For elite travelers who keep tabs on the evolution of luxury hotel brands, a hotel joining The Leading Hotels of the World was often an early sign of a promising future.
Today’s top luxury groups such as Mandarin Oriental, Four Seasons, Ritz-Carlton and Jumeirah at one point were only a couple of hotels, and were each part of LHW before spreading their wings. Come late 2014, Patina Hotels & Resorts’ debut property in Singapore will enter LHW, and veteran hotelier Marc Dardenne is hoping he is at the helm of a future success story. Elite Traveler Editor-in-Chief Douglas Gollan met up with the boss during ITB in Berlin.
ET: Who’s behind the launch of Patina?
Marc Dardenne: The Kwee Family of Singapore. They own the Ritz-Carlton, Regent, Conrad and Capella there. They are moving away from (just) owning to operating.
ET: Where was the brand when you joined as CEO?
Marc Dardenne: I had a white sheet of paper. My background was Hyatt, then Ritz-Carlton, and obviously at Ritz-Carlton, it was well established when I joined, and with The Address and Armani [where Dardenne served as EMAAR CEO] we already had product under construction when I joined. So this was different. We spent months brainstorming, looking at the DNA of the Kwee family hotels and we really saw great architecture, great art (from their personal collection in the hotels) and great interior design (Ritz-Carlton Singapore pioneered the bathroom with a view). We were looking for a white space in the market.
ET: What did you come up with?
Marc Dardenne: There are (hotel) groups that have wonderful service delivery, but lack excitement. On the other hand, you have brands that are exciting but don’t deliver service. We will be 150 to 200 keys, a bit Park Hyatt from a design perspective, the excitement of W and the service of Four Seasons. There is a new luxury traveler looking for something different. We want to make sure there is a sense of place. You wake up in the morning and you know where you are.
ET: Tell us about your first hotel…
Marc Dardenne: It will open in Fourth Quarter 2014 in Singapore. It’s part of a mixed-use project with new build preserving a colonial façade with 157 keys. There will be four floors of retail, an 800-seat theater and 39 full serviced penthouse apartments for sale. It’s close to Raffles with a fantastic location for leisure or corporate.
ET: Will there be any innovations?
Marc Dardenne: We will introduce the concept of the 360-degree concierge, meaning that every employee is a host. As we interview prospective employees, we are asking about their hobbies and interests. One person can’t know everything. We want people on our team that are passionate about things that might interest our guests. Maybe a guest is interested in calligraphy. Johnny in the laundry department is also a calligrapher and knows about calligraphy. Johnny will come to the guest’s room and talk about calligraphy. Anything the guest wants to know, recommendations and so on. The idea is to create experiences other hotels can’t provide by tapping the knowledge of our entire team, not just one guy standing behind a desk in the lobby.
ET: What’s the growth plan?
Marc Dardenne: Patina is a global brand with a 60 percent urban, 40 percent resort mix. It could be in New York or London but you need to walk before you run. [To start] we would like five to ten hotels over the next ten years. The natural spots are Beijing, Shanghai, Hainan Island, Phuket, the Maldives, Indonesia and the Philippines. Sometimes big organizations just get too big. The big companies have ten brands in the same market, and they are each slightly different but in truth competing for the same customer, so we think what we are offering owners is attractive.
ET: What was it like coming aboard as employee Number One?
Marc Dardenne: I’m an entrepreneur at heart so I like flat organizations. Many people said it would be difficult to attract talent into a new organization. I was recently talking to students at a top hotel school, and I asked them ‘You are the best and the brightest – what do I need to do so you will want to come work for us instead of the big guys?’ They said do what you are doing. Today’s young people want to be part of the process, not simply memorizing the rules in a 200-page manual. I am excited about the team we are building and the people we are attracting.