramid today?
SA: In this space you cannot hide behind the brand because people are discerning enough to know what they want, and people are also more comfortable at this level to have individual choices based on their preferences in different markets. The individuality is needed to give a hotel a personality in its market as opposed to being just the continuation of something else.
ET: What about synergy?
SA: We have centralized services nearly 70 people with room and restaurant reservations for all three hotels, a single revenue management team, HR, construction and finance. What we have done very well is to know where to draw the line, where the synergies stop. Where do you draw the line with consistency? Where do you let loose with the personality? We only have seven percent commonality between guests (of the three hotels), and I think that proves the point more than anything.
ET: What’s Maybourne’s philosophy?
SA: The philosophy is about inspiring extraordinary experiences, and that is a step ahead of just creating them. There is a dialogue (with the guest) about the design, the general manager. It is about creating places where people want to be. This bar (in The Connaught) has become the living room of Mayfair. At eight o’clock in the morning, people come in for a cappuccino. It starts raining and people come in. In the afternoon, at one table a person is having a coffee, the next a vodka martini. You have every time zone represented, and it means different things to different people. It also has a different meaning at Berkeley (contemporary chic) and a different meaning at Claridge’s (timeless glamour) and The Connaught (redefining a type of living and lifestyle).
ET: What’s new?
SA: We opened the business area at Claridge’s where there was a barber shop, and we are getting ready to open Simon Rogan’s restaurant which brings together healthy living and dining. He has a 20-acre farm in Cumbria to supply the restaurant so its truly farm to table. We partnered with Lady (Carole) Bamford and put together the first urban Haybarn Spa. Andre Fu who you know from The Upper House (in Hong Kong) created the Opus Suite at The Berkeley (in place of five rooms) and from the way it’s selling, it looks like it was a good decision.
ET: What about plans for expansion?
SA: That’s a dream I can’t hide, and I’ve had from the very start. Everything we have built is scalable, and we look forward to the day we have hotels in other cities in the World. There is no shortage of demand. A number of owners and investors have approached us with an interest in opening the next Maybourne somewhere in the world. Maybourne has a bright future on the basis of building infrastructure that can give it synergy as well as individuality.
ET: How have guest preferences changed?
SA: Our guests know exactly what they want so you have to have your entry performance level at a very high standard so when the next level dialogue starts you are ready. You have to be at the top level. Today, many guests already have their own trainer, or they already have their own driver and support team so you have to be their partner. More and more are mixing business and leisure. They are hosting a board meeting and dinner, attending an auction, meeting an old school friend all in 2.4 days. People know what they like and want. They are not easily impressed.
ET: Are there any trends that stand out?
SA: People are traveling more with their family. We have more tables of six and eight in the restaurants because you get parents, their parents and children. It’s not just men traveling on business. Families of four, six or eight are common. There is a higher level of consciousness of wellbeing, not just spa, but food and temperature and even the local environment. People today also recognize good design and good design has a direct relationship to quality of life.
ET: And what about hotels tapping in to design?
SA: We believe in creative collaboration. The hotel industry now is appreciating design. But the typical way is the designer comes in, does the design and then things get changed and you lose the experience. The General Manager changes this and then the barman changes that and all of a sudden it doesn’t work. We bring the designers we collaborate with back on an ongoing basis to preserve the integrity of their design. Otherwise it’s like when you pass on a message and each time you pass on the message it gets distorted.
ET: How do you find designers to collaborate with?
SA: There’s no formula. We find each other. We want to work with the best creative minds.