Voice of Luxury: Auberge Resorts Collection's Craig Reid

-centric hotel brand has its sights set on Europe. Erica Rich finds out more

Q. Tell us a bit about your career and role at Auberge.

I started my hotel career in London at The Savoy Group and went on to spend 30 years with Four Seasons. I then left Four Seasons and joined Auberge Resorts Collection. At the time they had six properties, all of which were beautiful and known by what I would call their first name, rather than the family name.

We felt that the traveller wanted authenticity, personality, character, individualism. We’ve gone through two decades where luxury was almost commoditised. The thesis of our brand was to push for individualism – we don’t have a standards book and we approach each project based on its core traits.

Q. You’re best known for your US properties but you have two in Europe – Grace Hotel in Santorini and your newest addition, Domaine des Etangs in France. Tell us more about your plans in Europe.

We don’t own our properties, we simply manage them for families, and I think our credibility in the space has grown. For example, Domaine des Etangs is owned by a family for whom we’re already managing a property in Virginia. We were thrilled to be able to take on the Domaine and we’re going to open a property outside Florence next year. It’s another beautiful building – a former boarding school that is rich with personality.

The owner is a passionate gardener, so he’s restoring the gardens to a degree that we could never have asked for. And that’s one of the wonderful things: because these properties have such a deep sense of individualism, the personality of the owner comes through. What we’re trying to do is frame their passion, maybe accentuate it a little where we think it needs it – some of the tweaks that we did at the Domaine were about electronics and the placement of towels. It’s been a fun journey. We’re in the early throes. I’m travelling to Europe three times a year now with the idea of finding more properties.

Q. What prompted the expansion into Europe?

Our business in terms of managing properties is all about high‑touch and logistics, meaning all the properties have to be readily accessible. We started off on the West Coast, moved to the East Coast, and Europe is the next frontier. Being British, I have an affinity for Europe, as does the owner of the company, Dan Friedkin, who’s from the US but has a home in London and businesses in the UK and Italy. Currently our biggest source markets are New York, California and Texas, and if you ask them where they travel outside of the US, Europe is top of the list.

The product that we’re developing also resonates with the European guest. We know that Europeans love our properties because they stay with us in Napa and Colorado, and Virginia is extremely popular. Expansion in Europe felt very natural.

Q. Where else in Europe can we expect to see an Auberge?

We’ve been looking at England for some time now. Both London and the countryside are high on my list. The UK has lots of properties with personality so it’s more competitive than some parts of the US, but we have this bond of trust with the consumer and we would love to open it up and put our little twist on it. We’re talking to a couple of groups about other properties in central Europe – Italy and Spain in particular. I would love to do more in France.

Q. What are your wider growth plans?

I’m fairly confident that we will initially be adding one new property every 18 months and gradually one a year. We currently have 27 open and we have another 14 that are in different stages of development. We’re not going to grow for the sake of growth. We know that the value of the company will be greatest if we protect the quality of the Auberge portfolio.

Q. What proportion of your sales come through the trade, and how do you intend to support UK agents in the future?

More than 50% of our business comes from travel agents. They are extremely important for the type of travel that we do; to have people in the know advising the guest is critical. We have a whole team who are focused on travel agent relationships. We have a couple of people in Europe and a number in offices across the US. They’re almost a concierge to agents, who can use them as their go‑to in the property introduction.

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