WELCOME TO THE INDEPENDENTLY MINDED MOVEMENT
Small Luxury Hotels of the World’s diverse range of hotels are united by their independently minded attitude. Jacob Howie explains the secret ingredients that go into curating this international movement.
Like all styles and fashions, the luxury travel industry evolves. What was once the latest fad is now left for dust, making way for the newer, fresher interpretation of what it means to experience luxury. From gold trimmings to fine dining, the taste of the savvy traveller changes, but there is a clear rule that supersedes any trend: independence.
That’s where luxury hotel brand Small Luxury Hotels of the World has found its widespread niche – in offering luxury seekers an eclectic portfolio of luxury hotels around the world that provide an independently minded authenticity. “It can be hard to define luxury, as it means different things to different people,” says SLH CEO Filip Boyen. “To some, luxury is extravagance or the latest styles or the best brands; but after really looking into our brand and the people we work with to create unforgettable experiences, luxury all boils down to one thing – choice.”
No words could be truer in today’s travel climate. Gone are the days where a 10-night stay in a generic hotel would suffice. The cookie-cutter travel experience of a package deal seems somewhat naff to those seeking true, personalised luxury, and SLH has carved out a unique brand of hotels that ensures each traveller can be provided with the luxury of choice. “We offer over 500 hotels in more than 80 countries,” says Boyen. “While that’s a choice of locations and countries, the real choice begins when you’re on property. Our hotels are independently owned and operated, so a small detail that makes the world of difference is easily executed, as the staff are really entrenched in the ethos that small hotels really do deliver bigger experiences.”
The SLH portfolio is truly impressive, with a dizzying range of exceptional hotels that would leave even the most dubious traveller with severe wanderlust. Here are some of the secret ingredients to what makes the team at SLH the mavericks of the independently minded movement.
QUALITY IS KEY
Quality is always a non-negotiable expectation in luxury travel, but no other brand has mastered the craft quite like SLH. Rather than relying on an initial once-over when obtaining a new hotel, SLH has enforced a strict quality assurance programme that sees mystery inspectors frequently visiting the hotels to ensure standards are consistently high. After their stay, they report back to the team with a zero-bars-held policy. The brand has managed to evolve its quality assurance programme with the independently minded movement. “It has changed a great deal for us in the last two years, and we’ve had to re-focus our inspection procedures to be able to capture what an independently minded product is all about,” says SLH’s Director of Quality Assurance, Silje White.
But how do they do this? Well, the answer is simple. The mystery inspectors explore not only what’s inside the hotel, but also what opportunities lie beyond the hotel’s four walls. On top of this, the programme focuses on aspects such as personal engagement by hotel staff and how authentic and local the experience feels. Sure, you’ll see flawless floral arrangements and the floors will be sparkling with cleanliness, but this model goes above and beyond by really breaking down to the heart of a hotel, and how it uses that heart to deliver an independently minded experience that leaves competitors in the dust.
THE MORE YOU STAY, THE BETTER IT GETS
Most people have a wallet full of loyalty cards that largely go unused, each one promising to deliver the world when they barely offer a penny’s difference. SLH’s newly re-branded Invited loyalty programme has one simple rule – the more you stay, the better it gets. “Simplicity is the key to Invited. We have simply listened to what our members want from a loyalty programme and we are providing it,” says Amanda Auld, Director of Loyalty. “It gets better with each stay because we take note of your preferences to provide you with an even more personalised experience. We have created a programme that builds a relationship with members rather than treating them all as a big, faceless group of ‘followers’.”
The heart of Invited is the individual traveller. The benefits are separated into three tiers – Invited, Inspired and Indulged – with each taking the loyalty offerings up a notch. While all of the exclusive privileges given to Invited members are designed to make each stay more comfortable, SLH actively seeks personal preferences from each member. “We provide you with your preferences, such as your favourite room type, early check-in, late check-out and a sumptuous breakfast, as well as a range of opportunities for our members to receive complimentary room nights. We’ll also add surprise special touches along the way to make everyone feel truly Invited.”
A ZEST FOR INDEPENDENCE
“Without an innovative, forward-thinking development team, we couldn’t go to the places we want to go. It’s as simple as that,” says Boyen. But what is it about development that can really change SLH? Well, it’s everything – the hotels are what make the brand come to life. Browsing through their offerings, it’s clear to see every effort has been made to capture the most independently minded properties in the world. We’re talking historic palatial retreats owned by the same family for generations. Cutting-edge modern design in a vineyard setting. Quirky city centre hotels with more “je ne sais quoi” than you could throw a stick at. And a number of traditional properties with a flair for the finer things.
“We’re not signing bricks and mortar into SLH – hoteliers and owners are at the heart of our brand. We are a growing family of individuals, of kindred-spirits,” says SLH’s Director of Development, Daniel Luddington. This could be the most potent ingredient to the success of SLH’s new vision, as it captures the essence of the new brand ethos: a community of independent minds with a zest for life. With each year comes the addition of boundary-shattering properties that further establish the brand as a force to be reckoned with.
This evolution has been happening since the brand’s inception, but with internal changes shaking the company up in recent years, the independently minded movement is now in full swing. To capture the sentiment of the movement, SLH has created an immersive virtual reality experience to bring the brand to life for hotel staff, industry partners and customers. SLH’s Brand and Marketing Vice President Tim Davis says this was the clear way forward. “We know we’re independently minded as we work with these vibrant hotels every day, so we can see how these luxury properties really provide a tailor-made version of luxury. We just wanted to ensure we could immerse everyone involved, to wake them up to the reality that the heyday of run-of-the-mill experiences is over and the independently minded movement is where the industry is going.”
The video was filmed at key SLH hotels – the theatrical country house of Dar Ahlam in Morocco, the chic city centre retreat of Nimb in Copenhagen, and around the exclusive resort of Mallorca’s Cap Rocat. “Within these three distinctive, varied properties is the heart of SLH – a completely independently minded hotel with a common thread of excellence. Our brand’s style is consistently inconsistent, but you will find a welcomed assurance that each and every property will provide those special touches created specifically for you,” says Davis. The virtual reality piece has been designed to give the viewers an immersive experience that showcases the tip of the independently minded luxury iceberg that is the SLH brand. It’d take years to visit each and every one of the hotels, so it’s refreshing to see SLH bring a piece of the hotels to the viewer to showcase the independently minded movement.
What’s next for SLH? “World domination,” says Boyen, laughing. He may be joking, but he’s also not far away from the truth. In a world of OTAs that will take on each and every cupboard with space for a mattress, there’s never been a more crucial time for a brand that relies on quality. Many travellers have given up on quality to the current “cross-your-fingers-it’s-not-a-hell-hole” mentality that plagues them when booking hotels. SLH is the loophole that allows travellers to brazenly book without scrolling through countless TripAdvisor ratings. The legwork has been done by the team at SLH, so all travellers need to do is show up ready for the holiday of their lives. What’s more, the independently minded movement is creating a culture of authenticity, where hotels can cater to your personal preferences in a genuine way. The crux of the independently minded movement is to create a place where people listen and provide, helping you live an independent lifestyle that is uniquely your own. “Everyone’s invited to join us,” says Boyen. It sounds like a plan. So, who’s in?
This article was brought to you by Small Luxury Hotels of the World; check out SLH Sessions on the main stage of the show floor during the networking breaks for incredible performances all week!