CEO and Managing DirectorCHI Hotels & Resorts
Tony Potter, the hard charging CEO and Managing Director of CHI Hotels & Resorts, the operating company for Corinthia Hotels, is leading Corinthia Hotels’ expansion and entry into the top end of London’s uber-competitive luxury market. Despite the pressure to perform, Potter likes to keep it light, often tossing Corinthia soft rubber balls to staff as he passes through the hotels or to members of the press during news conferences. Although he didn’t have to use his fielding skills, Elite Traveler Editor-in-Chief Douglas Gollan caught up to Potter at the World Travel Market in London for an update.
ET: What’s the history of Corinthia Hotels?
Tony Potter: Corinthia is a fairly small company that is 48 years old. We started as a small family business in Malta under our founder and owner Alfred Pisani. In the last 10 years we have developed a number of very interesting properties focused exclusively on five-star luxury, and going back about five years we actually de-branded several properties that did not meet all the stringent criteria of our luxury brand.
ET: Where do you have hotels and what are your plans for expansion?
Tony Potter: We operate in St. Petersburg, Budapest, Lisbon, Prague, Malta and Tripoli—among others—and with our latest acquisition in London, we will compete among the top four or five hotels there, and New York is where we want to go next. We think with London and New York we will have the platform to greatly raise our international profile: 18 to 20 key destinations over the next 10 years. We want to be a global hotel business.
ET: What’s the key to achieving success in the luxury arena?
Tony Potter: It has become crowded. In the last five, six or seven years, it is no longer enough to just have to have a great building, but today what is defining the top hotels is fast and efficient service. There are some great hard products, but it is the service that clinches it.
ET: So what’s the secret to good service?
Tony Potter: At the end of the day, [the secret is] damn hard work, starting with people selection from the general manager down. We are looking for attitude, commitment and people who want to serve. If you spend a lot of time training people who don’t want to serve, you’re just wasting your time. We have two main programs, Spirit of Corinthia and the Craftsmanship of Care. You also need committed owners who provide the resources and authority to actually do it.
ET: What is your background?
Tony Potter: My background is hotels. I just like the smell of the business. I worked for 18 years with Hilton, Copthorne and Choice, and now I have the great fortune to work with a smaller group that has a founder and owner who is still involved. Conrad Hilton and J.W. Marriott are gone. We still have the original owner and that’s a lot of fun. It is an added advantage.
ET: What will make your London property special?
Tony Potter: London is an interesting market at five-star. It is a busy market that is trading well. We will be increasing the supply, so it will be important to have unique aspects. We have the largest bedrooms in the city and we will have great suites, including various themed suites and great views over the River. We will have over 40 suites, out of 294 rooms, and we have a great General Manager, Matthew Dixon, who is Savoy-trained. We also have Massimo Riccioli, a very famous Roman restaurateur. We will have a good modern British hotel restaurant, and we will have the biggest spa of any hotel in London—we brought in ESPA to operate it and we really think it will have an edge. It is a large boutique hotel, not a convention hotel. Competition will be stiff, and that helps not only London, but will also help us keep our edge.
ET: It seems like you have a way to go in terms of gaining awareness in the luxury category.
Tony Potter: In certain parts of the world, Corinthia has great brand recognition. We were one of the first brands into Libya. In Russia we are well known, and in Eastern Europe, but we still have a lot of work to do. We’re launching a new advertising program that will greatly raise awareness.
ET: Any closing thoughts?
Tony Potter: It’s no longer good enough to say I have five stars and have won these awards and my ratings are high. The important thing is delivering value to the customer. It’s not easy to get the client through the door, as to book Corinthia in London they may have to cancel their reservation somewhere else, so it will be critical how we care for the customers when we do get them.
Corinthia Hotel Budapest
Corinthia Hotel London
Corinthia Hotel St. Petersburg
Corinthia Hotel Tripoli