Dorchester Collection: Small group, big plans
 
Dorchester Collection: Small group, big plans
01 JUNE 2012 6:29 AM

The London-based owner and operator of nine hotels is actively pursuing expansion in Asia, Europe and North America.

 NEW YORK—Growth is in the works for Dorchester Collection, a London-based owner and operator of nine luxury hotels.

The group is actively pursuing expansion in Asia, as well as in Europe and North America, said CEO Christopher Cowdray. The company will soon be opening its first China office in Shanghai, Cowdray said.

“We have many irons in the fire,” he said, declining to share further specifics.

The existing portfolio is confined to Europe and the United States.

While Dorchester Collection originally was formed as a management company, it only recently acquired its first management contract separate from an ownership position—for the Le Richemond in Geneva last year.

Otherwise, the group owns all of its other properties, including the latest addition, the 45-room 45 Park Lane in London, which opened last fall. Both U.S. hotels are in southern California: the Hotel Bel-Air and the Beverly Hills Hotel.

 

Christopher Cowdray, CEO of Dorchester Collection

While the collection does include a country estate, Coworth Park in Ascot, England, Cowdray said the focus is on iconic assets in gateway. “However, we did not want to pass on the opportunity to acquire Coworth Park because of it’s location near Heathrow and a number of major attractions,” he said.

The company sold the New York Palace in New York last year. At that time, the 813-room, 86-suite hotel no longer fit into the Dorchester portfolio because of its large size, Cowdray said.

Dorchester would be looking to regain a presence in New York “before too long,” he added.

Differentiating luxury
The company aims to distinguish itself from larger luxury brands in a number of ways, Cowdray said.

“Unlike some of our bigger competitors, which are driven by stock markets and having to provide dividends, we own our hotels and are privately owned. As a result we can insure that our service standards will be maintained,” he said.

The group is owned by the Brunei Investment Agency.

And considering the vintage nature of some of the properties, Dorchester has been out front with one initiative: its annual Fashion Prize, now in its third year. The prize awards £30,000 (approximately $47,000) to an up-and coming designer as chosen by a panel of celebrity experts.

“Our hotels are located in fashion capitals, and we want to identify with luxury brands in the fashion industry,” Cowdray said.

Another high priority for Dorchester, according to the CEO, is cuisine. The hotels have affiliations with celebrity chefs, such as Wolfgang Puck at the Bel-Air.

“We do operate our own restaurants, but depending on the circumstances, we have different partnerships with chefs,” he said.

Cowdray believes that luxury now breaks down into two approaches: true luxury companies like Rolls Royce on the one hand; and on the other companies “that aim to create the allure of luxury through branding and marketing. We believe true luxury has to be backed up with a high level of service, which is what will appeal to those who can discern what real luxury is.”

What Dorchester does have in common with other luxury brands is an increasing reliance on guests from emerging markets such as China, Russia and Brazil, which is one of the reasons for the opening of the Shanghai office.

Regardless of location, however, each hotel retains its individuality and personality, Cowdray said.

“If we have two hotels in the same city, they will be very different. We at headquarters drive overall strategy, standards and finances, while it’s up to the general managers to maintain that individuality,” he said.

Company management has not hesitated to invest heavily in its properties. The most prominent such investment was the closing for almost two years of the Hotel Bel-Air for a $100-million renovation and expansion; it reopened in 2011.

More recently:

  • The Beverly Hills Hotel is marking its 100th anniversary in 2012 with a restoration of its public spaces and guestrooms;
  • The Dorchester in London just unveiled 22 new suites in time for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and Olympic Games; and
  • a private Yquem dining room will open at Le Meurice in Paris with wines from the famed Chateau d’Yquem vineyards.

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