The Peninsula Hotels – service from back to front

Hong-Kong based luxury hotel group The Peninsula Hotels sent some of its big guns to London this week to tell the industry press about its brand essence and future plans.

The press briefing took place in the newly reopened Regent Street cinema – the oldest in the UK – a fitting venue for an audience with what COO Peter Borer described as the oldest hotel company in the world.

Joining Borer on stage were regional VP and GM of The Peninsula Chicago Maria Razumich-Zec, VP of marketing Robert Cheng, and Nicolas Beliard, GM of the group’s newest hotel and its first in Europe, The Peninsula Paris.

Borer described Peninsula – which celebrates its 150th anniversary next year – as a brand that “honours the past while not leaving any guests behind” and stressed that the core of the brand is how the hotels “become part of the fabric of their host cities”.

Describing the patient, long-term approach of the company, which is still owned by members of the family who founded, it Beliard said: “The company searched for 15 years for the right building in Paris. Eventually they found the right one – it was originally built in 1908 as a hotel before being converted in to a government -owned conference centre. It’s the right building because it has a soul.”

The Chicago property is undergoing a major renovation of guest rooms, and GM Razumich-Zec emphasised how much thought goes in to the design of each room.

Borer picked up on this theme, saying: “We build hundreds of mock-up rooms in Hong Kong to make sure we get them right. They are built to scale from plywood so the chairman and I can decide if the concepts would work as a room. Functionality comes before design. Then the best ones are built in to actual prototype rooms, which a lot of us stay in and give feedback on.”

Borer said that while the group had lots of thick manuals for back of house construction and operation, he was not a fan of manuals for front of house: “We offer a service which is timeless, classic and observant of the time that we live in,” he said. “Our staff should be empowered to express themselves and to be themselves.” Staff should discreetly observe the guests, and react accordingly, said Borer

As well as giving the staff this freedom, Borer said that good service “comes from the back of the hotel, not the front – from giving the staff good facilities for dining and training, giving them good uniforms, treating them well and making them feel valued.”

Borer and Razumich-Zec both stressed that although Peninsula is something of an iconic hotel brand, it is constantly seeking to evolve and improve: “It’s important to never rest on our laurels and to keep reinventing ourselves,” said Razumich-Zec.

Alluding to the highly competitive luxury hotel space, Borer said: “It’s good to have competition – it keeps you awake. It motivates us and our competitors to keep improving. It’s important to polish the key elements that have built our brand.”

Razumich-Zec spoke about the way the group’s properties immerse themselves in their cities. The Peninsula Chicago offers guests experiences including kitchen tours of the three Michelin -starred Grace restaurant, fast track entry and a free book at the Art Institute of Chicago, and prime seats at theatre shows.

Looking to the future Borer said the company will continue to own most of its current stock and add “significant properties” around the world. As well as the London project, Istanbul and Guangdong are in the pipeline. It is also “interested in” New Delhi, Sao Paolo and Mexico City but Borer is not attracted to the Middle East at this stage, stating that Dubai “is overbuilt”.

The £500 million Peninsula London will have 190 rooms, some overlooking the gardens of Buckingham Palace. The building, on Grosvenor Place near Hyde Park Corner, will replace a 1960s office block on the 1.5-acre site, and will open in 2021.

Designed by London-based Hopkins Architects, the hotel will have a collonaded walkway and main public entrance on Grosvenor Place and an internal palazzo-style courtyard. The complex will include shops, a spa, a ballroom and up to 28 branded residences.

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