Flying is a necessary but oftentimes burdensome aspect of being a hospitality executive. While many industry leaders may look at the alone time in the sky as a way to catch up on a never-ending workload, Langham Hospitality Group CEO Robert Warman, an experienced hotelier and a seasoned flyer, does “very little work on the airplane,” savoring his brief solitude by catching up on the changing world below him through several forms of entertainment. Whether it’s through novels, movies or documentaries, relaxation is ultimately achieved, revitalizing and challenging his mind before he lands.
“You’ve got to be able to pull away at some point,” he told Hotel Business during a phone interview (while waiting for a flight). “You can learn things from other industries. The airlines certainly provide you with a great deal of content to refresh and expand your horizon on things you probably wouldn’t pursue if you weren’t stuck in that seat.”
Being an open-minded individual is more often than not essential to providing guests with customized experiences. Applying this personalized approach to luxury hospitality isn’t new to Warman, who joined the Hong Kong-based hospitality company as CEO in 2014. Going back to his days with Ritz-Carlton, where he served in various senior operational and executive roles for 18 years, he often conversed with other executives on what an “individual colleague can actually do to provide a luxury experience,” according to Warman.
“It’s important to define that a little further by establishing processes you know are reliable and that colleagues can follow,” he said. “Give them specific things [to work on]that if [implemented], the customer will have a luxury experience.”
Langham practices something similar—“service with poise, and that’s an environment we want to create—one that’s friendly, warm and refined, yet not too aggressive,” he noted. Shifting to a less aggressive strategy has been an action point in the industry for many years. Delivering service with poise is Langham’s attempt to soften the long-standing (and outdated) in-your-face method of making a guest aware of available accommodations.
When employees are poised, they’re in control, well-trained and know their job. “They don’t have to compensate by being overly aggressive in their service delivery,” he said.
Selecting the right employee for an open position is “critical” to the success of a hospitality group. “One has to have the capacity and desire to want to care about people and have empathy because at the end, that is the difficult part of our job,” Warman said.
It’s the hospitality group’s responsibility to protect talent. “Far too often, hotels don’t create the right environment and the level of turnover in the hotel business is a direct reflection of that,” he said. “All of us, including Langham, have to do a better job at being competitive and creating a structure where employees want to stay for a long time.”
Retainment has been a focus for him as CEO of the group. Operated by Langham, the Chelsea Hotel, Toronto has been running an 8% turnover year-over-year, he noted. Additionally, the hotel has employed 70% of the property’s employees for more than five years.
Exposing the Langham brand in the Middle East has been an important piece to the group’s portfolio. Currently, it has four hotels under construction in the region, two in Dubai and two in Doha, Qatar. It also has plans to open a property in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
“We’re very confident luxury travel will continue to grow,” Warman said. “Our group will continue to actively seek more projects in the Middle East.”
Langham has also been expanding its global footprint in Mainland China, Southeast Asia and elsewhere. “We’ll continue to open up three more Langham hotels in Mainland China,” Warman noted. “That will bring the company up to 11 hotels in Mainland, which begins to give us a very strong base to establish a solid customer reputation with our brand within Mainland China.” At the helm, Warman has plans to open the group’s second Cordis Hotel, which will be situated in Hangzhou, China to “solidify the position of Cordis.”
He also acknowledged the importance of the hospitality company completing ongoing projects in Europe and North America, which will “continue to expand our brand’s presence around the world.” For example, the Langham Hotel, London is undergoing renovations to update its spa and add a second bar to the property (both of which are scheduled to be completed by summer of 2017).
His resume, which outlines years of experience at a limited number of companies, highlights his ability to commit, a lesson he learned from the onset. “Somebody wisely said you should join a company, become passionate about it, particularly if it’s a good organization, and then decide where you want to be in five years,” he said. “If that company can get you there, then you ought to put everything you have in it.
“Instead of running out looking for the next thing, be patient,” the executive concluded. HB