The ones to watch in 2015

Boutique Hotel News editor George Sell chooses 15 industry players who will be making the headlines in the boutique and lifestyle hotel sectors over the next 12 months.

Gerhard Aicher, Miramar Hotel & Investment Company
Gerhard Aicher, GM of The Mira Hong Kong, will add the latest hotel in the company’s portfolio to his remit in early 2015 as he also takes the helm at Mira Cube. The 50-room property is located in Knutsford Terrace in Tsimshatsui, close to the Mira Hong Kong. Owners Miramar Hotel & Investment Company says Mira Cube will be offering stylish accommodation, state-of-the-art communications technology, convenient location at value driven prices for both business and leisure travellers. Aicher said: “Designed with well-travelled and tech-savvy individuals in mind, Mira Cube’s features and services are streamlined to the convenient minimum which defines 21st century urban lifestyle hotel experience. Mira Cube customers will also enjoy unique offerings and privileges at The Mira Hong Kong’s six award-winning outlets, the MiraSpa which includes our infinity pool and 24-hour gym, as well as have access to a fleet of guest service specialists for meeting, catering and events facilities.”

Ramesh Arora, The Montcalm Luxury Hotels
The man at the helm of one of London’s biggest independent hotel operators will oversee the launch of the group’s most ambitious project to date in 2015. The M by Montcalm in Shoreditch is the first new-build project for the company (its flagship property, the Montcalm Marble Arch was a major renovation project) and is a departure in terms of design and style. The futuristic, angular building is a striking 269-room, 23-storey hotel in London’s “Tech City” which will also feature bars, state-of-the art business facilities with a Club Lounge, a wellness centre and gym, a selection of restaurants, a private members club and a rooftop bar. Arora, who was recently named a Tourism Ambassador for India, is also masterminding a second property in the City of London with an as yet unknown opening date.

Matt Balcik, Jumeirah
Balcik has been tasked with overseeing the launch of Jumeirah’s new Venu lifestyle brand. With18 years’ experience in the hospitality industry, Balcik has worked in Turkey, Washington DC, Sydney, Aruba, US Virgin Islands, New Orleans and California. Before joining Jumeirah, his most recent position was as general manager of the W Hotel in Istanbul, so he has an in-depth knowledge of the lifestyle sector and its demands. Venu is designed “to appeal to the modern traveller whose expectations revolve around their own lifestyle – clean, contemporary, cool and effortless”. Dubai-based developer Meraas Holding is in discussion with Jumeirah to operate the first Venu hotel on Bluewaters Island in Dubai. After Dubai, Jumeirah aims to bring Venu to Abu Dhabi, London, Barcelona, Madrid, Berlin and Rome, as well as Asia and Africa.

Gerald Barad, Triumph Hotels
Among all the big players in Manhattan’s manic hotel market, Triumph Hotels is carving its own niche as an independent owner of small boutique properties of character. Specialising in historic buildings in key locations – it currently operates in the Upper West Side, Theatre District, Midtown, NoMad, Flatiron and TriBeCa. With older buildings comes renovation costs, and Triumph is in the middle of a $50 million renovation programme across its portfolio. 2015 will see the second phase of the makeover of The Evelyn Hotel, formerly The Gershwin. Barad, co-owner of Triumph Hotels, said: “I’m especially excited and actively involved in this restoration project. We’ve uncovered incredible architectural details that we are incorporating into the new design and overall ambiance of the property. Our goal is to present a final product that preserves the rich history of this original New York architectural gem, while incorporating 21st century technology and guest amenities.”

Mark Chambers, Eden Hotel Collection
Chambers is set for a big year at the helm of the Eden Hotel Collection. 2015 will see the completion of a £2 million of the iconic Bovey Castle hotel in Devon, the county which is also home to a much more ambitious project – the £13.5 million Tides Reach in Salcombe. The design of the 51-bedroom hotel is art-deco inspired with curved terraces faced with white render, and tiered green roofs to echo the surrounding landscape. Plans for the £13.5 million project have been submitted plans to South Hams District Council. “We have produced a scheme that pays tribute to the art-deco heritage of the South Hams while providing high quality accommodation that can help extend the tourist season and provide more than 60 full-time jobs,” said Chambers.

Mike De Frino, Kimpton Hotels & Resorts
Mike De Frino will be  under the spotlight in 2015 as he oversees the assimilation of Kimpton in to the IHG behemoth. The December acquisition of Kimpton, while lauded in industry and financial quarters as a a shrewd move, received a very mixed reaction among the pioneering boutique brand’s 1.6 million loyalty scheme members. Any hint of a dilution of Kimpton’s strong brand values could see much of this loyalty evaporate. On the plus side, IHG’s financial muscle offers Kimpton the chance to speed up the expansion of its 62-strong hotel portfolio, including the intriguing possibility of the Kimpton flag flying in Europe and Asia for the first time.

Satinder Garcha, Garcha Hotels
Early dotcom entrepreneur Satinder Garcha moved to Singapore in 1999 to play polo and operate in the high end of the property market. He is aiming to open five luxury boutique hotels by 2017. In Singapore, the Vagabond Art Hotel is due to open in Q1 this year while The Blakes House and The Murray Hotel will open by late 2015. The Garcha Hotel in Santiago, Chile, is designed by Anouska Hempel and will open by 2016. A 200-key Indian property is also in the pipeline. Garcha is ranked at number 46 on Singapore’s Richest list. His personally-funded company has spent a total of US $250 million on acquiring the five sites. “India is on the horizon for us. We are looking at a few deals here. Our first property will be in either Delhi, Mumbai or Chennai and we expect to spend $100 million to acquire, build and run it,” Garcha said.

Angela Hartnett, Home Grown Hotels
In mid-December, Hartnett, one of the UK’s top chefs, was made a board director of Lime Wood Hotel and Home Grown Hotels, the parent of the Pig group of hotels. Hartnett, who is also chef patron and owner of the Michelin-starred Murano in London’s Mayfair, runs the Hartnett Holder & Co at the group’s Lime Wood Hotel. Her appointment is evidence of the huge importance an excellent F&B offer at top boutique hotels. As a board member, Hartnett will help chairman Robin Hutson and his team with their ambitious expansion plans. “I’m never going to stop cooking but I’m really excited by the challenge of moving a business forward,” said Hartnett.

Jason Kalisman, Morgans Hotel Group
A testing couple of years which has seen Morgans go through boardroom upheaval, a hostile takeover attempt and legal battles, has seen Jason Kalisman emerge as a strong figure at the helm. He is already a considerable way down his desired path – shared with much bigger hotel groups – to transform the company in to a pure management outfit rather than an owner/operator. To this end, 2015 is likely to see the sale of the Delano in Miami South Beach and the Hudson in New York’s Columbus Circle for a combined figure of around $700 million. The successful launch of the Mondrian at Sea Containers on London’s South Bank is likely to be followed by a Hudson in the UK capital, and several Middle East management agreements are in the pipeline.

Liz Lambert, Bunkhouse Group
Liz Lambert is quietly creating a collection of hip and stylish hotels in Texas with an identity and a way of doing things all of their own. A former Manhattan lawyer, Lambert’s properties have something of the Ace hipster vibe with more of a laid back, less urban feel. She currently runs the Hotel Saint Cecilia in Austin, Hotel San Jose and Hotel Havana in San Antonio, and the El Cosmico “nomadic hotel” in Marfa, all of which adhere to her ethos of “guests stepping aside from their everyday lives and feeling inspired”. Each property is heavily imprinted with Lambert’s own design ideas and each has a distinct identity. 2015 will see the launch of the latest project, the 100-room Terrace Hotel, a second Austin property, which will also include 15 condominiums, a restaurant and a cocktail lounge.

Julius Robinson Autograph Collection
Robinson has been appointed by Marriott to “drive, define and execute global strategy” for Autograph Collection, its rapidly expanding soft brand for independent hotels.  He will also play an integral role in “the future development and global growth of the portfolio around the world”. Robinson is a seasoned hotelier with knowledge of revenue management, sales, business development and operations. He brings more than 20 years of experience in the hospitality industry and most recently served as vice president of the Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott, a position which he held for over three years. The Autograph Collection is speeding up its rate of growth, with 11 properties added in the last two months of 2014, and Robinson has been brought in to ensure the process runs smoothly.

Robin Sheppard, Bespoke Hotels
Bespoke Hotels chairman Robin Sheppard has overseen quite a few hotel openings in his time, but we think he has a particular soft spot for Hotel Gotham, which will open at 100 King Street in Manchester in April 2015.  The hotel, which is being developed and will be operated by Bespoke Hotels, is set in a 1928 Edwin Lutyens building and will include 60 rooms spread over seven floors, with the reception and the restaurant on the sixth floor, and a bar and members club on the seventh. The property will also include five inner sanctum suites. In celebration of the building, the decor takes cues from the art deco period and the dramatic windows offer fascinating views across Manchester. Describing the project as “the sexiest hotel in Europe”, Sheppard said: “Hotel Gotham is really taking shape now. The construction team at Marshall’s and our design partners at Squid-Inc are on track to deliver an exceptional and glamorous hotel, in a beautiful historic building.  We can feel the excitement bubbling.”

Serge Trigano, Mama Shelter
Accor’s acquisition of a 35 per cent stake in Mama Shelter raised a few eyebrows in October 2014, but – similarly to the IHG/Kimpton deal – the financial backing of a major hotel group can seriously speed up the hip French group’s expansion plans. Its current five properties are to be joined by a second hotel in Paris, one in Lille, and others in Zurich, Mexico City, Seoul, Amsterdam, Barcelona, New York and London. Trigano and his family (his father Gilbert founded the Club Med brand) will retain a 38 per cent stake, with French businessman Michel Reybier holding the balance. Trigano’s knack for spotting hospitality trends and his close working relationship with Philippe Starck will be essential to retain the brand’s indie vibe and credibility in what will be a landmark year for Mama Shelter.

Paul Whetsell, Loews Hotels & Resorts
While many leading hotel brands are launching lifestyle brands – Hilton’s Curio and Marriott’s Edition for example – they are usually doing it against a backdrop of divesting themselves of any owned property assets. Loews, however, has launched the OE Collection of managed lifestyle properties to run in parallel with its wholly owned or JV hotels and resorts. Whetsell describes OE – which stands for Original Experiences – as a logical extension of the company’s brand which will broaden its reach in major markets. Independent owners who sign up will keep their names and flags with OE Collection acting as a sub-brand. They will have full access to all of Loews programmes and its distribution systems. Whetsell said: “It’s an interesting play. Five or six years ago we had Kimpton, Morgans and W. Now Hilton and Best Western are coming into the space, which is a reflection of what the consumer is looking for today.”

Mike Zislis, Shade Hotels
LA hotelier and restaurateur Mike Zislis is preparing to open the second Shade Hotel property in 2015. The hotel is currently under construction in the Redondo Beach Marina. Zislis opened the first Shade Hotel in Metlox in Manhattan Beach in 2005. He said of the $21 Shade Redondo project: “I truly believe Redondo is ready for a big transformation. It’s a dilapidated waterfront. It really needs a rebirth, and I really believe that Shade will be the catalyst of this rebirth. By bringing the community here and by making it the focal point of the community, I think that, now, people will come to the harbour for the heart of the city. Which isn’t really happening right now – it’s a second thought to go there. I believe Shade Redondo will be the start of it.” The 54-room project will be LEED-certified, with bed frames built from timber recycled from the Red Onion restaurant, which previously occupied the site. Interiors will feature a nautical, Asian-inspired design aesthetic which Zislis has described as “yacht shui”. Communal spaces include a ground-floor restaurant, a second-floor ballroom, and a roof skydeck – each can hold almost 200 people.

To read 2014’s Ones to Watch feature, click here.

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