Owner’s Representative and Managing DirectorThe Alpina Gstaad
(Pictured left to right: Onno Poortier and Nik Leuenberger) Having opened grand hotels from New York and Beverly Hills to Bangkok, two legendary hoteliers have joined up to launch what they hope will become the top Alpine resort. Recently Owner’s Representative Onno Poortier, former President of Peninsula Hotels and Managing Director Nik Leuenberger, a longtime Peninsula Hotels’ senior executive, visited New York to update the media on The Alpina Gstaad. After a busy day of meetings they took time to meet with Elite Traveler Editor-in-Chief Douglas Gollan at one of their former haunts, which they opened together, The Peninsula New York.
ET: How did you and Nik meet and how did you end up on this project?
Onno Poortier: Nik and I go back 32 years. I hired him as the Food & Beverage Manager at The Peninsula Manila (when I was Chief Operating Officer of the group). Nik was working in the (Arabian) Gulf and we were having lunch last year, and I was telling him I needed a General Manager for The Alpina. He is from the Bern Canton and he said he wanted to do it. We met with the Owner and 15 minutes later Nik was the General Manager. For a project like this you need the best people who have experience opening a luxury hotel.
ET: Do you have any goals for recognition?
Onno Poortier: The owners want the hotel to be the best winter sports hotel in the Alps. We know luxury hotels and there is no doubt this hotel has all of the qualifications. The owners want the best and are willing to spend to make The Alpina the best.
ET: How do you get potential customers to take a look?
Nik Leuenberger: We have well established quality competitors, so we will be trying to get potential clients to take a look with some good pricing to start. We also think as the first new luxury hotel in Gstaad in 100 years there will be quite a bit of curiosity.
ET: What markets do you expect to generate customers?
Onno Poortier: If you look at Gstaad overall 60 percent is domestic, however, luxury is different. We expect 60 percent of guests to come from abroad.
ET: Are there any particular niches that you are focused on?
Nik Leuenberger: We have high hopes for incentives, meetings, weddings, anniversaries, parties. There are three fantastic boardrooms that seat 15 to 20 each. Our ballroom holds up to 150. There is a special entrance so if you want to bring a car or some type of large display in we can accommodate that. We have a private cinema for film screenings. There is a fantastic cigar bar and humidor. There are times of the year when the hotel will be perfect for full takeovers.
ET: What about the spa?
Nik Leuenberger: We have an extensive Six Senses spa. We think this will draw customers in of itself, as you see more people today taking spa vacations. There are great facilities for children, so we are very good for the family market.
ET: What’s the atmosphere like in Gstaad?
Onno Poortier: Gstaad is unique. The local people and the ultimate rich walk next to each other. Nobody takes pictures. It is very discreet.
ET: How about access?
Nik Leuenberger: The (Saanen) airport has a runway long enough for long-range private jets. It is a seven-minute ride from the hotel. It has international operations—so immigration and customs. We are less than an hour from Cote d’Azur by high-speed helicopter. You can fly in nonstop from Asia, the Middle East or Americas, so we are very convenient to access via private aviation. It is just over an hour flying from London. (Formula One founder) Bernie Ecclestone has a house in Gstaad and flies in all the time.
ET: Tell us about the suites?
Nik Leuenberger: The hotel has 31 suites and 25 deluxe rooms. The top suite is the 4,300 square foot Panorama Suite, a three-bedroom duplex with a private spa and outdoor Jacuzzi on a heated deck. It will be priced in the low 20,000 Swiss Franc range. There are eight Grand Luxe suites, eight Deluxe Suites and 14 Junior Suites.
ET: How about the restaurants?
Nik Leuenberger: We have the first Megu restaurant in Europe, there will be an all day dining restaurant with an outdoor terrace and huge fire pits so you can sit outside year-round. Stuebli will be authentic Swiss cuisine. We have an eight-seat table in our Wine Room, which is our active wine cellar, and each of the restaurants has various secluded areas of seating.
ET: What is the skiing experience?
Nik Leuenberger: There is a full-fledged ski shop so you can arrive without anything and we can provide everything. There is a special room you come to when you come back and then next day everything is ready for you to go again. There skiing is very close—a mile away—we take you there in our Rover and pick you up. The mountains are interconnected so wherever you come down, we come to get you.
ET: What will the room technology be like?
Nik Leuenberger: It is forward technology, but practical and easy to use. Every room will have its own wireless network (for security). There will be an iPad you can take and use throughout the hotel that will have everything, including room service menus, but there will be paper menus as well. At night as soon as you get out of bed and your feet touch the floor, there is a discreet night-light that comes on.
ET: Any other special features?
Onno Poortier: The arrival is underground, so you never have car noise, smells. You also never have to worry about the weather coming and going. We know when people are coming for an event at night or going out, they can do it without worrying about the weather. This is unique for any hotel in the world.