Voice of Luxury: Michala Chatel, Ultima Collection

Q. What is the concept behind Ultima Collection?

We started in 2016 with the opening of Ultima Gstaad, the flagship of the company and the only hotel in the collection. We always try to differentiate ourselves by saying we’re not a hotel group, we’re a private property collection, which includes a hotel. We’re all about creating that concept of luxury homes away from homes with the Ultima signature design and services.

Q. How has Ultima Collection grown since its inception?

At Ultima Gstaad, we have 11 suites and six residences. Our residences are luxury apartments that go from two to four bedrooms – and from the beginning we had insane demand for the apartments. That target group of high-net-worth and ultra-high-net-worth individuals not only want those big spaces, they also want that feeling of privacy, discretion and ownership of the properties. That’s what inspired us to grow our private chalet and villa offering and really focus on that.

Q. How has the last year been for the company?

It’s hurtful and painful to see what has happened to the travel industry. Even though we’ve had a very successful year, we’re very conscious of the surroundings. In March 2020, we had a whole new wave of reservations coming in, with people saying they wanted a space where they could be away from the big crowds. We saw a migration of clients who had normally been in hotels seeking our private properties because they were really unsure. The realisation that we were in a pandemic happened with the opening of our Geneva property. That was the first property where a client said, ‘I want this for an unlimited amount of time, this is where I want to isolate’. 

Q. What is so appealing about the Ultima model?

What clients wanted more than anything was the assurance of having the property for a long duration. They wanted to have privacy and the full buyout. Properties like Corfu, which we thought we’d [close] come September, were booked out until January 2021. All of our mountain retreats were full for September, October and November, which we wouldn’t usually expect. It’s been a good year in spite of Covid and it’s proved our business model because we’re a very secure product – this is what people want. 

Q. You also have new openings on the horizon. Can you tell us some more about these? 

Courchevel was supposed to open in December 2020 but we pushed that back to December 2021. It’s the perfect fusion of our two products because it’s 13 private chalets on a property where we group a restaurant, lobby and two spas, so you have all the benefits of a five-star hotel mixed with the privacy of your own chalet. Then we have Cannes coming up over the summer. It is the only private property on Île Saint-Marguerite and is really focused on wellness and local produce. We also have The Chesery, which is a very famous chalet in Gstaad on the promenade. It will open as Ultima Gstaad Promenade at the end of the year and will be the perfect local extension for Ultima Gstaad. 

Q. What proportion of sales come through UK agents?

A very large proportion, which is why we’re based in London. The UK trade is gigantic – it’s agents, it’s operators, it’s concierge services. It’s a network of people who have local UK clients, who are very important to us, but also very international [clients]. The key players in the B2B market are based out of London and the UK, so it’s very important for us to be there. 

Q. How do you support and educate agents in selling Ultima product?

In a normal world, we would try to go to them – we would travel around the UK and be the face of the company. There are so many parts to luxury travel and doing that online is very difficult. Right now, it’s obviously webinars. Our industry partners have been great during Covid-19 because there are so many trade shows being maintained via Zoom. Newsletters are also important at this time. 

Q. What trends are you seeing among your clientele?

One of the main travel trends we saw through 2020 was longer stays. Clients are travelling for three weeks minimum and for up to two months. Across the collection we had an average stay of 33 nights last year. Another major trend is the quickest way of getting door to door. Flying private really is the safest option, and this includes private jets and helicopters. Our product proposition works really well for this because Megève has its own helipad, Gstaad has one a five-minute drive away and in Geneva, it’s next door. The private jet companies have done such a great job of getting a product to market that has become a lot more affordable and they’ve brought great awareness to the benefits.