Grace Hotels exhibits strength under fire
The luxury hotel owner and operator’s first hotel opened in 2007. One global economic meltdown and 12 hotels later, the group shows no signs of slowing down.
LONDON—When the Logothetis family decided in 2003 to diversify the holdings under its Libra Group shipping company into other sectors, the timing seemed particularly ripe to make the leap into hospitality. Economic fundamentals were strong; hotel demand was high; and all signs pointed to continued growth.
Indeed, the group’s first hotel, the Grace Santorini, opened at the peak of the market in 2007—mere months before the global economy fell off a cliff as steep as the one on which the hotel was positioned overlooking Greece’s Cyclades Islands.
The Grace Santorini’s foundation held strong, as did the luxury property’s performance and parent Libra Group’s financial backing.
That resolve contributed to exponential growth for the luxury boutique owner and operator Grace Hotels, which now counts 12 hotels open or under development in its global portfolio.
“The group has expanded to North America and Asia with the opening of The Vanderbilt Grace and Grace Beijing, respectively, and will soon be present on five continents following the recent opening of Grace Cafayate in northern Argentina, together with the arrival of Grace Panama and Grace Marrakech in early 2014,” said CEO Philippe Requin via email.
The past few months have proven particularly fruitful. Grace
first acquired the Mayflower Grace and the White Barn Grace to bolster the group’s footprint in New England. The fully operating hotels will undergo a gradual refurbishment and officially will relaunch as parts of the Grace brand this year.
That move was followed by the purchase of the Les Terres M’Barka in North Africa, which will re-open as the Grace Marrakech, and the La Margna hotel in St. Moritz, Switzerland, which will re-open as Grace St. Moritz toward the end of 2015. Grace then announced a collaboration with polo and lifestyle brand La Dolfina, which will see the development of the La Dolfina Grace outside Buenos Aires.
And most recently, the company announced the Grace Kalamata, a 125-room hotel in Peloponnese, Greece. The property, which will include up to 40 residential villas, is slated to open in 2017.
“Our expansion plans include more sites in the Americas and Europe as well as in Asia and are a combination of city hotels and resorts,” Requin said.
There are seven hotels in the pipeline, including the Mayflower and White Barn. Funding for all seven has come primarily from parent company the Libra Group, which has owned every hotel the brand has opened thus far, he explained.
“We are fortunate that we have a parent company with substantial resources which enables us to execute our business development plans in a timely and efficient manner,” Requin said.
Expansion comes through a mix of acquisition and development, although going forward the group could diversify its model through third-party management.
“It depends on the location, surroundings and concept of each hotel and how they will complement the Grace Hotels portfolio,” the CEO said.
There is no end target or aim for expansion, he said. “Each opportunity to acquire or manage a hotel is carefully assessed on its merits so we don’t let the notion of an ideal ‘quota’ for our hotels compromise individual negotiations.”
A unique portfolio
Requin is clear in his assertion that Grace Hotels is a bonafide brand, although the group eschews the standards that are often hallmarks of its flag-waiving competitors.
“Grace Hotels is different from competitors as it is not a ‘chain’ of hotels in the conventional sense. We do not roll out a fixed architectural and stylistic formula at each location. On the contrary, we make sure that each Grace hotel offers discerning guests a wholly authentic expression of its locality—from classic whitewashed seafront properties in the Greek islands, to a ranch-style property high in the wine-growing region of northern Argentina, to an ultra-modern tower in the heart of Panama, to the ‘industrial chic’ of Beijing’s iconic ‘798’ art district.
“Similarly, every menu at a Grace hotel represents a modern twist on regional cuisine, using locally sourced ingredients wherever possible,” he said.
The consistent thread is service befitting the needs and expectations of the luxury traveler.
“Whilst each hotel is unique and an expression of its locality, our high service standards are consistent throughout the group, delivered thanks to clearly structured training,” Requin said.
That comes in the form of a month-long immersion of the groups’ director of training and quality assurance with each new hotel. Such intense, on-property training is the only way to ensure service standards remain consistent, he said.