CPP-LUXURY.COM has recently interviewed Mr Timo Gruenert, the recently appointed CEO of Oetker Collection, one of the world’s leading luxury hotel groups. He has shared some exceptional insights on his vision of the future of luxury hospitality but also his outlook on Oetker Collection, including the present global challenging context.
You joined the Oetker Collection a decade ago witnessing the evolution of the company. What is Oetker Collection for you?
This company, its Masterpiece Hotels and my colleagues are extremely dear to my heart. Since the very beginning, eleven years ago, it has been our objective to grow Oetker Collection into a brand that focuses purely on operating truly exceptional hotels, properties that deserve to be called Masterpieces, and to do so with family spirit, elegance and genuine kindness. We have come a long way since then, and the journey has definitely represented a big part of my life.
Right before you joined the Oetker Collection, you gained an insider view to the Dr. August Oetker KG, the largest and longest running business conglomerate of the Oetker family. How do you see the commitment of the Oetker family in the hotels business?
The Oetker family’s investment in hotels began in 1923, nearly 100 years ago, with the acquisition of the historic Brenners Park-Hotel & Spa. An additional opportunity arose in 1969 when Rudolf August Oetker fell in love with the Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc and decided to acquire it. Nine years later, he added Le Bristol Paris to his portfolio, creating a marvellous trio of enchanting destinations.
What started as a passion became a real business. We created the brand Oetker Collection in 2009, opened the business model to include the management of hotels owned by third parties and grew the portfolio to the nine Masterpiece Hotels we operate today. Throughout the past 11 years, we have received strong support from the Oetker family and the management board of our holding company. Both the family and our board enjoy overseeing businesses as they grow and evolve; they like their companies to develop a real purpose and follow a clear strategy. I want to believe that we deliver on these points, hence their commitment is as strong as ever.
Which do you consider as the absolute competitive advantages of the Oetker Collection both as an owner and owner / operator of some of the finest luxury properties in the world?
I am not a great believer in the idea that there is one single thing that sets a successful business apart, a sole quality that makes all the difference. Everybody looks for a “USP”, but the reality in many cases is more complex. What we aim to do is focus on nurturing true Masterpieces. In a world where everything is about growth and pipeline, being able to focus is a rare thing and a privilege.
The other component concerns our values, a few of which I have already named. The rare combination of exceptional properties rooted in values of humility, subtlety and kindness creates a strong emotional bond with our guests. Our hotels become a part of their lives, and many of our guests consider them like home. For us, it isn’t about competitive advantages, it is just what we do. And we hope that people appreciate it.
This year, the iconic Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc celebrates 150 Years, with a unique offering, both in terms of product and outstanding service standards – being at the same time a heaven of privacy but also a place to be seen. Tell us more about the recipe for the continued success of this one-of-a-kind-property?
Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc is indeed a very special place. You mention the combination of privacy and a place to be seen, which sounds almost contradictory, but I believe you are touching on something interesting here. Hotel du Cap manages to be different things at the same time. It stands for elegance and glamour, but then again, the atmosphere can be quite casual and relaxed. The service level is, I would agree with you, sophisticated, but what guests feel most is the atmosphere of warmth and genuine kindness. The main building of the hotel represents heritage and tradition, but when the lights go on at the pool, it’s the most fashionable place you can think of. And it works together very well. Nothing is fake, it all comes naturally.
What will be your approach towards ensuring guests do not identify any differences between the owned properties and those which are only managed?
There are two answers to this question. First, we will not compromise on the quality of the hotels that we integrate into our portfolio. Second, we will seek out owning partners who share our values and our understanding of quality. That is the trick. Among partners, you need a perfect alignment on the very big questions: how to make business, how to treat people, how to act in good times and in bad. Finding the right property and the right partner may sound simple, but it is not.
How important is expansion for the Oetker Collection? Where do you see the biggest opportunities? (a particular city or region but also type of property – urban versus resort)
Let me put it this way: our primary objective is to do a really good job at what we do. If you are doing a very good job, opportunities present themselves. This is a global truth as I see it, and it defines my perspective on growth for Oetker Collection. I would like to push all of us to the best job we can. Our portfolio consists of nine hotels today and there will be more in the future. But as I outlined above, we will not participate in a race for growth.
We do not like compromises and we are aware that the values we stand for cannot be rolled out by pressing copy/paste. With regards to potential destinations that interest us, we realized that it makes most sense to follow the journey and travel pattern of our loyal guests. That can speak for city locations as well as for resorts, but it also means that we focus more on established travel destinations rather than stepping into completely undiscovered territory.
Post the Covid-19 epidemic, will consumer expectations change (if in any way) when it comes to luxury?
What I strongly believe is that people will appreciate time spent with their families and loved ones even more. Travelling not just for the sake of travelling, but to create meaningful connections. We will all ask ourselves twice if time spent in airports and planes is worth it. Another thing is pretty obvious for me: Corporate Social Responsibility will be a key component to tomorrow’s luxury hospitality. Luxury hotels must become good corporate citizens, and that is truer now than it ever was before. Expectations will be higher, and it is important to anticipate and meet them. Today, what’s good for the planet and people is good for business. It’s as simple as that.
What do you think is the ideal mix between ‘staying relevant while being desirable’?
I would say, forget about staying relevant, make sure you are desirable. I have no idea how many hotels exist in the world, but if your sole aim is to stay relevant, guests will go and stay somewhere else. What makes a place desirable can of course differ from one hotel to another, especially in the luxury industry. But creating strong desirability should drive us all when we get up in the morning.
As some countries are lifting their restrictions, what are your short and mid-term priorities?
Our short-term priority is to reopen our hotels in the weeks to come and make sure our guests and team members are safe and secure when they come back. It is quite frankly what keeps my mind busy these days. Once we overcome the immediate crisis, we will continue to write the journey of Oetker Collection.
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