Aman, Six Senses, Rosewood, One&Only are among the international luxury hotel groups recognised for their long standing expertise in operating (in some cases also owning) some of the finest luxury resorts around the world. For more than a decade, Oetker Collection, a newly established luxury hotel group brand has been earning high praises. It is precisely 12 years ago that visionary luxury hotelier, Frank Marrenbach, had a dream – to create one of the finest luxury hotel groups in the world to include some of the most iconic properties.
In 2008, Marrenbach was at the helm of Brenners Park Hotel & Spa in Baden Baden, a landmark luxury institution in Germany which opened its doors in 1872. The Oetker family, known for their conglomerate with a global reach that includes several mass market business units, led by foods and foods ingredients, acquired Brenners Park Hotel in 1923.
After this first venture into the hotel world, another opportunity arose in 1969 when Rudolf August Oetker fell in love with the Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc (established 1870) on the French Riviera and decided to acquire it – having maintained intact its magic. Until nowadays, bookings for the most sought after summer luxury resort are still made well ahead of the debut of the season with repeat guests spending part of their summer holiday for 30, 40 years, every year, every summer.
In 1978, the Oetkers added the legendary Le Bristol Paris (constantly ranking among the top 3 Palace luxury hotels in Paris) to his portfolio, creating a super collection of iconic resorts in spectacular destinations. Chateau St Martin, a resort on the French Riviera, in Vence, was the last property acquired.
Based on the exceptional calibre of each of the properties, with an impeccably maintained product, consistently maintained high level customer service standards, exceptional fine dining and wellness offerings, Marrenbach was confident that the Oetker Collection would have an exceptional opportunity of also growing through managing properties as a third party operator.
The first purely managed property which was added was Palais Namaskar, at the time a new built ultra luxury resort rivalling the long established Royal Mansour and La Mamounia. The project was a major success, with the opening task force including highly experienced staff from the other hotels, boosting the resort to reach fast solid luxury standards. Not to forget, Marrakech was at the time a highly coveted destination, attracting investors from around the world.
More managed properties were added – The Lanesborough in London, L’Apogée in Courchevel, Palácio Tangará in São Paulo, Eden Rock – St Barths and Jumby Bay. The ultimate Spa, wellness and health resort within resort, Villa Stephanie was opened as an uber luxury intimate luxury hotel adjacent to Brenners Park Hotel. The strategic investment and approach was also driven by the aim to exceed the highest expectations of the most discerning travellers and replicate this at all properties, at least at the level of Spas.
Recently, I had the privilege to experience Jumby Bay Resort on the Jumby Bay private island only accessible by boat from Antigua airport in a 15 minute journey (scheduled direct flights from New York, London). There are no cars on the island, only bikes and electric carts.
The first jaw-dropping impression is the sheer size of the island with the actual hotel (made up of villas) and residences only covering 20% of the pristine island – a nature paradise with an exquisite natural sand beach (one of the finest I have ever experience). The island also have its very own farm (one could spot goats) allowing farm-to-table dining with the highest quality meats.
The island is headed by Aleksandra, an uniquely experienced luxury hotelier with the background of a doctor in her early career years in native Croatia. Beyond her incredible humbleness lies an incessant quest for perfection, sensibly blending a softly spoken indication with a much more firm one. I was deeply touched by the warmth she would greet by name every single staff, the interaction being more between a mother and her children rather than that between a manager and staff.
Scaling the engagement and the interaction between staff and guests is just flawless, reflecting the extensive ongoing training. One feels like being hugged by a smile and words, always making sure that the most simple details feel effortless to guests. Understanding motivation of her staff is crucial and that goes beyond a financially related aspect. By delivering respect, they also earn respect – it is one of those rare occasion I would, myself, make an effort to remember their names and greet them by name.
Sipping my morning I took great pleasure in interacting with housekeeping staff. They would not ‘clean’ a hotel room, instead, every gesture was like them making up their own home, with utmost attention. I paused (as I did on many occasions) and realised how careful and attentive I became myself when, not to spill anything on the bright blue pastel coloured couch in the living. It is this mutual respect that truly creates a unique experience, truly home away from home.
From breakfast to lunch, dinner and in-room dining, service and food quality (including selection) was flawless. Spa was heavenly and so were other experiences on the island. What could be more fulfilling than sitting in the open-air ”relaxation lounge” after a ritual body treatment by a highly experienced therapist and the finest organic beauty products including oils.
Make sure you do not miss the fine dining restaurant of the resort The Estate renowned not only in Antigua but the entire Caribbean, combining classic fare with modern island flavors, drawing on the culinary traditions of the West Indies. The circa 1830 plantation house, once the centerpiece of the island’s sugar plantation, includes a main restaurant and the 1830 Bar with three private dining rooms as well as a wine room all inspired by the home’s rich history and island traditions. Curated local artwork depicting local Antiguan life, flora, and fauna, and vintage maps adorn the walls of the sophisticated Colonial interior design. Seafood is divine and you will also enjoy the variation between indoor and outdoor sitting as well as the bar for a pre/post dinner.
Every minute passing during my stay, I felt I was more and more disconnected from the daily stresses or even thoughts, including the obvious ones work and family related. I also realised that privacy the resort offers is a huge competitive advantage – the resort part only has 40 rooms and suites spread in one relatively compact ‘area’ within steps from the beach, but then kilometres of pure nature, ideal for biking (resort provides bikes for all residents).
The residences villas range from a one bedroom villa to a mansion with countless rooms and lavish picture perfect infinity pools. The residences villas can easily rival the most spectacular Malibu or Beverly Hills palatial homes. The residences are fully serviced by Oetker Collection, including on site permanent staff but also one or two dedicated Chefs. No wonder, in 2019, Sir Paul McCartney, Mariah Carey, Will Smith and Lionel Messi were guests of Jumby Bay.
My stay coincided with the outbreak of the virus in Europe. I felt I would not leave and stay longer. Yet, I was not sad, confident that every second of my experience at Jumby Bay will turn into memories that will always stay with me.
With Jumby Bay, Frank Marrenbach’s mission has been accomplished, firmly establishing Oetker Collection as a top luxury hospitality operator. With Jumby Bay, while due to the high costs and running investment, a significant profit may not be achieved, but Jumby Bay could also have the role of an ‘Academy’, an invaluable ‘laboratory’ for training and teaching employees from around the entire collection.
However, despite the turbulent international economic context over the past 3 years and now the virus , Oetker Collection will not be able to maintain its lead as an international luxury hotel group with a purely asset light strategy. There are no doubts that the Oetker Collection is ready for New York or Moscow, however, the owners may also need to show their commitment, including financially. The hotel division represents a small part of the conglomerate owned by the Oetker family.
Oliver Petcu at Jumby Bay
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