Beauty in Small Packages
We sit down with Paul Kerr, CEO for Small Luxury Hotels of the World
What is your background?
My career began in accounting working at DH&S (Deloitte Haskins & Sells)—known today as PwC (PricewaterhouseCoopers)—but I always felt drawn to the luxury market, and I wanted to do something I enjoyed; so, although I was overqualified, I took my first position with Forte Hotels as a financial controller in the eighties. The rest, as they say, is history.
Eventually I was scouted by Cunard Hotels & Resorts and took the role of Financial Director, where I was able to merge the accountancy skills I had developed throughout my professional career with my passion for the luxury hotel business. It was the experience garnered at these roles that enabled me to found, along with my partner Brian Mills, Hill Goodridge & Associated (HGA) the outsourced management company that oversees Small Luxury Hotels of the World (SLH).
What are the criteria for a hotel to be added to the SLH portfolio?
SLH is all about small hotels and BIG experiences; the average size of our hotels is 50 rooms to guarantee the highest levels of personalised service. We have a very strict selection process—only 5% of the hotels that apply are accepted into the brand.
Firstly, the hotel must be the best of the best in the area, and independent. In addition, it must offer the highest standards of excellence across all areas of operation and reflect the local culture and surroundings, as well as offer authentic experiences. We have a team of mystery inspectors who visit our hotels every 18 months to ensure that these standards are being maintained in order to ensure that the quality of the experience that guests receive is consistent across all SLH properties.
What is the importance of the SLH brand to high-end consumers?
Our typical consumers are independent thinkers that do not want to be required to conform. Since our SLH hotels are independently owned guests know that their requests will never be questioned. Repeat SLH guests also enjoy benefits from belonging to The Club our guest loyalty programme, which is free to join and offers three tiers: Special, Loved and Honoured. We now have over 200,000 members and this number will only continue to grow. Data from a Club members’ profile is accessible by hotels so they are able to anticipate any special requirements or preferences before guests arrive; high-end consumers not only appreciate this level of attention, they expect it.
What does luxury mean to you?
That is a very difficult question, but after 20 years of grappling with this question I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s all about choice. Or rather freedom of choice. The ability to choose where to go, when to go, how to go, where to stay and what to do. The freedom of choice should begin with the booking process, and SLH offers a myriad of options from online, voice agents, our travel agent GDS system and recently launched iPhone and iPad apps. It’s also about flexibility, a hotel that can cater to a guests needs and be flexible to allow them to do what they wish when they wish. A little luxury that I find essential when traveling and something I can’t get at home is unpacking and packing services. This makes a world of difference when arriving from a different time zone and all you want to do is sleep.
For you, what is the greatest hotel in the world, past or present?
It is impossible to choose one favourite. I travel frequently averaging about 150 days per year. Being an avid sailor I enjoy several itineraries including one in Thailand, where you can sail between two SLH hotels – The Racha in Phuket and Zeavola in Koh Phi Phi. Or in the Caribbean you can stay at The Inn at English Harbour in Antigua and then set off for Spice Island Beach Resort in Grenada.
Also, I am passionate about exercise and I don’t believe travelling is an excuse to skip a workout so any hotel that offers an amazing view from the gym jumps to the top of my personal list.
What innovations are SLH planning in future?
Our biggest focus in 2013 is China. We are in the process of building a fully functional Chinese website and IBE in order to improve communication and meet the needs of this emerging outbound market. Also with the growth in booking on the go, we will continue to update and improve our mobile apps.
When you work with luxe hotels all the time, what do you look for when holidaying?
As mentioned above, I love sailing and so I am always attracted to destinations on the water. The Mediterranean and Thailand both offer fantastic sailing experiences, but when it comes to actually staying at a hotel in a particular destination I look for flexibility first and foremost. Also, certain features as simple as electrical outlets near the bed, shower taps in convenient places so you don’t get a soaking when you are adjusting the temperature and a mini bar stocked with Erdinger beer and Rose’s lime cordial (my favourite) make for an enjoyable holiday.
How do you see the future for luxury hotels?
I think the future for Small Luxury Hotel is bright. Our customers will continue to look for hotels that give them special experiences and small hotels will continue to offer personalised service that has become so important these days. I think we will continue to do well and the future is bright for a company like Small Luxury Hotels of the World™.