When the second Raffles Hotel, an iconic luxury hotel brand that dates back to 1884 was announced to open in Europe almost 3 years ago, (at the time it was owned by FRHI (Fairmont / Raffles / Swissotel) it completely took me by surprise first and most importantly because of the chosen location – Poland’s capital of Warsaw, the European capital city with some of the lowest rates for the five star hotels segment, predominantly targeting corporate travellers with rates as low as 90 euros nightly at over 80% of the city’s ‘five star’ ranked hotels.
Having conducted extensive research of the luxury markets in Central & Eastern Europe, CPP Luxury Industry Management Consultants LLC identified that the region is divided in two from the point of view of the profile of the luxury consumer: the ‘anglo-saxon’ wealthy customer profile (Hungary, Poland, Slovenia, Croatia, Czech Republic) who do not place value on luxury branded products and, similarly to most German or Swiss would rather make long term investment such as real estate (homes), ultra-luxury cars or collectors heritage arts and, on the rather opposite end ‘luxury addicted’ who value highly luxury branded products, many ready to spend credit to buy a piece of attire or a handbag (Russia, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Serbia and Romania).
Louis Vuitton operates in Warsaw one of its smallest stand-alone boutiques in the world, solely stocked with leather accessories – shoes and bags, while all the other luxury fashion brands are present in the Polish market through franchising or wholesale agreements – all deserted during my stay, although I visited both day-time and evening but also Saturday, traditionally a shopping day.
Raffles Europejski Warsaw, commonly known as Hotel Europejski (The European Hotel), is a historic luxury hotel which actually opened in 1857, earlier than Raffles Singapore, the global flagship of the brand and a luxury flagship property for Accorhotels‘ Luxury Brands (Luxe pole) portfolio, Raffles being THE leading brand in the luxury division of the French giant. However, the Raffles Warsaw project was signed by FRHI, 4 years ago – not that the Warsaw was any different in terms of being destination and the profile of those visiting Warsaw and locals was the same.
Situated along the Royal Route, the building which is undoubtedly located in the best location in Warsaw, was designed by famed Polish-Italian architect Enrico Marconi and has since been one of Warsaw’s architectural symbols. Badly damaged during World War II, it was systematically rebuilt at a great expense throughout the 1950s, reopening as a hotel in 1962.
Managed by Raffles Hotels & Resorts, reopened on June 1 st 2018 after a 4-year multi-million dollar investment which was allocated to the extensive renovations, reconstruction and restorations (the entire property was closed for the works. The hotel features THE finest ultra-luxury hotel rooms and suites in the city, a Polish Restaurant subtly blending fine dining with Polish traditional gourmet restaurant, a sophisticated Long Bar (a Raffles brand iconic venue, which was busy almost all-day long), a luxury Spa (co-branded by Sisley), and Humidor – an exquisite Cigar Lounge serving a wide selection of cigars and a sophisticated listing of spirits especially rare whiskeys and cognacs, as well as the Lourse Pâtisserie which was conceived as re-instating the old tradition of serving the finest hand-made sweets, teas, chocolate, cakes in Warsaw.
Mention should also be made that Raffles Warsaw’s only direct competitor, Le Bristol Warsaw (Luxury Collection managed by Marriott Intl) which is just across the road, however, their rates are at least 30% cheaper than those of Raffles which average EUR 300 euro on BB basis – a high-tier American Express card or corporate deal would bring down the rate to EUR 250 – this probably making Raffles Warsaw the cheapest Raffles Hotel branded hotel in the world.
The investment in the hotel, from furnishings, facilities, public spaces exceeds any newly opened Mandarin Oriental or Four Seasons. The owner has spared no expense in importing luxury branded Italian prestigious furnishings, lighting – not to mention the latest technology, for Wi-Fi, IpTV (UHD), centralised touch pads which control most of the room – DND, AC – the most quiet AC I have ever experience, lighting – not to mention details such as heated marble bathroom floors, the ideal water pressure in the shower, soundproofing both indoors and outdoors, as well as bespoke Blaise Mautin bathroom amenities of the finest quality (only select Park Hyatt properties carry it)
The beds at Raffles Warsaw exceed the quality of the Sofitel bed (Sofitel is an Accorhotels luxury brand) or Four Seasons‘ bespoke signature beds. The hotel has a partnership with BMW‘s latest 7 series with the interior leather discreetly embroidered with the Raffles logo.
At the time of my visit in September, I met the third GM of the hotel since opening. While it was always obvious even for the most unexperienced developer / investor that Warsaw cannot be turned overnight into a luxury destination by one hotel, they seem to have quietly accepted that any return on investment will be impossible, despite any communications, such as the fact that top intl luxury brands such as Hermes may one day rent a space at the back of the hotel, on the ground-floor – which would be insane for Hermes. He also included offices, oddly on the roof-top of the hotel, however, there are impeccable Class A offices within a 3 km radius at half the rent the owner is asking.
These series of paradoxes and the fact that Accorhotels stubbornly insists to run this hotel under Raffles and they have taken no decision whatsoever in 6 months, reflects their confusion regarding the actual DNA of many of their luxury brands. I had a similar odd experience last week at one of the flagship location of another luxury brand of the group (also recently acquired by Accorhotels)
Poland has been one of Accorhotels’ biggest markets in Europe after France, having entered the market very early, even with a direct investment. Through a joint-venture / partnership with Polish based Orbis Group , Accorhotels operates over 130 hotels in Central & Eastern Europe, most of them under franchising agreements, but there are a good number of directly owned properties. But the entire business is predominantly made up of economy and mid-level brands for many year the only ‘luxury brand’ being a Sofitel. The Sofitel Victoria Hotel in Warsaw which opened in 1976 is 5 minutes walk from Raffles Warsaw. The Sofitel has been conducting some renovations after many years of derelict.
All in all, this is a unfortunate situation because Accorhotels’ portfolio does not include any brand that could replace Raffles – not even the SBE lifestyle hotel brands – maybe Fairmont Hotels. Considering the very low awareness of the Raffles brand in Poland, the owner’s immediate solution would be to re-brand with another luxury hotel chain such as The Set Hotels, La Reserve Hotels, or Hilton (Waldorf Astoria or even Conrad). Similar ‘hotel giants’ such as Marriott Intl Luxury Brands are facing similar challenges – here is a recent analysis we conducted.
The biggest challenges under the present scenario, include the difficulty to attract regular corporate travellers to Warsaw at such room rates but also to engage and attract the local patrons, who still prefer the nearby Le Bristol where a cake or a coffee is up to 30% less than at Raffles Warsaw. Without the ‘seal ‘of the ‘old money’ clients who used to frequent The Europejski, the hotel will remain ‘disconnected’.
Despite the fact that my stay was quite close to the opening, service was reasonably good throughout all departments. It is widely known that the most talented customer-oriented Eastern Europeans prefer to work in the U.K or France, where they may cash in a much higher salary, that is why, although not obvious, the HR strategy is no short of challenges, not only to recruit but train an nurture talent. Breakfast was the only rather disappointing F&B experience – limited selection and robotic service.
The Raffles Spa features exclusive rejuvenating treatments using Aromatherapy Associates and Sisley products (the founders of Sisley were a Polish native family that migrated to Paris – 1976) blending Asian, Middle Eastern and European traditions. There are lavish six treatment rooms as well as a VIP suite which offers treatments for couples who want to share a unique experience of relaxation together. The contemporary art which is part if the DNA of Raffles Europejski Warsaw creates a feast for the eyes in the SPA, with a mosaic from the 1960s by Krystyna Kozłowska called “Abduction of Europa”, which epitomises the subtle luxury of the surroundings. I enjoyed a signature massage with an excellent therapist that closely followed all protocols. I also enjoyed the unique experience shower.
Two of the Raffles Hotel brand inherent DNA components are also reflected at Raffles Warsaw – the connectivity with Arts and writing. There is a coherent collaboration with Polish contemporary artists throughout the public spaces, but also the signature suites, hallways and the Spa.
Some examples of inconsistency of the RAFFLES HOTELS brand which I am sure Accorhotels is working to improve:
Raffles Istanbul is housed within an ultra-modern building 30 mins from downtown as part of an upscale shopping mall – with the owner of Zorlu Mall having imposed every single detail. The hotel opened with a Michelin star rated Spanish Chef, however, last year it was shut down, to be replaced by a locally developed concept.
Raffles Dubai stands in a Pyramid shaped building in a location which used to be upscale when it opened – today, it is outside the ‘prime zone’, not to mention that the hotel is in urgent need of renovations. The restaurant is also a locally developed concept.
Le Royal Monceau, Raffles Paris occupies a stunning heritage building, however, the choice by the owners of Philippe Starck to decorate the entire hotel is now reflecting a rather dated interior design (except the high-end suites). I discovered identical interior design pieces, lighting fixtures, striking decors, bed linen and even public spaces at the inferiorly ranked JW Marriott South Beach, Singapore – which is no longer mentioning Starck as the interior designer so they are not ‘too luxury positioned”. With the approval of Starck, the hotel is also implementing some ‘redesigns’, however, rooms and bathrooms still feel 99% Starck
It is actually this striking Starck interior design which has been ‘challenging’ its luxury positioning, being widely accepted in the industry that a highly design-driven product ages much faster, i.e. bright coloured leathers . Thanks to an extremely talented GM at the hotel and Katara’s Hospitality’s continued investment, the hotel also had the most sensible idea to open Nobu’s Matsuhisa branded restaurant which was a tremendous success from day one and continues to be.
Oliver Petcu in Warsaw
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