To the untrained eye, the three London hotels run by Maybourne Hotel Group CEO Stephen Alden look very similar. Yet the Connaught, Claridges and the Berkeley are in fact very different and this is reflected in the amount of cross-over between the brands: less than 5%.
‘We treat each as its own individual brand,’ Alden tells LS:N Global. ‘Claridges is for a sense of timeless glamour. The Connaught is for people who like to be under the radar. And the Berkeley is for people who like exquisite innovation, which really started with the Blue Bar.’
Despite the differences, however, there is a unified, defining philosophy. ‘The Maybourne values are authenticity, intuitiveness, individuality and responsibility,’ says Alden.
That authenticity was borne out when the Connaught’s ballroom was upgraded. Stripping the room back, workers found three different types of metal. It would have been easier and cheaper to work with what they found. But short cuts aren’t in Maybourne’s DNA. India Mahdavi, the interior designer hired by Alden to refurbish the ballroom, brought out the hotel’s archived photographs, and noted the vaulted ceilings and mirrored pilasters. Both have been restored to how they were originally intended.
As well as authenticity, Alden is master of the surprising collaboration. Recent partnerships include working with Chelsea Garden Show gold medallist Tom Stuart-Smith to turn the Connaught’s interior courtyard into, as Alden requested, ‘something guests will enjoy’. Jaguar chief designer Ian Callum helped create the XJ showroom at the Berkeley, celebrating the marque’s 75th anniversary and creating the first pop-up showroom in a hotel; while Dior head designer John Galliano produced an electric Christmas tree for Claridges.
Does all this attention to detail affect the bottom line? ‘Our economic model is industry-leading,’ says Alden. ‘Every hotel grew market share in 2009. We had 80% occupancy, with a healthy margin.’
This success isn’t only down to Alden’s collaborations, however. When he first joined, he looked at the business, and realised that although things were ticking along nicely, there was much be done.
‘We started with the low hanging fruit,’ says Alden. ‘To start with, the three hotels hadn’t exploited all the geographies they could get business from. We weren’t getting our fair share of guests from Asia, the Middle East and Central Europe. And the internet was being neglected.’
These were the first issues Alden addressed; at the time, the web made up 3% of bookings. ‘It’s now 6-7%, but it should 11-12%,’ says Alden.
It’s this attention to the back office that makes Maybourne work so well. ‘I believe we have the highest reservation conversion in the world, thanks to training technology and product knowledge,’ says Alden. One example is the company’s customer database, which has been purged from 350,000 to 140,000 and runs using customer relationship management (CRM) software.
But beyond sharing back of house systems, the hotels remain separate entities. ‘Synergies that translate into standardisation would destroy the model,’ says Alden. ‘That’s not what are guests want, or are prepared to pay a premium for.’
Hence, although there would be considerable savings if the hotel managers and chefs bought from the same suppliers, that would be a step too far. The house Champagnes, for example, are all different: Laurent-Perrier at Claridges, Ruinart at the Connaught and Veuve Clicquot at the Berkeley.
There’s plenty more news to come from Maybourne, some of it still under, as you can imagine, very delicate, well-designed wraps. As soon as LS:N Global is allowed to share, we’ll report it here.
Our top five take-outs
1: The new luxury consumer wants individuality, not standardisation.
2: Think beyond bean-counting. It pays in the long run, in terms of loyalty, differentiation, and consumer willingness to pay. ‘We could be much more profitable, but I want the business to be sustainable for the next 100 years,’ says Alden.
3: Used properly, technology is every service company’s friend, from back to front of house. After installing a system to help his concierge team, Alden was adamant that this wouldn’t reduce the time spent with guests. ‘I now want them to spend 30% more time with guests,’ he says.
4: Aim for exceptional, intuitive service that is friendly yet not servile. ‘It requires more training, but that training gives confidence,’ says Alden.
5: Collaborate with the best, to reflect your own brand in the best light. This is the reason that the Connaught’s spa is run by a another hotel company, Amanresorts. (It’s the Asia-based hotelier’s first footprint in Europe.) ‘We’re not going to let our ego get in the way [of offering the best],’ says Alden.