We understand you started in the kitchen as a commis chef at a hotel in Belgium. What inspired you to get involved in the hotel industry in the first place?
I’m a naturally curious person and knew that the hospitality and hotel industry would give me the opportunity to discover new countries and cultures, and to meet lots of interesting people along the way. Working in this industry has also allowed me the chance to make a small, positive difference to people’s lives.
SLH only accepts about 5 per cent of hotels that apply for membership what is the single best/defining thing about Small Luxury Hotels?
The defining feature of all our hotels is that they are consistently different. Our dedicated global development team receives about 1,000 enquiries from hotels every year and we only allow hotels to become members that we believe truly represent the brand and all that it stands for, including the highest levels of quality and effortlessly good service.
Small Luxury Hotels of the World has now grown to over 500 members - what next for SLH?
It is a considerable achievement to have grown from just 70 hotels in 11 countries to over 520 hotels in more than 80 countries over the last 25 years. We have recently unveiled a new look and feel for the brand that celebrates our ‘Independently minded’ hotels. While this mindset is nothing new it provides us with a contemporary and representative brand positioning to communicate to our guests and potential customers exactly what sets SLH apart from the rest. Looking ahead we will be focusing on supporting this premise through all aspects of the business, from providing our hotels with the best distribution and technology platforms and the best sales and marketing support to ensuring the highest and most consistent standards of quality and service at our hotels for our guests. SLH has flourished over the last 25 years by adapting to meet the changing needs of the luxury traveller, and this principle will continue to guide us for the next 25 years and beyond.
What is the next big luxury travel trend?
It’s no secret that today’s travellers are better informed and more sophisticated in taste and we have seen a significant rise in independent travellers who are eager to seek out unique, local experiences. The definition of ‘luxury’ has progressed far beyond mere material consumption to experiential consumption, however, how these ‘experiences’ are defined is entirely subjective - for one customer it could be choosing a hotel with strong cultural links to its destination, for another it is finding the ideal place to spend quality time with their family. Luxury today means a bespoke and personalised experience and guests come to us knowing that that we can find them the perfect hotels to fit their individual requirements.
What is your own personal litmus test for whether a hotel is worthy of the ‘luxury’ tag?
When a guest leaves a hotel feeling torn between telling people about their amazing find or keeping it a well-guarded secret.
Apart from those in the SLH portfolio, what are your favourite hotels/resorts? (and why)?
The Palacio Nazarenas in Cusco, Peru, is an incredibly special place - a 17th century convent that has been converted into a luxury resort with 55 suites. It has an incredible and authentic sense of place that is embedded in the community, both past and present, from an antique Cuscenian school art collection to local artisans who produce soap bars infused with plants from the Andes and create local herb infusions for relaxing baths.
What is your best overseas restaurant experience?
As I am from Belgium my overseas experience is here in London. Restaurant Story near London Bridge is a truly enriching experience. The chef, Tom Sellers, creates innovative, inspired, light, spectacular and wonderfully surprising cuisine. I know my food and this is good food!
What is your favourite airline for business or first class? Why?
I spend a lot of time travelling and am often lucky enough to get upgraded. British Airways’ new business class is spacious and offers an efficient, kind and caring service both in the lounges and on board. I particularly appreciate the personal touches, like the little chats with the staff on board.
What three things do you never travel without?
Eau Sauvage Christian Dior, Bose Noise cancelling Headphones and my tennis racket.
What is the one luxury travel experience you will never forget?
I once took a river cruise on the Ayeyarwady River in Myanmar aboard the Orcaella. The experience was a real journey of discovery through a fascinating country celebrating its culture, spirituality and breath taking scenery and was a truly enriching adventure. My advice would be to go there now while it is still relatively undiscovered and not to miss out on a hot air balloon ride over Bagan - absolutely unforgettable.
What is the most important thing (travelwise) that money CAN buy?
Staying in a hotel that reflects the destination through a combination of the people, their hospitality, the location, the cuisine and its unique character. Authentic experiences are something that are precious and individual but are available through the SLH collection.
What is the most important thing it can’t?
Spending time with my family and close friends is time that I treasure.