Founded in Rome in 1884 by the silversmith Sotirios Voulgaris, BVLGARI is one of the world’s largest luxury jewellers and watch-makers whose current offerings also include an haute-parfumerie line (recently launched) as well as accessories such as scarves, small leather goods and scarves.
In 1905, the iconic Via Condotti store was opened, which till today remains the company’s flagship. In its early years, Bvlgari was known for silver pieces that borrowed elements from Byzantine and Islamic art, combining them with floral motifs. Bold creativity and innovation made Bvlgari a trend-setter but also lent its free-spirit of not taking itself too seriously, with subtle and sensible cue. The combination with coloured gemstones and convertible jewels were also popular during the time, and one of Bvlgari’s major piece was the Trombino, a small trumpet-shaped ring.
During the Second World War, most new jewellery was crafted out of gold, as gems were scarce, and designs became more natural feeling. As the 40s came to a close, Bvlgari introduced Serpenti bracelet-watches. In the 50s, some of Bvlgari best-known clients included Elizabeth Taylor, Sophia Loren, Anna Magnani, Ingrid Bergman and Gina Lollobrigida as Rome earned a reputation as “Hollywood on the Tiber” with the Cinecittà studios.
Among these multi-hued jewels, cabochon cuts were another innovation. In 1977, Bvlgari entered the world of watches with the launch of the BVLGARI BVLGARI watch . In the early 80s, to oversee all production of Bvlgari watches, Bvlgari Time was founded in Switzerland.
Bvlgari diversified its brand in 1993 with the launch of its first fragrance, Eau Parfumée au The Vert and the founding of Bvlgari Parfums in Switzerland to oversee the creation and production of all perfumes. In 1995, Bvlgari pushed ahead with an aggressive programme for growth, becoming listed on the Milan Stock Exchange for the first time. In 1996, the brand launched its first accessories collection, beginning with silk scarves before developing a range of leather accessories and eyewear. The company has seen 150% revenue growth between 1997 and 2003.
The year 2000 was the beginning of an increasingly aggressive period of verticalization for Bvlgari, with the acquisition of the luxury watchmaking brands Daniel Roth and Gérald Genta, followed by the takeover of the jewellery firm Crova and of other companies that specialised in leather goods and watchmaking, positioning Bulgari as a prominent global player in haute horologerie, having recently been recognised for its performance, most recently for the new Bvlgari Octo Finissimo Tourbillon Automatic timepiece, the world’s thinnest tourbillon watch and the world’s thinnest automatic watch.
The opening of the first Bvlgari Hotel Milan in 2004 further confirmed the expansion strategy of the brand, and was announced as the result of a joint venture Marriott International through its The Ritz-Carlton brand obviously a ‘guarantee’ of service which The Ritz-Carlton / Marriott Intl would ensure.
What seemed as an extremely daring diversification into hotels this was actually part of Bulgari’s luxury lifestyle DNA. Bulgari Hotels creators also understood early on that in order to create a Bulgari Hotel it also takes an investor / developer that understands the DNA of the ultra-luxury brand especially considering that there was no Bulgari Hotel owned or controlled by Bulgari which serve as a flagship. Bulgari Hotel Milan was actually a third party management agreement with the building owners and the opening was met with skepticism especially as it came one year after the mixed reviews of the launch of Armani’s very first hotel in Dubai, Armani Hotel Dubai – a joint venture with U.A.E leading developer EMAAR which supported the entire investment.
Bulgari Hotel Milan was an instant success from the very day it opened, thanks to its beautiful gardens (including its green outdoor terrace) and the location in the heart of Milan in the most serene neighbourhood, yet steps from all attractions, including less than 5 mins from Via Montenapoleone. Il Ristorante, Il Bar and Terazza have remained a favourite for non hotel guests, thanks to the impeccable food and service, despite the arrival of its biggest and most powerful competitor, Mandarin Oriental, Milan (ironically also designed by the same Antonio Citterio Patricia Viel). It was also proof that the choice of Antonio Citterio & Patricia Viel could not be better – the product has been extremely well maintained, requiring soft renovations only two years ago. Each piece of furnishing is bespoke in all hotels, the same companies being the suppliers but also the Italian craftsmen who execute the finishes. I was told construction / contractors’ teams were flown into Beijing, Shanghai and Dubai to make sure every single detail is flawless like any Bulgari jewellery piece.
After Milan, Ursini opted for a rather odd location in London for the Bulgari Hotel London – although steps from Harrods all rooms and suites overlook a nearby narrow street or the stables of a Royal Horse Guards complex. Most probably the motivation was the owner that had all the resources to execute the most sophisticated luxury urban oasis, where, paradoxically, I was not at all bothered by the lack of views. The same architects were chosen for the architecture and interior design of the building. The hotel was built from 2010 to 2012 – there are ten floors up and an impressive six underground floors which has always made me compared the Bulgari Hotel London property with a Swiss watch.
With an ideal inventory of 85 rooms and suites (a high ratio of suites), Bulgari Hotel London is also home to a cigar shop, a impressive cinema, an ultra-luxury Spa, an indoor swimming-pool, a ballroom, a lavish Il Bar and the Rivea Restaurant (a franchise of Chef Alain Ducasse) The ballroom, which has a silver chandelier, can be rented for wedding receptions. It is “eco-friendly”; for example, the rainwater is recycled for the toilets There is also a garden on the roof, or “green roof with bat boxes. The hotel was opened by veteran luxury hotelier Sylvain Ercoli, who, during his tenure, was instrumental to the evolution of the Bulgari Hotel brand. His contribution was critical in recreating a company culture with consistent high standards of service.
Bulgari Hotel Beijing followed suit with a spectacular location by the river, overlooking the low-rise embassies’ district. I could not believe I was in Beijing. The outdoor beautifully manicured gardens including the promenade along the river is a huge competitive advantage for Bulgari Beijing, to my knowledge unique among all downtown luxury hotels.
Apparently the Bulgari Hotels & Resorts brain-child was veteran Silvio Ursini who has taken on the immense challenge of running a hotel chain without any previous operational experience in hospitality, his official title being Bulgari Group Executive Vice President in charge of the Bulgari Hotels & Resorts. CPP-LUXURY.COM has interviewed exclusively Mr Ursini in 2016.
As confirmed by Mr Ursini, despite the ‘partnership’ with Marriott International Luxury Brands, all marketing communications, branding and Press Relations are exclusively handled by a team set up especially within the Bulgari headquarters in Rome. Ursini also confirmed that together with his team of GMs and senior sales executives from all his hotels, they also manage the sales, the most recent such initiative being a U.S. sales trip which culminated with a lavish dinner organised in New York.
Except for extensive training support for the middle and top management of Bulgari Hotels by The Ritz-Carlton, Bulgari Hotels actually utilises the GDS (reservations platform of Marriott International. However, there is absolutely no mention of The Ritz-Carlton on any of the communications / branding materials of Bulgari Hotels, including its website. Also, Bulgari Hotels are not part of Marriott International’s most prized asset, the combined loyal programs of Marriott International and does not appear on the reservation searches of the Marriott Intl search engines for direct bookings.
Oddly, the Bulgari Hotels brand appears on the business cards, email signatures as well a public professional profiles on LinkedIN of ALL the Marriott International Luxury Brands staff, especially PR / Communications as well as Regional Operational VPs and even sales (Bulgari Hotels is mentioned in a line up along ‘luxury brands’ such as JW Marriott) There is even a Global Luxury Brands Leader whose title includes the Bulgari Hotels & Resorts…
Bulgari Hotels‘ ”independence” was once again safeguarded by Ursini post the acquisition by LVMH which has a special division dedicated to ultra-luxury hotels (LVMH Hotel Management) which it owns and operates at the same time – Cheval Blanc Hotels in Courchevel, Maldives, a hotel in St Barth and one in St Tropez as well as the much anticipated upcoming iconic Parisian hotel within the completely transformed former luxury department store La Samaritaine.
This independence also translates in the fact that there are no ‘imposed’ collaborations or cross promotions like at LVMH’s Cheval Blanc Hotels, the Courchevel location even hosting trunk fashion shows of LVMH owned brands. Nevertheless, the number one client of Bulgari Hotels is actually Bulgari, which hosts all its events or marketing / PR / sales initiatives almost exclusively at Bulgari Hotels if there is a hotel in the respective destination.
Besides independence, Ursini’s secret to success of Bulgari Hotels was exactly based on his lack of operational / management experience in hospitality, his biggest strength being the deep understanding of the Bulgari brand DNA and how this could be conveyed into lifestyle through an ultra-luxury hotel.
From bespoke Bulgari Hotels branded amenities (Made in Italy) to very discreet signage (Bvlgari) on side lamps in the bedroom and on the silver-wear cutlery, very few discreet tower cases with Bvlgari jewellery and watches on display (very discreetly positioned) large size photography throughout the hotel (including suites) of celebrities wearing Bvlgari, the ‘Bulgari spirit’ lies in the vibe of the hotel which instills an air of glamour and exclusivity, making each and every guest feel special, for some a show-off but for most, a feeling of a most luxurious ‘home-away-from-home’.
Beyond architecture, this sense of pride of residing in a Bulgari Hotel is achieved by the laid-back and friendly yet, at the same time, rather formal service (without being arrogant) – attentive, intuitive and very personal, not to mention the finest quality of materials, furnishings and finishes. Beds make you not leave your room in the morning, with the finest Italian linens and the most comfortable mattress I have ever experienced, as well as oversized Spa-like bathrooms, which in all Bulgari Hotels have vanities for him and for her, a spacious separate walk-in shower (in the newer hotels with touch controls on the wall) and a huge stand-alone black marble bathtub which is ‘equipped’ with candles and bath sals, all scented Bulgari.
The emphasis on the ultimate comfort and functionality is also achieved through the most sophisticated hi-tech controls (which actually work and are very simple to use) – lighting, curtains, DND, several ‘mood’ options, heated marble bathroom floors, soundproofing and the latest technology with UHD SmartTv’s and high speed internet.
However Ursini and his team must be very well aware that except for Bulgari Hotel Milan, all the other hotel properties that followed – London, Beijing, Dubai and Shanghai (including the upcoming ones in Moscow and Tokyo) may not likely become profitable within the next 5-7 years because of the staggering initial costs of development – the ‘cost per room’ as it is known as a reference in the industry, being at least twice as high as a The Ritz-Carlton Hotel, three times higher than a Four Seasons Hotel and even surpasses the ultra high-tech rooms of The Peninsula Hotels. The fact that Bulgari Hotels also feature a branded residential component could help, but only to a small extent.
Except for London, all the lavish Bulgari Spas of each of the other properties, undoubtedly some of the most luxurious hotel Spas in the world, have been failing to attract both guests and non-hotel guests, while the restaurants have yet to find an identity. It is not only the sheer size of the heated indoor pool with Balinese beds around the pool but also the investment in the finest materials such a onyx, marble etc. Again, for the owners / developers, wellbeing is a business unit of the hotel which weighs heavily in the losses. In order to attract non-hotel guests, the hotels need to allocate significant ongoing marketing budgets. Also there is no internal marketing to entice hotel guests to make use of the Spa.
Although Ursini said in a recent interview that he spent a long time in China to understand its culture, Bulgari Hotel Beijing‘s Italian Restaurant (the only restaurant of the hotel) has proven to be a rather odd experience for the local Chinese patrons who would expect, at least part of the menu, to be Chinese. Moreover, the Italian menu is a re-interpreted version, not to mention none of the Chinese I encountered around the hotel had absolutely no clue about Niko Romito whose name actually brands the restaurant. This has in a way ‘isolated’ all the Chinese non-hotel guests in Beijing around the IL BAR and its beautiful green outdoor terrace overlooking the lake – which have instantly become the hottest meeting /show-off spot in town, being packed at all times of the day.
I have gladly learned that Bulgari Hotel Shanghai now boasts a unique restaurant not only in interior design but a true statement of Chinese fine dining for Shanghai. Also, I trust that the F&B offerings around the hotels will only be improving, my mere suggestion is to be more daring, an essential component of the Bulgari brand. The upcoming Bulgari Hotel Paris location which I was pleased to discover two months ago, as it actually sits right across from the Four Seasons Paris George V, with a structure that give away huge rooms and suites – the development of the property is being overseen by one former Bulgari Hotels GM who now represents the owners.
After reviewing personally the Bulgari Hotels in London, Milan and Beijing, I have yet to discover the one in Shanghai, hopefully early next year. Unfortunately, Bulgari Resort Dubai which is reportedly an enhanced experience on the Bulgari Resort Bali, seems to be running full-house occupancy irrespective or the month and season – at least this was the repeated answer CPP received from the PR team in Rome.
Ironically, the suggestion for us to stay and review the Bulgari Resort Dubai came from a direct competitor of the Bulgari Resort Dubai which is also indirectly by U.A.E. celebrated real estate developer Meraas Holding. The hotel group I am referring to, is currently undergoing major improvements and investments at all levels, with the aim of some of its properties to directly compete with the Bulgari Resort Dubai.
Other similar projects with examples of diversifying from their core luxury sector into luxury hotels include:
Armani Hotels is a joint venture with Emaar Group, which made the full investment in both Armani Hotels currently in operation, Dubai and Milan respectively. Emaar Hospitality also owns the Address Hotels brand, which has been speeding up its expansion in the past year. Both Giorgio Armani and Emaar announced that the partnership will not expand any further, although there were intense rumours last year that an Armani Hotel might have been considered for a real estate development in London.
Versace Group currently has two Palazzo Versace Hotels branded hotels at the Gold Coast in Australia and a second one opened last year in Dubai. A third hotel was announced for Macau however there seems to be no recent update as to when it is actually (if) opening. Versace has no stake in any of the hotels, instead the partnership is based on a ‘use-of-name’ agreement between the developer / owner of each property. In addition, Versace supplies all the furnishings for the hotels, however, some sources they are not part of the retail Versace Home Collection which are licensed by various specialist manufacturer, i.e. Rosenthal for the silver-wear and cutlery.
Missoni Hotels (a Radisson Group partnership) have been halted – the hotels were rebranded under Raddisson Group’s luxury brand, the Radisson Collection
Fendi‘s owns and operates a tiny luxury boutique hotel in Rome Fendi Private Suites – with no intentions to expand any further.
The Ferragamo family owns several upscale and luxury hotels in Florence and Rome, but under a different brand, Lungarno Collection. with no upcoming openings announced, at least for the time being. A Tuscan luxury estate owned by a Ferragamo family is being operated by Rosewood Hotels.
Chopard is currently renovating its small luxury boutique hotel on Place Vendome in Paris, expected to open in 2019, however it is uncertain whether it be branded as a Chopard Hotel and whether this will be a distinct project which will expand any further.
Audermas Piguet is building its very own hotel near it manufacture and headquarters in the village of Le Locle, Switzerland but more for the purpose of hosting VIP guests who wish to visit the manufacture and the new museum which is also under construction.
French luxury house of Baccarat opened two years ago its first hotel in New York, Baccarat Hotel in partnership with Starwood Capital, with a second property initially announced for Rabat, Morocco but cancelled in the meantime.
U.S. based wellness giant Equinox is expected to open in 2019 its first luxury hotel in New York, Equinox Hotel with big ambitions to develop an entire global luxury chain headed by CEO Christopher Norton, ex President Four Seasons Hotels. The choice of targeting towards the right segment will be critical.
French patisserie and gourmet foods specialist Fauchon has recently opened its first luxury boutique hotel in Paris, Fauchon Hotel, with several international openings already in the pipeline.
All in all, Bulgari Hotels & Resorts, despite its inherent weaknesses, which will surely improve in time, clearly emerges as the only successful luxury hotel brand extension from another sector. And all future developments announced are only likely to further strengthen the brand. For one, the Bulgari Hotels & Resorts do not serve the purpose of ‘showcasing’ the core products of the jeweller / watchmaker of the brand.
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