As the UK’s Maybourne Hotel Group prepares for its first GCC roadshow, LTN talks to CEO Stephen Alden about the company’s plans for the region.
As the UK's Maybourne Hotel Group prepares for its first GCC roadshow, LTN talks to CEO Stephen Alden about the company's plans for the region.
Why did you decide to initiate your first group GCC roadshow?
I want to bring Maybourne to life in this market - to differentiate it from other hotel groups. We have done smaller individual roadshows in the past, but we are now following this up with a bigger roadshow, visiting three destinations in February and three more later on in 2009.
This is Maybourne goes live in the Middle East.
What format will it take?
The GMs of our properties will be asked questions live on stage. It will give the travel trade a chance to ask us about our company and our properties. This roadshow is not just about sales and promotions. This is Maybourne ‘goes live' in the Middle East - it will be like filming a live programme. By approaching it this way it becomes a lifestyle situation.
What differentiates the Maybourne from other hotel operators?
Our approach is based on a strong experience, but then the delivery is intuitive, even from a service standpoint, which is what people are more confident with these days. As a group we are different - what holds us together is a common passion for the business - for delivering service and for creating iconic buildings. All of our staff are passionate, which is an advantage in a company of our size - we are fairly small - although we do have some projects in the pipeline.
Maybourne has a core set of underlying values, but that doesn't mean we have to look and feel the same - it's just a way of doing business. We are intuitive, individual and have a sense of responsibility but we never allow our hotels to stray from our values. We are always genuine, caring and thoughtful.
You have three London properties; what are your plans for rolling out more?
We will not roll out more than one to two hotels per year over the next 10 years. The markets we are looking at are New York, Paris, Moscow and a few of the Middle East cities as well. There are a number of projects we are looking at and we are poised to take that next step.
We are starting with a strong foundation - three hotels in London and the legacy of service and fine buildings, but at the same time, being very much a reflection of modern-day life. It's not about the past - it's thinking about the future.
How would you describe your three current properties - The Connaught, The Berkeley and Claridge's?
Each of the three hotels has a very different personality and each has its own set of very loyal customers. We have just completed a US $140 million renovation of The Connaught and phase one of the renovations on The Berkeley is starting in January, worth around $200 million.
It involves everything from adding another 30 guest rooms and suites through to the addition of 12 residences overlooking the park, as well as a three-storey spa. We are looking to add more facilities around the 200-room hotel. We are building up its iconic standards over the next year.
Year to date, we have increased our business from the Middle East by nearly 60%. This was over a small base because the Middle East was never a key market for us in the past. But recently we have been investing more in the Gulf region. In addition, we have recently renovated many of our suites and we are in the process of revamping our websites.
The Connaught was completely renovated and we eliminated all the single rooms so we now have comfortably-sized guest rooms. We have increased the number of suites and now have an extra 33 keys taking the total to 123.
What percentage of your guests hail from the Middle East?
It's not about the past — it's thinking about the future.
There has been a lot of activity that this year, culminated with some significant growth so we now have some momentum. We expect 20-30% growth from the Middle East market next year. At present, the Middle East represents 10% of our business - I can see that increasing to 15% of our business. We have a director of sales for the Middle East region who joined us from the Four Seasons in Cairo.
What other measures are you taking to attract the Middle East market?
We are employing more Arabic-speaking staff in our hotels and we are also looking at our menu offerings. We try to be responsive to the nuances of each market we cater to and that, I think, is what luxury is about - a higher level of personalisation, rather than the value of the gold leaf and marble in the lobby. We can make a difference with our personal delivery.
What impact has the global economic downturn had on your business?
I would like to think that we are very resilient, but not immune. We will probably see it affect our occupancies by one or two points, but the rates have remained very robust and we continue to show good growth year on year.
Will you look to new source markets?
The US accounts for 40% of our business and Europe and the UK, around 35-40%, but we are looking to diversify the geography of our source markets. Last year we opened representative offices in Moscow and Sao Paulo and employed someone to look after the Middle East market. We also have a strong presence in New York so we have already started the diversification process.