Voice of Luxury: Jean-Francois Ferret

Jean Francois-Ferret, chief executive of Small Luxury Hotels of the Worlds, shares his insights into the luxury sector with Erica Bush.

Q. What is your definition of luxury?

When it comes to true luxury, I believe it is all about the luxury of the emotions. We look for something that surprises and delights. It’s part of our values; how we aim to astonish. It’s not material luxury, it’s the feeling you get and the emotions created by being surprised and amazed.

Q.You joined SLH in September 2018. What are your initial aims for the brand?

We are well known globally – 530 properties in 80 countries – but I want to continue to grow the brand, not only the number of hotels but also through awareness and positioning. It’s so exciting because the brand is very nice – its quality and reputation has been grown through my predecessors, so the fundamentals are here. In terms of vision, I would like to reach 600 properties by the end of 2021, but I am OK if I fail because my main target is to keep and increase the quality level.

Q.How has the year started for SLH?

We’ve had a very good start. We have opened new hotels, which is really exciting. We’ve also added some new destinations – Bahrain last year and, more recently, Egypt. In terms of activity, we’re doing pretty well because we have a broader clientele that means we are able to mitigate the impact of the European market, which is flattening out a little bit due to Brexit, by a growing American and Asian clientele.

Q. How important is the UK travel trade to SLH?

Travel agents make up roughly 70% of SLH sales, so it’s a huge amount. We have a very close relationship with agencies and we work hard to ensure they’re fully confident and trusting of our brand. We do so much in terms of quality that they rely on our recommendation of hotels; they know and understand that we are positioning ourselves to ensure our clientele is always surprised and delighted.

Q.What tools do you have in place to support and educate agents?

We have a lot of roadshows and showcases where we visit agents and explain what the brand is about, what new properties are coming in and how we’re positioning ourselves in the market. Part of the SLH website is dedicated to the travel agent experience. There they can find everything they need in terms of rates, commission and itineraries. We’ve also created a preferred partner programme where we offer select agents special perks, support and commission, as well as an incentive programme for ambassadors of the brand.

Q.What is the selection process like for potential SLH member hotels?

We have more than 700 checkpoints that our inspectors gothrough to carefully check and score. Hotels also have an exam to join the brand, which they have to pass again annually after becoming a member. We have mystery inspections every year. Checkpoints are broken down into things like comfort and aesthetic, but it’s also about the feeling of the hotel and its alignment with our values because these hotels should really fit into our vision for the future to be able to join. 

Q. How do you ensure the same level of luxury is upheld across all properties?

It’s not exactly the same level of luxury, because it’s about the luxury of each property and that can be different. They are all unique; it’s making sure that you have an intense experience when you are in the property, so this is what we target. But if a property no longer meets the standards, we are quite strict. We give a three-month trial period, where we help discuss the ways they can recover. If the property fails again after that, it’s out. 

Q. What trends have you witnessed emerging in the boutique hotel sector? 

One of the most interesting ones is water becoming a destination in itself. People are selecting their destination not only because they want to visit a certain country, but because they want to experience a particular kind of water. Take, for example, one of our properties in China, the Elite Spring Villas [in the Fujian Province, Anxi]. They are doing tea-infused hot springs. We have another property in Arizona, Castle Hot Springs, which is similar. It works not only because you want to visit the southwest coast, it’s because you want to be there for the water.

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