Talking business: Filip Boyen, SLH

On the anniversary of his appointment as CEO of Small Luxury Hotels of the World, Boutique Hotel News talks to Filip Boyen about the last 12 months and his plans for the future.

• It is almost a year to the day since you were appointed CEO of SLH. What have been the most memorable highs and lows of the year?

“There have been many highs, namely with the progress we have made with our five year plan which is really taking Small Luxury Hotels of the World in a great direction.  Some of the milestones, naturally have been the 45 fantastic new hotels we have signed so far this year, which include Althoff Villa Belrose in France, Palé Hall in Wales, Dar Ahlam, in Morocco, and Hotel28 Myeongdong, in Seoul, South Korea. We’ve also doubled our hotel presence in the FHR and the hotel collection programmes with AMEX, giving our hotels much greater exposure to an important audience.”

“In terms of lows, I think they are consistent with what the wider travel industry has experienced.  The lowest has been terrorism attacks which have a direct impact on some of our hotels particularly those in Turkey.”

• How has the rise of the major hotel chains’ ‘soft brands’ for independent hotels affected the way SLH and others operate? How have you responded?

“It’s interesting to see how a number of the major chain hotels are now purchasing or creating smaller, niche brands and attempting to loosen their rigid brand standards but it takes more than a piece of local art on the wall to create a local and truly independent hotel.”

“They are trying to emulate what Small Luxury Hotels of the World has been doing since its inception.  We’ve always existed to connect independently minded guests with independently spirited hotels. For 26 years we’ve selected the most interesting and luxurious hotels, with a true sense of their locale but more importantly hotels with passionate owners who aren’t afraid to be different.  It’s hard for any hotel chain to really compete with that.  So, our response to the big chains? Business as usual!”

• What changes have you seen and implemented since the investment and restructure of the company back in May?

“Since the £12 million investment into SLH by our management company back in May, we’ve been extremely busy delivering on our five year strategic plan. Some of the key changes have been across three main areas – quality, loyalty and technology.

“We improved our quality assurance programme making it more robust with a new inspection report and a partnership with Revinate so we can adopt a more holistic approach and evaluate hotels based on a wider criteria integrating Club reviews, complaints and wider online reputation, viewable by live feed.  We’re also making more frequent hotel inspections – annually rather than every 18 months -two years as we previously did. By the end of 2016, 25 hotels will have left our portfolio as a result of these quality measures.”

“One of our biggest investments is in refreshing our loyalty offering, a project which has been in development for much of this year.  We’re shifting the focus from recognition to reward – rewarding customer bookings and behaviours for launch early next year.”

“We launched our android and iphone apps earlier this year; we’re upgrading our Chinese language website for launch imminently; we’ve switched over to a more effective CRM platform – Salesforce and also invested in Salesforce marketing cloud to create a single customer view.”

• Could you outline SLH’s growth plans for the next couple of years?

“They follow much of the above so a real focus on our quality assurance programme – making sure that those hotels that need to leave our portfolio due to lack of quality standards, improve or leave immediately; launching and developing our loyalty programme; continuing to upgrade our technology and distribution systems; having a stronger focus on driving sales both through our trade partners and direct to consumer; training all our member hotels’ staff to embody the SLH spirit.”

• Are there any global territories where SLH is not yet present that you have in your sights?

“Our development team spends their time exploring key markets and unfulfilled destinations that our guests are requesting. Unfulfilled destinations will continue to be key to fill the gaps in our collection. Our top five unfulfilled destinations are currently Ibiza, Hawaii, Berlin, San Francisco and Dubai and we’re already actively engaged in a number of positive conversations with hoteliers in these destinations. Other important destinations for us are Latin America, parts of Asia and several destinations within the US and Canada.”

• What do you think are the major general challenges and opportunities for your member hotels in the current economy?

“The major challenges are really outside of our member hotels’ control. We’re all anticipating the effects of the US elections and the impact of the Brexit vote. The immediate challenges for some of our hotels is the devaluation of the pound but that also poses an opportunity for some of the hotels in our portfolio.  The opportunities really are boundless – particularly with the developments we have planned for SLH, such as our loyalty offering and focus on sales as this will bring a stronger opportunity to drive even more guests to our member hotels.”

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