CPP-LUXURY.COM has recently interviewed Christopher Norton, CEO of Equinox Hotels. Previously, he had several senior executive positions including President, Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts. Norton is one of the most respected visionary luxury hotelier in the world.
How important has it been to open your property as early as possible? (considering many luxury hotels in NYC have not reopened)
We chose to open when we felt the time was right, based on local government guidelines, and knew that we would not open any sooner. Once we felt that we could ensure the safety of our guests, support the broader re-opening efforts of our neighbours in Hudson Yards and deliver an un-compromised lifestyle experience, we did. Our aim was to be the healthiest hotel in the world so we didn’t just want to re-open in New York, we wanted to lead the way.
From your very early feedback, to what extent Covid-19 safety & hygiene measures are a primary criteria when booking your property? In this respect, is the fact that your hotel is newly built, a competitive advantage?
Equinox has always been known for the strictest cleanliness protocols in the industry, our guests and members have come to expect those exceptionally high standards. Fortunately, when we built our first Equinox Hotel we didn’t just focus on a new build hotel but also building g new ideas for our industry from a hospital grade air filtration system to virtually paperless and clutter free rooms. It was this same mindset that enabled us to be the first hotel in New York to empower a fully contactless stay.
What are the biggest challenges you have been facing with re-opening? Are there new obstacles in ensuring and providing consistently high service standards?
Our biggest challenge was making sure that we could ensure that we met the individual needs of our guests by providing multiple solutions. People trust great brands so we felt a great sense of responsibility to deliver on a flawless guest experience and to deliver on our brand promise despite the restrictions of Covid-19. The biggest obstacle I foresee is one that doesn’t actually impact us and that is the challenge of scaling cleanliness and staffing standards and protocols for a large chain or portfolio of hotels.
Which are the opportunities you anticipate in the mid-term?
In the mid-term we predict an increase in distressed inventory and therefore more opportunities in the market to convert hotels, both domestically and internationally. Interest in Equinox Hotels’ unique positioning around well-being has never been so great. With lower occupancies, we are also using this time to refine our approach to data and personalization.
Many speak about a ‘new normal’. What is your take? Has the perception of luxury changed? (If in any way)
Luxury had changed long before Covid. Today modern luxury consumers are buying in to brands for different reasons, prioritizing alignment around their own core values. In our case well-being, sustainability and a performance mindset are part of that mission. Both an increased reliance on technology and Covid-19 have accelerated the departure from traditional luxury norms such as white glove service. Covid has forced hoteliers to re-examine their interpretation of luxury. For example, when some iconic luxury hotels were removing the mini-bar due to Covid-19, we decided to not only keep the amenity but add items such as immunity building kits.
Recovery of a major global luxury destination such as New York city depends on a concerted effort by all luxury sectors. Tell us more.
New York has always been a story told through the voice of its neighbourhoods. As New York’s newest neighbourhood, Hudson Yards has emerged as an oasis and Equinox Hotel has positioned itself as an urban resort attracting luxury leisure travellers and staycationers while remaining connected with large open air areas, walkable green spaces, and world class retail. We view this partnership with our neighborhood as the key to the city’s revival.
Which are the Covid-19 measures you have been implementing? How important is the training of your staff so that all these measures are conveyed in an effortless manner, without transforming the hotel into a hospital?
We established a task force, including a team of leading medical and infectious disease experts, who have been working tirelessly on a comprehensive reopening strategy, then partnered with Mount Sinai to review our procedures. We have leveraged our existing technology platforms, from keyless entry powered by the App to our iPad enabled controls in-room, to ensure that we were providing our guests with choices regarding contactless service. Our programming at the club, pool and terrace also still allow us to deliver unique outdoor experiences while observing social distancing rules.
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