Luxury has always been ‘exclusive’, ‘limited’. Hospitality group Oetker takes this philosophy seriously. CEO Timo Gruenert brings us up to speed with Oetker’s measured expansion, his thoughts on India, and the post-pandemic travel landscape.
By: Suman Tarafdar
Posted on: February 1, 2023
For those living the opulent life, it becomes quickly obvious that the world of luxury is a layered one. In hospitality too, the word ‘luxury’ is much used, perhaps too frequently for experiences that might not…well, measure up to the exacting standards, that say, each of The Oetker Collection ‘Masterpieces’ have.
Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc - a part of Oetker Collection.
From a personal experience of staying at Le Bristol, Paris, usually the Parisian home to visiting global A list celebrities - past and present - such as Charlie Chaplin, Rita Hayworth, Sophia Loren and David Beckham, it is stating the obvious that the level of experience is rarely matched anywhere. Every minute detail from the interiors to the largest collection of books in each room to the vast artistic collections, the stunning gardens, and of course, the multiple Michelin starred restaurants, this hotel epitomises the group’s hospitality standards.
From honoring the heritage of Karl Lagerfeld with a special exhibition to moving with the metaverse through a game, Oetker Group personifies luxury with its own unique definition which combines the new with the old. As the exclusive hospitality chain opens its latest hotel in Palm Beach, Florida, aficionados are justifiably excited about the group’s first hotel in the USA. Timo Gruenert, Chief Executive Officer, The Oetker Collection, highlights the journey to this significant landmark for the group and also looks at why the India market is of growing significance to The Oetker Collection.
Suman Tarafdar: Congratulations on the first hotel of the group in the US. How long has the move been in the works, and how significant is this move for the group?
Timo Gruenert: The United States has long been on our radar and is very close to our heart as over a third of our guests come from this market, so in a way it feels like a coming home of sorts.
We had been looking for some time to open our first hotel there but it took us very long to find the right property at the right place. We need to ensure the opportunity meets our standards because at Oetker Collection, rather than just managing luxury hotels, we aim at creating real Masterpieces. We are fortunate that we found the right place with The Vineta Hotel in Palm Beach, Florida. Opening our first hotel in America marks a major milestone in Oetker Collection brand’s history. We look forward to welcoming guests there next year!
A vintage postcard of the original The Vineta hotel in Palm Beach, Florida.
ST: What are the highlights of the hotel? Are there any particular aspects that the group kept in mind as a change / point of difference while working on The Vineta Hotel?
TG: With all our hotels, they must fulfil a certain criterion – we call it the Masterpiece circle. It is when the best location in town meets stunning architecture, and when the interiors could be found in the private residence of someone with very discerning taste - they remind you of haute couture - everything is bespoke with incredible craftsmanship and has the finest finishes, created with an almost obsessive attention to detail.
The Vineta Hotel is a real gem. It was originally opened in 1926 and boasts beautiful Mediterranean Revival architecture. It also has an excellent location, positioned just two blocks off Worth Avenue, which is of course famed for its designer boutiques, dining and art scenes.
The hotel will undergo a top-to-bottom renovation while respecting the building’s heritage which is important to us. I’m delighted that this will be led by acclaimed interior designer Tino Zervudachi. The plan is to take the room count down to 41 from 53 to offer more spacious accommodations and we will also introduce a host of exciting new food and beverage concepts.
I would say that a key takeaway from this period and how it impacts travel is that it made people come to the realization that spending time with the right people at the right place is an essential part of a fulfilled and happy life.
ST: How did the pandemic induced closures and restrictions on travel affect the group? Which hotels were most adversely impacted? What have been the main learnings from that phase? Is the guest looking at hotel stays any differently from the pre-Covid period? To what extent has the revival of the luxury hospitality space happened, and what is the pace of recovery?
TG: Like everyone in the hospitality industry, we were impacted by closures and restrictions, and some locations bounced back sooner than others. It was a joy to see major cities like London and Paris come alive once again last year and return to their former glory.
I would say that a key takeaway from this period and how it impacts travel is that it made people come to the realization that spending time with the right people at the right place is an essential part of a fulfilled and happy life. Oetker Collection are very much the 'right places' in that sense.
ST: How does the group gauge the potential of the India market?
TG: We are very thankful that the Indian market appears to have a deep appreciation for what we offer; including excellence in design, service and culinary. The market is hugely important to us and we are optimistic it will continue to grow.
In 2023, we plan to further invest our time and resources in this market – for instance, in March we will bring a gastronomic experience to India (Mumbai) for a few days with one of our Michelin-starred chefs.
Hotel Eden Rock - St. Barths - a part of Oetker Collection.
ST: What are some of the main reasons for the increase in revenue from India? Apart from being HNIs, are there other aspects that are common to guests from India? Eg., from certain professions, or regions? Are they going to any particular resorts / destinations within the group more?
TG: We feel very fortunate to have loyal guests from India who mostly book suites at our hotels. Moreover, they stay at more than one of our properties during their visits to Europe. This is actually something that we strive for – that guests are familiar with all our hotels - for instance, they are aware that Hotel du Cap-Eden Roc is within the same collection as The Lanesborough in London and it means they know they will enjoy the same quality of experience.
I would say the most visited properties from the Indian market are The Lanesborough and Le Bristol Paris. Then we see a high volume of guests from India at Brenners Park-Hotel & Spa in Baden-Baden, The Woodward in Geneva and, in the summer, Chateau Saint-Martin & Spa in the South of France is also very popular. Our guests are mainly from Mumbai, followed by Delhi, with the number of guests from Hyderabad, Ahmedabad and Bangalore also growing.
Bianca, the rooftop restaurant, at the yet-to-be-opened Hotel La Palma, Capri.
ST: Is the group looking at any properties in India, especially as some international luxury brands have opened in India in recent years?
TG: India is absolutely incredible and perhaps at some stage the right opportunity will present itself to open there, but for now we are keenly focused on our two upcoming comings – Hotel La Palma in Capri and then in 2024 we will open the doors of The Vineta Hotel. Expectations are very high on these hotels and we need to remain focused to ensure they exceed expectations and are true Masterpieces. We look forward to welcoming Indian guests at both these hotels!
ST: What are the next openings for the group? What are the current priorities of the group regarding expansion? Is it looking at any new hotels?
TG: We have a very measured and thoughtful approach to opening our hotels – we are not opening hotels for the sake of the growth and we are not in the business of trying to ‘create’ destinations. We are ultimately a family business and our approach is to think in decades – not years. To create something special - a Masterpiece Hotel - takes time, focus, patience and dedication. So for now we will be putting all our energies on our immediate openings.