Meet a great entrepreneur : Stefan Leser – CEO of Langham

I met with the CEO of Langham Hotels during the ILTM show. I’ve stayed in a Langham Hotel in Shanghai: a beautiful hotel in the French Concession area of the city.

Where are Langham Hotels located, and what are the upcoming developments for the Langham Group?

Our mothership hotel in London opened in 1865. It was the first grand hotel in Europe, as people referred to it. It had innovative things like the first elevator in Europe. It’s a spectacular property. It’s right across the street from the BBC on Regent Street.

We have four hotels in the US we are building a fifth hotel in San Francisco. We have a new hotel coming in Tokyo in the next few years. We have more opening up in Asia. Jakarta is opening next year. We have a few hotels opening up in China within the coming years. We have more projects in Australia. We have hotels opening and operating in Sydney, Melbourne and a couple more cities.

Then we have a second brand called Cordis. I usually refer to it as our affordable luxury component. If you compare it on a brand perspective, it’s our Conrad or Westin type of brand. It’s more contemporary on a design language. They’re also bigger hotels; some of them have about 600 rooms. They have a strong wellness focus.

The founder of our company was a Hong Kong-based family business. It’s run by the Lo family. Our holding company for all the real estate is called Great Eagle, and it’s listed in the Hong Kong stock exchange. As a group, we own literally all of the properties except for some in China where we partnered and manage for other names.

We look for management contracts, but if you look through our portfolio we have a lot of iconic buildings. We have some heritage buildings. We have very good locations, and we’re looking for the right type of growth. The property needs to be the right one. I don’t want a B-location in, for instance, Paris. Buying it is the way to do it and have control over the property and the product.

What is the Langham group’s plan for Paris?

Because it’s such an important market for us as a destination, we would be willing to operate something as small as what we have in Sydney, where we have close to 100 rooms. The ideal target size is anything between 180 and 220, but for a city like Paris, I would be happy to operate something between 90 and 100 rooms.

I will not make a compromise on location, and I will not make a compromise on product. There are things out there that we can take over, but then they will be detrimental to our position. We’re a little bit of a well-kept secret in the industry. If you look through our portfolio, we’re actually a lot bigger in size than our reputation. Maybe that’s also the values of the founders in terms of deliver first and then start to talk about it. I guess now it’s time to talk about it.

We have a deep company culture. This is what we are. We are maybe too humble to a certain extent, but that’s how the family has grown the businesses. I think we improved the properties in place; we have also upgraded them. We spent a lot of money in renovating and putting the right product in the market. We obviously grow quite substantially in China. We’ve opened really spectacular products in locations you might not have ever heard of. I admit that sometimes I had to look up where those cities are, and then you might find out that there are 8-10 million people living there, quite also in affluent markets, and that is relevant for us. We’re not only serving it as a destination there but also then familiarizing that potential clientele with our brand so that when they travel either within China or abroad, we hope to make them fans of the Langham brand.

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