Luxury back in style baby, says SLH supremo

One of the key planks to the brand’s success has been its loyalty scheme, the debonair chief told Lunch Magazine in an exclusive interview in Sydney recently. “There are three levels: guests are either Special, Loved, or Honoured,’’ he said with a smile. The brand is also investing heavily in technology and scrapping its mouth watering coffee-table book which lists all the organisation’s 500-plus hotels in 74 nations around the globe.

Jonathan Porter

The luxury traveller is back in the game and spending big.

That is the message from Paul Kerr the former chartered accountant who is now supremo of Small Luxury Hotels of the World.

Mr Kerr said business is up by almost 20 per cent so far this year for the boutique glamour brand after a jump of almost a quarter last year.

“The luxury market  was in hibernation - now the luxury bloke is back,’’ he says.

“The message is clear. You can’t keep the luxury man down, he always wants to come up and spend his money,’’ Mr Kerr said.

And one of the key planks to the brand’s success has been its loyalty scheme, the debonair chief told Lunch Magazine in an exclusive interview in Sydney recently.

“There are three levels: guests are either Special, Loved, or Honoured,’’  he said with a smile.

The brand is also investing heavily in technology and scrapping its mouth-watering coffee-table book which lists all the organisation’s 500-plus hotels in 74 nations around the globe.

There are 122,225 special members, 20385 loved members 200 honoured members.

Luxury bloke is back ... SLH chief Mr Kerr

Benefits include early check-ins and late departures for special guests, while honoured members get free breakfasts and complimentary room nights.
“A lot of the growth has come through the club, it has grown to 150,000 members around the world.’’

This was coupled with the intimacy of the small hotels (they have an average of just 50 rooms) - and the fact that the vast majority are independently owned and many are run by local families.

“These places always appear empty - people are always out and about because the hotels are in great locations.

“It’s hard to have a big hotel in a great location."

He says the Hotel Kristiania in Lech Am Arlberg in Austria, owned and run by former Olympian Othmar Schneider and his family is a typical example.

“Our guests want to get to know the local culture - who better to help you do that than a member of the local community.

“The hotels have absolutely great experiences. To me luxury is all about freedom of choice.

“It’s about the freedom of choice to do what you want when you want; to book where you want when you want through all the different channels.

“But also when you get to the hotels to do things when you want to do them: you don’t want to be corralled. That what it’s about with Small Luxury Hotels of the World.’’

He has also upgraded technology with smart phone and iPad apps.

He says he has no fear about competition as big brands begin to set up their own boutique offerings.

“When you say the big brands are boutiques they’re still quite big hotels. We don’t have a problem because they wouldn’t compete with a 50 room hotel - there simply isn’t enough money in it for a big chain.’’

He says SLH can give the same benefits as a chain.

“For me utopia in the hotel business is when your central reservation system is linked to your property management system, which is linked to your internet booking engine.

“When all these are linked together it is easier to do revenue management, update your rates, have better information on the internet. All the rates are in parity.

“And you get more business that way. We can offer that.’’
The main reason the big chains were trying to move into the boutique space was to offer what SLH offers its guests.

“Are they going to do it as well, no they’re not because they are going to want to do management as well.

“They will never offer the same service.’’

He said he had recently stayed at “a very large, significant hotel’’ in Singapore.

“I eventually gave up on room service  - they wouldn't even answer the phone - it’s not the same.’’

He says SLH’s plans for the future included expansion in Asia-Pacific.

“We have 120 hotels in the region, including two new properties in Japan.

And the hefty guide?

“That’s out the window, it’s not very environmentally friendly.

“Twice a year we will be publishing a beautiful 64-page brochure with inspirational ideas on how people can enjoy these places.’’

www.slh.com

www.slh.com/lunchma

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