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Breaking Travel News interview: Paul Kerr, chief executive, Small Luxury Hotels of the World

Breaking Travel News interview: Paul Kerr, chief executive, Small Luxury Hotels of the World

Small Luxury Hotels of the World celebrates its 25th anniversary in 2015, bigger and stronger than ever. Here Breaking Travel News sits down with chief executive Paul Kerr to find out how the organisation will be celebrating the landmark. 

Breaking Travel News: Can you tell us about any new properties which have recently joined Small Luxury Hotels of the World which have caught your eye?

Paul Kerr: Last year was a great year for Small Luxury Hotels of the World, with the portfolio growing by 56 hotels across the world, including significant additions in brand new destinations for SLH, such as Seville, Tokyo and St Barts, all of which have been on our target list for a while.

Palacio de Villapanes, our new addition in Seville, is a particularly beautiful hotel - a former 18th century palace perfectly located for all the main historic sights of the city.

The Sanchaya on Bintan Island in Indonesia opened at the end of last year with roaring success and Keemala, which is scheduled to open in August, has already been billed as one of 2015’s most exciting new hotels.

Closer to home in London, The Laslett opens in Notting Hill this summer, which will house 51 rooms, as well as a public space downstairs with a coffee shop, bar-kitchen and gallery.

BTN: You now have over 500 independent hotels in your portfolio. Can you outline the benefits to these properties when they join your organisation?

PK: There are a number of benefits that member hotels enjoy. Firstly looking at commercial benefits, SLH delivers strong sales for their member hotels.

In 2014, SLH generated just shy of $150 million in revenue, with the website welcoming over four million visits and bookings via mobile seeing a 64 per cent rise.

SLH invests heavily in technology and offers multiple booking platforms via the website, dedicated app, and mobile booking engine.

As well as direct and online sales, SLH also has a strong global sales team who work closely with the travel trade around the world, offering fantastic visibility for the individual properties.

SLH has a loyal customer base and the extremely popular SLH Club has over 370,000 members. In 2014, the average expenditure per club member increased from $950 (in 2013) to $1,007 (in 2014), representing a six percent increase.

As well as the prestige that the Small Luxury Hotels of the World brand brings, SLH also invests heavily in marketing, PR and brand support with high profile campaigns across a number of global titles.

Small independent hotels also become bookable when joining SLH by the GDS, the way the majority of travel agents book accommodation.

This is a big expense for a small hotel to do alone – so it’s a great reason to join a brand like SLH.

Keemala in Thailand is scheduled to open in the autumn

BTN: Small Luxury Hotels of the World recently released its financial results for 2014. Can you give us an overview of how the organisation is progressing?

PK: SLH continues to grow in terms of number of bookings, revenue, Club Members and hotels in the portfolio so it’s a great time for the business as we head into our 25th year.

Staying abreast of developments in the online, mobile and social media world are particularly key for us and it’s therefore SLH’s number one priority to keep up to date with new technology and web advancement so we can offer our clients and travel trade partners a fully integrated experience online.

We are also looking to expand the collection in new places around the world where we have less presence such as South America and the USA, as well as focus on the top unfulfilled destinations – that is, the most searched-for destinations on where there is currently not an SLH property.

In 2014, we launched a brand new arm to the business, Private Residences by SLH, a collection that gives guests the ‘best of both worlds’ – the personal service of a small luxury hotel with the private space of an exclusive-use villa, ski chalet or estate, all handpicked with ten rooms or less and offering five star services and facilities.

The launch responds to a trend that we had seen over the last few years for high-value multiple room bookings at smaller properties.

In 2013 we also saw a significant increase in the number of small hotels and exclusive-use hotels (under ten rooms) applying to join the brand – this was another indicator of a growing trend.

There is clearly a demand for this type of property which has led the way for the launch of Private Residences by SLH.

We also saw a similar trend in the SLH Club statistics; in 2013 we saw a 43 per cent increase in the number of Club members spending over $750 per night when compared to 2012 (679 bookings in 2012 compared to 973 bookings in 2013).

The rise in cost per night is in effect Club members booking multiple rooms for their families.

When I spoke with the other departments about this growth, it was clear that there was a niche in the hotel market, with a rising customer demand.

The Sanchaya on Bintan Island in Indonesia opened in late 2014

BTN: Small Luxury Hotels of the World was recently voted the World’s Leading Boutique Hotel Brand by the World Travel Awards. How does it feel to have defended this title for the third consecutive year?

PK: It’s a superb achievement to have won this award for three years in a row and a credit to all departments across SLH, both customer facing and behind the scenes.

Those that look after hotel reservations and our Club Members ensure that our guests receive the highest level of service at every stage of the booking process; our trade sales teams have some of the best relationships in the industry, and in business development, we tirelessly strive to find hotels offering authentic experiences in destinations where our guests want to go.

Defending the title is also a reflection of SLH’s core beliefs, established 25 years ago and remain just as strong and significant today.

Our passion is, and will always be, the connecting of authentic independent hotels, their architecture, style, hospitality, exceptional service, perfect location and the exclusive experiences they offer, with our discerning customers.

The SLH approach to guests and hoteliers is: Names NOT room numbers.

Because the average size of our hotels is 50 rooms - something that has remained constant in our 25 years - it allows us to offer the highest levels of personalised attention to our guests.

Big-box, chain hotels simply cannot compete with this type of service.

We are also continuing to see more and more repeat customers through our guest loyalty programme, the Club of SLH which now has over 370,000 members.

I believe that this has also helped SLH to remain the brand champion for independent hotels for the independent traveller across the world.

More Information

For more on Small Luxury Hotels of the World please head over to the official website.