Voice of Luxury: Frank Marrenbach
Chief executive, Oetker Collection
Q. Overall, how have sales been in 2019?
Globally, it has been a pretty strong year. Paris [Le Bristol] has seen some challenging times for about two years, but it’s back. Competition is strong but the demand is there, so that’s reassuring. Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc [in Antibes, France] has had another excellent year and our ski property, L’Apogée Courchevel, has had a very good season. We have one hotel open in the Caribbean, Jumby Bay, which has been a great addition to the collection. It’s a beautiful private island and a very strong business. Eden Rock in St Barths will reopen this month after two years (following the devastation of hurricane Irma). It’s not a renovation; I would describe it more as a rebuild because we have looked at everything. São Paulo had nice growth over 2018 but it’s not where we want it to be, nor is the Brazilian economy. But when you sum it all up, 2019 has been a good year for Oetker Collection.
Q. What do you look for in a destination when
opening a hotel?
There’s an old hotelier saying: location, location, location. It’s not enough to have a pretty hotel in London. You have to be in the right micro-location because sometimes a mile or two to the left or right makes a significant impact on your ADR (average daily rate). Then we look at architecture. Can we provide a luxurious experience? Does the building have a hidden layer that we feel is special? Furthermore, we look at who’s going to be our partner and if they’re in alignment with us and other potential partners. Alignment in terms of willingness to invest in a property that stands out in all physical aspects; alignment in getting the best team; and alignment on the view that great things are not built overnight, so you have to have a little patience.
Q. How important is the UK market to Oetker Collection?
The UK has been one of the most important feeder markets in the travel industry for a long time and I don’t think this will change in the next few years. The UK is an affluent country and British people are astute, curious travellers, so for us, it’s an important market. At Jumby Bay, for instance, more than 30% of our guests are British. They’re also significant at Hotel du Cap, Le Bristol [Paris] and Brenners Park-Hotel & Spa [Germany]. In total, the UK is our fourth market after the US, the GCC [Middle East] and Germany.
Q. What role does the UK travel trade play in sales?
In the US, the travel trade is a super-important partner – a good half of our bookings go through a travel advisor. In other markets, it’s less: in Germany, for example, it’s pretty much non-existent. In the UK, [agents] are important when it comes to wellness-related travel. At Villa Stephanie [at Brenners Park-Hotel & Spa], which is doing pretty well with the British market, we’re seeing quite a lot of guests booking through their travel advisors.
Q. How do you support the trade in selling Oetker Collection properties?
What’s important is making people familiar with the properties through fam trips. How does the property feel? How does it taste? Only then can you sell it well. Every year, we try to make sure we have a sufficient number of fam trips to our properties to give [agents] the real experience. Then we have our Pearl Partner Programme, which is limited to our top travel partners. You qualify if you work with us a lot – you get great benefits and commission that make it attractive to book with us.
Q. How would you define luxury in 2019?
For me, it’s always closely related to rarity. Maybe 80 years ago, a car was a luxury, but today, the possession of a car in itself is not. That’s also why time is so important to all of us these days – it’s a scarcity. Craftsmanship is also important – things that take a lot of effort to make, produce or provide. Therefore, a budget experience is never luxury. I’m not qualifying budget experiences, I’m saying the term ‘affordable luxury’ is one of the most stupid expressions I know, because luxury cannot be affordable. Somebody who buys a luxury good or service today is also more aware of how it has been made and what resources have been used. So luxury must make sure that it is put together in a conscious and reasonable way.