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March 9, 2014updated Mar 24, 2014

Regent Looks to Make Seven its Lucky Number

By Chris Boyle

regent baliStarted in 1970 by Bob Burns, during the 1980s Regent International Hotels was the fastest growing luxury hotel group in the World.  Its trio of leaders Georg Rafael, Adrian Zecha and Burns together changed the dynamics of the segment.

Gone was the dust and stuff of older luxury hotels and in was the sophistication and glamour.  The hotels exuded sex and power both in their design and clientele.  If you enjoy a walk-in shower, say thank you to Regent.  If you like the fact that ties in the lobby were no longer required, say thanks to Regent.  If you like double sinks in the bathroom, say thanks to Regent.

It’s been a quarter century since the halcyon days.  The spectacular Hong Kong Regent has been an InterContinental for more than a decade. It’s night club has been converted into an executive lounge, where today you are as likely to bump into road warriors who amassed points at a Holiday Inn as an actress or CEO.  The existing New York property on Park Avenue was converted to condos and the one that was under development opened as a Four Seasons.  Same for the Milan and Bali (Jimbaran Bay) as well as existing properties in Sydney, Bangkok and Jakarta and Beverly Hills, famed as the setting for Pretty Woman.

There were several ownership changes.  Four Seasons tenure enabled it to secure some of Regent’s best assets helping to climb to the pole position.  Travel conglomerate Carlson spent years never figuring out how to make things work among its collection of Radissons, TGIFridays and Country Inns.

The beginnings of a comeback were formed when the brand was purchased by Formosa International, owner of The Regent of Taipei, one of the group’s early hotels.  Finally somebody who understood how things were supposed to be was there. Burns was brought back as Honorary Chairman.  Ralf Ohletz, a disciple of Zecha came in as President.

Then in December Regent appointed Mark Lettenbichler as its Chief Executive Officer.  A Ritz-Carlton lifer, his career there began when the category leader had a mere seven hotels, the same number as Regent operates today.

A native Canadian Lettenbichler has led some of Ritz-Carlton’s most iconic properties.  In an early brush with the legendary brand he followed former Regent executive Michael A. G. Matthews as General Manager of the first Ritz-Carlton in Hong Kong.

Over drinks during ITB in Berlin, the world’s largest travel fair, Mark was clearly excited.  His goal is to put the Regent flag back in key global gateways and desirable resort destinations.  He inherited two nice properties in Bali and Phuket that opened last year, and he intends to take them to the next level. He also has key cities such as Berlin, Beijing and Singapore covered. Turks and Caicos gives him exposure to North America, always a key market for Regent in its heyday.

When we met, he was showing off pictures of its soon to open Regent Porto Montenegro, part of a 250 berth marina complex, in one of the region’s up and coming hot spots for elite travelers.  Half of the hotel’s inventory will be suites, and penthouse apartments will feature private sun decks and plunge pools.

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During his tenure overseeing The Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong Lettenbichler proved adept at creating buzz.  He set a Guinness World Record for most expensive truffle bought at auction He televised the annual Alba Truffle Auction live from his hotel where for several years running the winning bid came from guests at his party. And despite its quirky floor plan, the hotel became a favorite of elite travelers for its top level of service, great Italian restaurant Toscana, where I can say I had my fair share of truffles, and its lively bar scene.  In his subsequent role as a regional vice president he helped lead the brand’s hyper growth in Asia.

Now in his new role Lettenbichler will be pounding the pavement hoping to bring deals to Regent. In the 25 years since everything changed, Regent headquarters have bounced from Hong Kong to Toronto to Minneapolis and now Taipei.  Soon they will return to Hong Kong.  On Lettenbichler’s last day at Ritz-Carlton the company was operating 83 hotels and resorts around-the-world, a far leap from the seven when he starts and inherited in December when he took the helm of Regent.

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