HB ON THE SCENE: Investment, growth, tech a big part of SLH’s plans

NEW YORK—With a collection of 520 properties in more than 80 countries, Small Luxury Hotels of the World (SLH) is continuing to see strong membership growth, delivering some 383,000 room nights and generating $137 million in revenues in 2015 (latest figures available). It is also marking its 25th anniversary.

With expectations of maintaining robust performance, SLH introduced a new structure wherein £12 million (approximately $15 million) is being invested over a five-year period by the owners of the management company and makes member hotels shareholders in SLH Ltd. As a result of the restructuring, the management company now jointly owns SLH with the hotels.

According to CEO Filip Boyen, the investment allows for an improved quality-assurance program, a refresh of SLH’s loyalty program [The Club] and advancement of technology and distribution systems.

Having seen a 49% increase in visits to the mobile site and a 71% increase in reservations made via mobile, SLH last year launched a new app for iPhone and Android phones to reflect its new brand positioning. The app was completely redesigned to include new features, including an interactive hotel directory with detailed information about each hotel including rooms, restaurants, facilities, services and location, accompanied by photo galleries, as well as the introduction of a new internet booking engine featuring a Book Now button to make reservations via the app or click to call a local SLH reservations agent.

The app also provides live maps with turn-by-turn directions to the guest’s hotel of choice.

Additionally, SLH has put together a series of neighborhood guides, available at slh.com, providing guests with insider insight on interesting things to do in the vicinity of their hotels. For example, guests who stay at SLH member Hotel Infante Sagres in Porto, Portugal, can visit Livraria Lello & Irmao, one of the oldest bookstores in the country—a favorite of J.K. Rowling and inspiration for her Harry Potter series.

Villa Spalletti Trivelli in Italy was once a private home.

What individual SLH properties have to offer was a key topic at a recent gathering here of executives from a variety of international locations. Hotels represented included Villa Spalletti Trivelli and Magna Pars Suites, both in Italy; L’Hotel in Paris; Dar Ahlam in Morocco; Cap Rocat in Spain; and Tiamo Resort in The Bahamas.

According to Julien Révah, general manager of L’Hotel, built on Paris’ Left Bank in 1827, the 20-room property on Rue Des Beaux-Arts offers “amazing decor,” done by Jacques Garcia, who designed the NoMad Hotel in Manhattan. “It’s a mix of Empire/18th-century decor. You feel you are in Paris but you don’t really feel you are in a hotel… We are the smallest five-star hotel in Paris and have Michelin-starred Le Restaurant and a pool in the cellar. For guests coming from the U.S. you really feel the Parisian experience,” said Révah. Guests can also stay in the Oscar Wilde Suite, named for its famous resident who both lived and died there at the end of the 19th century.

New at Tiamo Resort on South Andros Island in the Out Islands of The Bahamas are two villas designed for small families. “It’s nice for the family to disconnect from the world and connect [with each other]. They can do nature walks, scuba, snorkeling all together,” said CEO/General Manager Wilfried P. Vincent. “It’s a real island experience within a ‘human-size’ resort.”

He noted the bulk of business stems from North America in winter, Europe in summer. “We are a unique French property in The Bahamas,” said Vincent, adding that while there’s internet and WiFi, there are no TVs at the property. “I don’t offer bad news. The client can connect himself for that,” he said.

Samuel Alvarez, group director of sales and marketing for Marugal Distinctive Hotel Management, was touting Cap Rocat, a seasonal 28-key hotel created from a former 19th-century military fortress in Mallorca.

“It’s privately owned by an architect, so the whole place is very much like a James Bond movie. It’s just an amazing place. It’s carved into the rock. We’re now building a spa and we’re going to cover it with a glass ceiling so when you’re swimming you can see the stars at night.”

The property also created The Sentinels, three suites designed from spaces that originally were surveillance points hewn into the rock face of the private peninsula on which Cap Rocat stands.

Alvarez noted Marugal’s latest addition to SLH is Totem, a 64-room contemporary hotel in Madrid.

L’Hotel in Paris is a 20-room property on the Left Bank

At his eponymous, family-built and -owned, 14-room villa property in Rome, Andrea Spalletti Trivelli has opened a guest-only rooftop terrace with a bar and three hot tubs within the historic 1901 building, which was not permitted to have a pool. Trivelli said the business mix is couples and families, with 50% of guests made up of U.S. travelers.

SLH also recently added iconic hotel Dar Ahlam, a 19th-century, 14-suite kasbah owned by Thierry Teyssier that lies on the fringes of the desert in Ouarzazate, Morocco, as well as the 39-suite Magna Pars Suites Milano, created by the Martone family on the original site of their perfume factory in Italy.

Jeffrey Sirota, SLH’s VP/worldwide sales and Americas region, indicated the company’s business model and collection could not be more on trend.

“You go to any conference and everybody’s talking about all the trends, all these clichés and catchphrases: local, authentic. When you stay at a Small Luxury Hotel, that is what you’re getting. ‘Independently Minded’ is a new tagline of ours for about a year now and I think it really does describe the brand very well. We’re targeting that individual who is independently minded, who doesn’t want to stay at a big-box hotel where you could be anywhere and it all feels the same. It’s all about quality and that’s really where we’re starting to see that we’re making an impact,” said Sirota.

The VP indicated there are strict standards—a 700-point, pre-application checklist—guiding acceptance into SLH. “Out of about 1,000 applications a year we keep about 5%,” he said. And inspections of existing member properties, formerly every 18 months, are now annual events.

“I think we’re certainly upping the game in our portfolio and we’re trying to bring it to the next level,” said Sirota. “That’s where we want it to be.” HB

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