I’ve meet Josh Lesnick when he was the president and CEO of Associated Luxury Hotels, the parent company of Associated Luxury Hotels International (ALHI) and WorldHotels. He left the company to pursue other options. He is a 30-year-plus hospitality industry veteran !
Can you introduce WorldHotels?
We operate two businesses. First we have WorldHotels, which has a nice luxury and upper upscale group of hotels which is more business travel and leisure travel focused. We have about 350 hotels in that portfolio. Then we have a second business called ALHI, which is focused exclusively on the luxury MICE segment. We have 250 hotels in that portfolio. Between WorldHotels and ALHI, we have 600 hotels.
What we do is provide sales, marketing and distribution support. On the MICE side, it’s been primarily a US business, but we’re making a significant investment in Europe to expand our portfolio and add more sales people. All that is around luxury hotels. We run these two very different businesses, but the whole overarching vision of the company is to empower independent hotels—these hotels are usually meeting and incentive oriented or are small city hotels, and what we want to do is provide an alternative to joining a larger brand.
In Europe, we have about 150 hotels in the WorldHotels portfolio. WorldHotels is a German based company part of Steigenberger Trust. It’s 47 years old, so it’s an established business. We have a very strong presence in Paris, where we have around 9 beautiful hotels like the Juliana Hotel Paris. We have about 40% in Europe, 30% in Asia Pacific and 30% in the Americas. ALHI has predominantly been a brand in the Americas, but now we’ve got over 50 hotels in Europe, and there are a lot of luxury brands that are interested in joining us. There are many ex-Fairmont people, lot of big-brand high-end luxury people want to come work for us as well because it’s a lot more fun to work with independents.
I’m based in Boston, Massachusetts. We have a very large operation in Frankfurt, Germany, as well as an office in London and Paris. We have over 30 offices around the world.
How do you define the art of welcoming in your hotel?
What makes WorldHotels very special is that each hotel is very different. We group our hotels into 3 collections: Luxury Collection, Elite Collection, and Distinctive Collection. Our Luxury Collection brings together really iconic hotels in their market, but they can be small, even 30-room hotels. We just brought on the Monarch Beach Resort in Newport Beach, California, which is a magnificent and large 5-star hotel.
Each hotel is very different, and they’re very tied into their local communities. It’s really just about a distinctive local curated service, and that’s what people like about our brands. We’ve interviewed a lot of customers, and what they like about our WorldHotels is that each one is a little bit different. They all have a varied level of service. We’re putting in guest recognition systems so that even though they’re all independents, we know your profile and your preferences and they will be delivered to you in a very luxurious way local to that environment.
For the profiles, customers provide us with information to share. They join our program, which is called The List, and as they move around, we’re able to give the hotel information to serve them. The customers first sign up, and the hotels can also add interesting comments or preferences that a guest might have told them, so it creates a bit of a guest history. Obviously, we have strong data protection laws and privacy legislation and we follow GDPR, but it really allows our independent hotels, despite being independent, to really provide a more personalized, curated experience.
What are the most important goals or challenges for you in terms of customer experience for the coming year?
At the end of the day, luxury has changed a lot. It means a lot of different things to different people, whereas 20-30 years ago, it used to mean something formal. It used to be, “Here you go, we have 4 restaurants and 3 spas.” Today, it means something very different to people, especially to younger travelers who may want luxury. We talk about guilt-free travel, where you should be able to go, be very relaxed, but also have it be very intuitive and service-oriented. For us, it’s about how you communicate that it’s a luxury experience when it’s not as cookie-cutter and defined as it may have used to be.
What is your vision of sustainable development in your hotels?
Sustainable development is important in our hotels. All our hotels are independently operated, but what we found is that sustainable development is more and more important both to hoteliers and guests. It just has to do with good corporate and social responsibility to not only run a successful business but also take care of the people and the environment around you. It has become more and more important.
Even in the meetings and incentives space, when you think of a large meeting with a couple hundred people, they use a lot of energy, water and food, and they make a lot of waste. Hotels are becoming more creative and smart in how to make sustainability come into the meeting room.
What is your vision of digital technology in the hotel rooms?
Having great connectivity is important, but sometimes it’s too much. When I went back to my hotel room last night, I had almost 300 emails from the day. People are looking for great technology and great Wi-Fi, but they also want an ability to shut off and be present in the moment.
How important is wellness to your hotels?
It’s very much so. What you’re seeing is everyday life things like eating properly, wellness, mindfulness are making their way into business experiences and meetings, and obviously in leisure experiences. Great luxury hotels are incorporating opportunities to take care of that, especially wellness.
What is the most important part of WorldHotels to hoteliers?
For a hotelier, what WorldHotels is all about is revenue generation. We’re very focused on sales, distribution and support. We also provide an extremely high level of service and support for the hotelier. So even though we’re a soft brand and we don’t operate the hotels, we have an account manager for every 20 hotels who interfaces with the hotels around 3, 4, or 6 times a month to help them understand our sales programs and take advantage of them, do training, and provide revenue support and strategy. I think for soft brands, there’s no one who has that level of support. Most companies only do so with 1 person for every 100 hotels. Our people are very experienced; they’re all former general managers. They really work very closely with the hotels. The combination of a great sales force, great marketing and someone who’s there to help you when you need help is a great combination for success.
We do hundreds of events that connect General Managers with clients and General Managers with each other. Even though they’re independent, they want a community and they can share, collaborate, and exchange. It’s a very important part of what we offer.
Laurent Delporte, an editor and conference speaker, is a strategic expert in the sector of hotels. A visionary, he brings his unique look on hotels in service to the decision-makers in the industry, whether to enhance the development of new projects or strategic visions.
Laurent has visited and audited over 350 hotels across the world and also participates in mystery visits to provide quality control for the world’s finest hotels.