The Viceroy Vibe

Nick Clayton

 

Viceroy Hotel Group is on a roll. This Spring, it opens the to-die-for Viceroy Maldives with 61 villas (32 are over the water) and it’s about to announce a deal for a New York City hotel. A Viceroy in Istanbul opens this year; Viceroy Bodrum, Turkey debuts in 2014.

This comes on the heels of a successful year when its portfolio of hotels—which include properties under the Viceroy and Tides brands in Anguilla, St. Lucia, Miami, Mexico, Palm Springs, Snowmass and its newest addition, the Yas Viceroy Abu Dhabi, its first property in the Middle East—have all garnered consistent praise from consumer publications and websites.

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Travel agents should also be on the lookout for further commitment to their distribution channel, as Viceroy forms its first luxury travel advisory board in acknowledgement of how much sway the distribution arm has over the market.

“In the leisure market, consumers make selections based on influence, word of mouth, what they read and a lot of other factors. The sway and the influence that the top-end travel agent community can have on our hotels are huge,” Nicholas Clayton, president of Viceroy Hotel Group tells Luxury Travel Advisor. Clayton, who has been with the company for five years, has also made a firm commitment to travel advisors by hiring Cheryl Bennett as vice president of travel industry sales, who hails from The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company. (See sidebar.)

What Clayton is aiming to do with Viceroy is to build a brand that delivers all of the benefits of an established, large, luxury hotel company, such as gracious and consistent service, and combine it with the perks of a smaller, boutique hotel company with entrepreneurial, edgy ways that enable it to have, say, a nightclub in its Miami property or a DJ playing out by the pool in its Santa Monica location.

 

Viceroy Hotel Group

CEO: Brad Korzen

President: Nicholas Clayton

VP Travel Industry Sales: Cheryl Bennett

Viceroy Hotels & Resorts Portfolio: Abu Dhabi, Anguilla, Beverly Hills, Bodrum, Maldives, Miami, Palm Springs, Santa Monica, Snowmass

Website: www.viceroyhotelgroup.com

 

 

“Why can’t you have both?” he says. “Let’s let our hair down every once in a while and have fun, because not everyone appreciates the formal and stuffy nature of some hotels.”

Clayton is no stranger to the well-established luxury brands. His career has taken him through enviable leadership positions with Ritz-Carlton, Four Seasons and Mandarin Oriental, where he honed his executive skills on both the operational side as well as the development aspect of the hotel business. He’s just as comfortable opening a new resort, with all of the challenges it brings, as sorting through the opportunities of spotting potential brand locations in Europe and Asia, and then easing the way to getting the hotel opened.

The luxury hotelier actually had every intention of being a stockbroker as he studied finance and business administration in college. The thing is, though, he was promoted five times at his jobs at the two Four Seasons in the Dallas area, where he worked as he went through school. By the time he graduated, the markets had cooled down and jobs in the financial world weren’t as enticing as they had been. He decided to take his hotel experience to Ritz-Carlton, which at that point, had only seven hotels. The company at the time was identifying those with leadership qualities and promoting them quickly through the ranks.

 

Advisor Insight:

Nicholas Clayton and Cheryl Bennett
Nicholas Clayton and Cheryl Bennett visited New York recently to spend time with luxury travel advisors in the area.

Viceroy Hotel Group made a firm commitment in 2009 to the luxury travel advisor community when it appointed Cheryl Bennett to the role of vice president, travel industry sales to manage its business with wholesale and retail travel agencies and marketing consortia, as well as to form a strong travel industry foundation for its new hotels. Bennett at the time had more than 10 years of management and senior-level experience with the travel advisor community, including the role of regional director of travel industry sales at The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company.

On the business side, Bennett ensures that the Viceroy Hotel Group’s national sales team is accessible to travel advisors 24 hours a day via e-mail, cellphone and Twitter. In addition, each agent has a direct link to the general manager and hotel contacts.

Viceroy has also implemented a direct-booking guarantee where if an agent’s client books directly, it informs the agent and protects his commission. It has also implemented a private sales policy where it informs the travel agent community 72 hours prior to a sale going live.

Bennett and her team also launched a Luxury Travel Coordinator Service Desk, which handles concierge requests as well as hotel room reservations. This desk is a “one-stop shop” concept that prevents them from having to call multiple departments to resolve an issue.

“It is rewarding to be part of an organization where the travel agents’ best interests are always kept in the forefront of every sales decision. We will continue to build trust and provide innovative solutions so our travel partners will find it easy to do business with Viceroy Hotel Group,” Bennett tells Luxury Travel Advisor.

Since Bennett came onboard, she’s ensured that travel agent events for Viceroy are focused on giving back. Case in point: In Las Vegas in 2011, while attending Virtuoso Travel Mart, Viceroy hosted an event at the local Boys & Girls Club, where luxury travel advisors and Viceroy employees built easels, cleaned and organized their library, as well as painted and donated artwork to other Boys & Girls Clubs in tornado-stricken areas. Recently, Bennett arranged a series of “Style Your Sole” events in New York, Connecticut and New Jersey, partnering with Toms Shoes.

For every pair of shoes Viceroy purchased for its travel agent partners, a pair of shoes went to a child in need. For more on Viceroy, see page 47.

 

 

“I was also willing to travel, so that made it easier,” says Clayton, who found himself over the course of 13 years handling nine top assignments; his first gig as a general manager was at The Ritz-Carlton, Mauna Lani on the Big Island of Hawaii.

“I was 32, it had 550 rooms, a couple golf courses and it was quite a big responsibility,” he recalls. Other roles led him to Marina del Rey in Los Angeles, Sydney and Singapore where The Ritz-Carlton, Millenia was frequently recognized for outstanding customer service and overall quality.

After 13 years with Ritz-Carlton, Clayton began talks with Mandarin Oriental, which was expanding through Asia and Europe at the time. Exiting his career with Ritz was not an easy choice, especially since they weren’t that keen on his leaving. As he weighed the pros and cons of making a move, Clayton says his acquaintances asked him some compelling questions.

“They said, ‘What do you know about Asia?’ and I said, ‘Well, I have been in Singapore for three years, I know a little bit, but not everything.’ They said, ‘What do you know about Europe?’ and I said, ‘Well, I like Europe a lot, I don’t know everything about it.’ They said, ‘Okay, so those are the things that you don’t know. The key question is what do you know about Ritz-Carlton?’ and I said, ‘Everything,’ and they said, ‘That’s the answer to your question. Because if you want to grow, if you want to learn, then change, change and hopefully it’s a calculated change and hopefully it’s a good decision.’ ”

The move unleashed some exciting times for Clayton, who became Mandarin Oriental’s senior vice president of operations. In Europe, he and his team worked in Munich, Geneva and London and did pre-opening work for Prague and Barcelona. They renovated nearly the entire portfolio in Asia, signed deals for Tokyo, for Hainan in China and for a second hotel in Macau. Along the way, he and his team added operational structure to the portfolio.

After six years with Mandarin Oriental, he was approached very persistently by someone about the Kor Group, so on a trip to the U.S., Clayton met with the management.

“I saw what they were doing, I saw these cleverly done four-star boutique hotels, which I thought were really smart and which I really appreciated.” But, bottom line, Clayton felt it didn’t really fall into place with what he had been doing thus far in his career.

“And then I saw the plans for Anguilla and I saw the advanced stages for Miami. At the time Snowmass was on the radar and there were a few other projects in the works and I could see that there was real potential here,” says Clayton, who observed as well that the company was recruiting others from the luxury hotel arena for positions in development and finance. It seemed like another change that would create a learning capability.

“I said okay, and I jumped off the precipice again to kind of create something from nothing,” he says. That was in 2006; since then, what was the Kor Hotel Group changed its name to Viceroy Hotel Group as an umbrella company for the sister hotel brands that formerly fell under Kor, Viceroy Hotels & Resorts, The Tides and Urban Retreats.

Three years ago, Viceroy got a cash infusion when Mubadala Development Company, a wholly owned investment vehicle of the Government of Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates became a 50 percent partner in its management company. “They bought half the management company with a view to make the next edgy Four Seasons,” says Clayton. “They like Four Seasons and the principle of Four Seasons in the way of quality, but I think no one wants to be so conservative. People want surprises, they don’t want predictability as much. They want predictability in the service but not in the spaces, the spaces have to be more exciting.”

Along those lines, Viceroy this year plans to do a full renovation of L’Ermitage Beverly Hills to make the public spaces more dynamic and to blend its outdoor areas with its interiors. It’s hired Joseph Elevado as its next chef. Elevado trained under Nobu Matsuhisa.

It’s no secret that Viceroy Anguilla, known for its unique design, has been a home run in the Caribbean since it opened two years ago, garnering top dollar from a loyal guest list that hails in large part from the affluent Northeastern markets in the U.S. The fledgling resort has already gotten another cash infusion that has stepped up the look of the public spaces and added on more family-friendly facilities, such as a basketball court, a rock climbing wall and a new tennis pavilion. A clifftop deck with daybeds has also been added.

Meanwhile, the Viceroy Miami, which opened just months earlier than Anguilla, gets reviews on Trip Advisor that call it the coolest hotel the guest has ever stayed in; it’s also praised for its luxury accommodations and service. The hotel is also home to the VIP-style nightclub, Club 50.

By all appearances, it looks as if the new Maldives resort opening this Spring will have a similar vibe to Anguilla, thanks to its focus on a high level of service and its unique villas. Complementing this resort is the architecturally unique Yas Viceroy Abu Dhabi, which is a true showpiece for the brand. Having these two hotels, in Asia and the Middle East, will give Viceroy the chance to expand further into those regions.

Europe is definitely an arena for expansion, says Clayton. In fact, Viceroy was chosen to be the operator of the new Bebeköy development in Istanbul, Turkey. The Viceroy Istanbul, a luxury urban resort featuring both five-star hotel and long-term residential services, is scheduled to open in September 2012 and will mark Viceroy Hotel Group’s first European property. Viceroy, in partnership with Safir Grup of Bodrum, will open the Viceroy Bodrum, a luxury resort and real estate property in southwestern Turkey on the Bodrum Peninsula. Set to open in 2014, Viceroy Bodrum’s accommodations will range in size from 470 square feet to 2,050 square feet.

The U.S. remains an attractive venue for new openings; in fact, when Luxury Travel Advisor spoke with Clayton, he indicated that an opportunity in Manhattan for a “four-star urban retreat” was imminent.

 

Viceroy anguilla
Viceroy anguilla has an edgy design that adds to its mystique.

The rest of the country is up for grabs as well, however, Viceroy isn’t looking to expand for the sake of expansion. “Things come up in Chicago, things come up in Boston, but it’s all about whether the developer has the panache, the finance, the backing and the wherewithal to get it done,” he says.

One reason why we may be seeing more Viceroy hotels is that “We provide a fresh new brand where the market is saturated,” says Clayton.

So far, Clayton is pleased with the progress Viceroy has enjoyed in the public eye and he’s excited about its future.

“I look between Travel + Leisure and Condé Nast and I think our hotels do pretty well. We see a good percentage of our portfolio having some degree of recognition, which is really good to see. That’s what my attraction to Viceroy is and that’s what guides my focus on it going forward because I think we have been crawling and walking, and now we are starting to jog.”

 

The Viceroy Maldives
The Viceroy Maldives will have overwater bungalows.

 

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