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Breaking Travel News interview: Paul James, global brand leader, The Luxury Collection Hotels

Breaking Travel News interview: Paul James, global brand leader, The Luxury Collection Hotels

Starwood’s Luxury Collection Hotels & Resorts is undertaking an ambitious global expansion this year, with ten new hotels planned in key locations including India, Australia, Thailand and Indonesia.

Breaking Travel News here catches up with Paul James, Global Brand Leader, St Regis and The Luxury Collection Hotels & Resorts, to discuss the luxury marketplace.

Breaking Travel News: How is the luxury travel industry faring in current economic circumstances?

Paul James: With 81 hotels in 28 countries, The Luxury Collection remains our largest luxury brand and with its appeal to independent hotel owners it continues to grow globally, increasing its footprint by 40 per cent since 2007. 

Starwood is currently making significant investments to enhance some of its landmark Luxury Collection properties in Europe, with over €150 million dedicated to the restorations of Hotel Alfonso XIII in Seville, Hotel Maria Cristina in San Sebastian, Prince de Galles in Paris and the Gritti Palace in Venice.

Likewise, St. Regis may be 108 years old, but until 1999 it was just a single hotel.

Today we have 28 St. Regis hotels – double what we had just four years ago — and on our way to 35 in the next 12 months. 

Starwood is the largest operator of luxury hotels in the world.

We have seen tremendous growth in our luxury brands over the past five years, with our luxury portfolio increasing by 108 per cent.

We expect this to continue in the years to come.

The Turnberry Resort in Scotland

BTN: What are the top luxury travel trends?

PJ: The guests’ needs have become increasingly important over the last few years with travellers demanding more personalisation and more flexibility of their hotels, particularly in the luxury sector. 

Through the St. Regis Aficionado programme and The Luxury Collection Concierge, we aim to offer guests a personalised service from the moment of their arrival at the hotel to their departure and beyond.

We have also learned in the last year that luxury consumers are spending more judiciously and are putting larger emphasis on value. 

In response to this shift in priorities, luxury brands are seeking ways to highlight the intrinsic quality of their product in ways that resonate with both the traditional and a new younger, discerning, affluent customer.

BTN: Which types of travellers are opting for luxury travel?

PJ: The ranks of elite travellers are swelling, and they’re travelling more often, going farther and staying longer than ever before. 

As this new generation emerges, we are strategically growing our portfolio beyond the traditional luxury grid and in diverse destinations. 

Sheraton Park Tower in Knightsbridge

Now, more than 85 per cent of our St. Regis guests are Gen X or Gen Y, born after 1961.

Their approach to luxury is decidedly less formal and their idea of global extends well beyond Paris, Hong Kong and New York.

This is a truly transglobal community who are not place based, defined more by interests and activities than geography. 

This shift in focus for the new luxury generation can be seen in our global expansion plans. 

For example, rather than open a flagship St. Regis in Hong Kong, we built a 100-storey icon in Shenzhen while The Luxury Collection has plans for properties in unexpected destinations like China’s Hainan Island and India’s Chennai, which have become important hubs for business and leisure.

BTN: Why did Starwood launch the Luxury Collection Hotels & Resorts?

PJ: The Luxury Collection Hotels & Resorts traces its heritage to Compagnia Italiana Grandi Alberghi, an Italian company founded in 1906.

CIGA later expanded in geographic focus to include properties and real estate in Sardinia. 

Starwood acquired the brand in 1994, and today The Luxury Collection Hotels & Resorts is an ensemble of more than 75 hotels and resorts in over 35 countries. 

The Luxury Collection is an important part of Starwood’s overall portfolio, providing a brand experience that highlights the rich culture of each property’s fabulous surrounding, reinforcing the luxury experience without compromising the individuality and heritage of each hotel and resort. 

Marques de Riscal in Rioja

BTN: What is the criteria for a property to be part of the Luxury Collection?

PJ: Each hotel and resort in The Luxury Collection portfolio are unique and is noteworthy for its history, architecture, art, furnishings and amenities. 

We have Luxury Collection properties as distinct and different as the Frank Gehry designed Marques de Riscal in Rioja in Spain, to the brand new Romanos Resort in Costa Navarino, Greece, and the historic Gritti Palace in Venice.

All Luxury Collection hotels are completely indigenous, authentic experiences that evoke lasting, treasured memories. 

For global explorers, The Luxury Collection offers a gateway to the world’s most exciting and desirable destinations.

Each hotel and resort is a unique and cherished expression of its location; a portal to the destinations indigenous charms and treasures.

BTN: You recently announced your expansion with ten new properties planned. Which types of destinations are you looking to grow in?

PJ: Asia Pacific, China in particular, is a huge growth market for all Starwood brands. 

After a successful year in 2011 opening St. Regis hotels in Tianjin, Sanya, and Shenzhen, The Luxury Collection brand will open two hotels in China this year – Twelve at Hengshan in Shanghai and The Royal Begonia on Hainan Island, China’s first Luxury Collection resort.

India is also an important market for Starwood. 

The Luxury Collection will reach ten hotels in India this August with the debut of ITC Grand Chola, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Chennai, making India the brand’s second largest market behind only the United States. 

BTN: How are you boosting brand awareness in new and emerging markets?

PJ: In many of the emerging markets in which we operate, Starwood has the advantage of being the dominant force. 

This existing brand awareness has helped us as we continue to expand in these markets. For example, Starwood’s legacy in India dates back to 1973. 

We currently operate 33 hotels in the country across all of our brands and we are the largest international hotel operator of four and five star hotels in India. 

In fact, since 2009, Starwood has opened nearly as many hotels in India as rivals Hyatt, Hilton and Marriott combined. 

Since Starwood’s landmark debut of The Great Wall Sheraton Hotel in Beijing in 1985, China has now become Starwood’s second largest market in the world after the United States and Starwood continues to lead as the largest high-end hotel operator in the country.

St Regis in Florence

BTN: What are your key priorities from a brand perspective?

PJ: This year marks a significant moment for St. Regis as the brand continues to grow globally in destinations catering to a new generation for luxury travellers. 

These new global hubs form a new Grand Tour – a key focus for us in the next few years.

The original Grand Tour was the societal pilgrimage through the great world cities to collection experiences – culture, art and knowledge.

The Grand Tour is as vibrant today as it was 250 years ago, marking each generation of wealth. 

Travellers today have added more sites to the Tour, both physically (New York, Beijing, Bora Bora) and philosophically (Aspen Ideas Festival, Art Basel Miami, World Economic Forum in Davos). St. Regis is as global, as worldly, and as informed as they are growing in time with these emerging destinations.

For The Luxury Collection, the brand’s Global Explorers continue to celebrate the vibrancy of the world’s most enchanting travel destinations through the eyes of the world’s foremost innovators, further asserting the brand’s position as The Destination Authority. 

Representing a broad cross-section of disciplines and personal endeavours, Global Explorers are at the forefront of their field, immersed in their passions, and genuinely moved by the world around them.

Waris Ahluwalia has been named The Luxury Collection’s newest Global Explorer.

As a designer, actor, philanthropist, fashion muse, style icon and storyteller, Ahluwalia embodies the values and spirit innate to a citizen of the world. 

To date, his biggest initiative was the premiere of his short film ‘Here’ earlier this year. 

Directed by Luca Guadagnino and starring Agyness Deyn, the film aimed to inspire global travellers to explore and discover locales in a unique and authentic way.

‘Here’ was inspired by The Luxury Collection’s mantra, Life Is A Collection of Experiences.

Let Us Be Your Guide and is just another way the brand is using film and other creative mediums to share the further position the Luxury Collection as the destination authority in an organic way. 

As Ahluwalia’s role as Global Explorer unfolds, luxury travellers will be introduced to a series of collaborations that offer a romantic and authentic view of The Luxury Collection’s extraordinary properties, destinations, and cultures.

BTN: A number of Luxury Collection properties have won awards including World Travel Awards. What is the significance of winning these awards for the group?

PJ: Awards such as the World Travel Awards are incredibly important to us.  They signify that our guests and the industry recognise the individuality of our brands, the quality of our hotels and the excellence of the service they offer.

Hotel Alfonso XIII in Seville reopened in March this year

BTN: What other developments you have in the pipeline for the next 12 months?

PJ: St. Regis Hotels & Resorts continues to grow worldwide – 95 per cent of the brand’s current growth is in emerging markets and looking beyond 2012, our growth will be 100 per cent outside of North America. 

The brand has more than 15 hotel openings in the pipeline, including:

  • In Latin America: Buenos Aires and Kanai (Mexico).

  • In Asia: Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, Chengdu.

  • In Africa and the Middle East: Abu Dhabi, Amman, Cairo, Mauritius.

    By the end of the year St. Regis Hotels & Resorts will have 32 properties around the world, solidifying its position as the leader in luxury hospitality.

    The Luxury Collection is really focusing is on both key openings and major renovations.

    This year is a milestone for the brand as we open ten new hotels and resorts across Asia Pacific – the most of any year in the brand’s history.

    With the openings of The Hongta Hotel, Shanghai; Royal Begonia, Sanya; and Twelve at Hengshan, Shanghai, The Luxury Collection will have XX properties in China by the year’s end.

    The opening of ITC Grand Chola in Chennai, India marks the brand’s tenth property in the country while Vana Belle Samui Resort & Spa, in Amphur, Koh Samui will be The Luxury Collection’s third property in Thailand.

    In addition to growth in Asia Pacific, The Luxury Collection Hotels & Resorts and its owners are investing more than €150 million euros to enhance its most heralded landmark hotels and flagship properties around across Europe. 

    Beginning with the grand re-opening of the recently restored Alfonso XIII Hotel in Seville, Spain which re-opened on March 13th, The Luxury Collection Hotels & Resorts will unveil a series of large-scale restoration projects including the multi-million Euro renovation of Hotel Maria Cristina, a Luxury Collection Hotel in Spain and Prince De Galles, a Luxury Collection Hotel in Paris, as well as the €55 million Euro restoration of the “grande dame” of Italy, Hotel Gritti Palace, a Luxury Collection Hotel in Venice.

    In addition, several landmark hotels in The United States will kick-off impressive renovation projects this year, including SLS Beverly Hills, a Luxury Collection Hotel in Los Angeles, and The Joule, a Luxury Collection Hotel.

    More Information

    For more information on The Luxury Collection take a look at the official website.