Hotelier of the week: Arnaud de Saint-Exupéry

Arnaud de Saint-Exupéry, general manager for Andaz Liverpool Street, London, shares his thoughts on the the evolution of a global brand for the modern business traveller, in London’s East End.

Andaz Liverpool Street opened in 2007…

Yes, Andaz as a brand was created about four years ago, with the launch of this property. The brand is new for Hyatt and goes alongside the luxury brands of Hyatt, called Park Hyatt. We felt in the marketplace there was a missing segment. You had the luxury segment, where everything was about service, standards, diversity and attention to detail, but with a lot of tradition how the delivery of the service was mentioned. On the other side of the spectrum you had the boutique segment, which was not as attentive to the five-star standards and the detailed service, but where you had a strong emphasis on the relationship between guests and employees. We felt, after talking with a lot of our clients worldwide, that there was a sophisticated clientele looking for five-star service but with much more simple, less formal, delivery, with more engagement between the guests and the employees. That’s why we decided to go for a new brand called Andaz.

Andaz has a meaning. Andaz is a hindi word which means personal style. We wanted to be closer to our guests. So when launching Andaz, we have basically removed a lot of the formalities that you find in hotels. For example, if you look at the lobby, which we call the lounge, you don’t have any reception desk. We don’t have any uniforms. We don’t have any name badges. We took away all the barriers the guest and the employees. We wanted the human touch to be at the centre of the equation. We wanted to welcome a guest, not to process a guest.

How was Liverpool Street chosen as the first hotel for the brand?

It was a challenge initially, because we are in a very traditional part of London, the City. But what we found is that the people who are looking for the Andaz type of experience are in fact the very traditional people. When you are a banker and you are working hard every day on figures, and you are very strict in what you do, in the evening you want relax somewhere without formalities, somewhere you are encouraged to take off your business suit and become yourself. Our job is to open you to a creative universe, by striking a different relationship, such as with a piece of art, opening your imagination.

So London’s city district somehow shaped the Andaz brand?

Absolutely. We are very lucky to have this beautiful hotel, which we bought, and we decided that it was a perfect fit for launching this brand, not only because of the product itself, but also because of the clientele in the area – very high end travellers who stay more than 100 times a year in a hotel. Because they were staying so much in hotels, we knew they were looking for a different kind of experience, but with a high standard of service.

I imagine over the past few years, the brand has evolved and matured – what have been some of the changes over the past 5 years?

The changes were very much the way we were managing people. We wanted to make sure the success didn’t just come from the changes in the product that we did – removing a bar, removing the reception desk – but in appointing the right people. We wanted staff who were able to be themselves and not an employee in front of the guests, to be an entrepreneur. They had to be able to adapt to every single guest. That is a very different philosophy, I would say, in managing a hotel. In fact, if you look at all the guest feedback you have from this property and the rest of the properties in the world, they don’t talk about the product. We have a beautiful product, but the guests often talk about being engaged with a particular employee. The fine tuning over the past years was not in the way of seeing the brand, or the concept, but in adapting the management style to reflect this authentic hospitality in the way the employees were behaving every day.

Is the future of the luxury experience in staff and service?

Absolutely. I believe the industry has changed. A few years ago the frequent travellers were looking for the same room everywhere in the world. Today they are looking for a hotel which will reflect your locality. After this hotel we opened Los Angeles, then San Diego, Wall Street in New York, Fifth Avenue in New York and most recently the Andaz in Shanghai. At every single Andaz a key objective is to reflect your local atmosphere, not just by the design but by the way you interact with the local community. Every single Andaz is trying to create some experiences which will be inspired by local people that live nearby.

Authentic hospitality is fundamental to the future of the hotel industry. Guests are looking for a global experience, but one where they can really feel at home. The world today is difficult, with an economic climate that is not that easy. So your job as a hotelier is to provide them with a window of relaxation, to escape from the daily life and make sure that when they come here they have no problem with the service, and they are also able to have human contact – engage, and relax.

How do you find it when you take on new staff? Does it take some time to train them in the Andaz way?

Most of the staff that work here don’t come from a hotel school. London is so international, that we can have people from all around the world. That is the beauty of this city, that you need to reflect in this hotel. Every employee starting here goes through an induction process. The biggest part of that is about this concept of Andaz, making sure that they have the confidence to be an entrepreneur. We then have a lot of coaching, which is key, to become a bit more able to do what we want. The personality of the people we employ, especially for front of house staff, is more important than their background.

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