|Growing Luxury: Frank Marrenbach, CEO of The Oetker Collection, says the company would like to have hotels in New York, Rome, Hong Kong, Singapore and Shanghai. He is shown here at Brenners Park Hotel & Spa in Baden-Baden, one of the nine “Masterpiece” hotels in the existing portfolio.|
It’s a quiet evening at Le Bristol Paris where Frank Marrenbach, CEO of the Oetker Collection, the German-based company which owns the five-star “Palace-level” hotel, is having a quiet dinner alone, a rare event for a busy executive with nine ultra-luxury hotels around the world. But Marrenbach is savoring the moment, listening to a young woman playing the piano, an authentic French song but with a modern twist. “It created a real sense of peace,” says Marrenbach. “I didn’t look at my iPad. I didn’t look at my iPhone. I just sat there. It was a moment of luxury.”
This defining moment captures what the hotels in the Oetker Collection are all about; embracing a unique quality of place to present a superb experience in a subtle manner. “Our saying is that luxury doesn’t shout at you; it whispers at you,” says Marrenbach, who has led the company since 2008.
The Lanesborough London, known for its high-profile guests; its 24-hour butler service and its enviable position at Hyde Park Corner near Buckingham Palace and Knightsbridge, has a similar quality to its sister, Le Bristol Paris, but all in a most British manner. Managing Director Geoffrey Gelardi, who opened the hotel in 1991, told us in a cover story profile in January 2011 that, “In opening The Lanesborough, we wanted a quintessentially English hotel but without the pompous British attitude.” The Lanesborough reopened in July following a massive 18-month renovation that retained its Regent style but added volumes of painstaking details of craftsmanship. It’s the newest member of the Oetker Collection, which won the management contract for the prestigious property in 2014.
Marrenbach said the Oetker Collection was approached by The Lanesborough’s owners to operate the hotel; they said they felt Oetker “could best manage individuality.”
The opportunity to bring such an iconic property in to its fold was irresistible: “It is not just ‘a hotel’ in London. It’s one of ‘the hotels’ in London,” says Marrenbach. “Plus, it went under total renovation under Alberto Pinto, the great Parisian firm; they have redone everything. We are entrusted with an iconic hotel which reopens fully refurbished and renovated.”
The hotel in its new glory will have that Oetker Collection touch; Florian Favario has been named executive chef at The Lanesborough London. He is the protégé of Eric Frechon, the three Michelin-starred chef who has been at Le Bristol since 1999 (his Epicure restaurant there consistently takes first place in global restaurant rankings). Plans are for cuisine at Céleste to be “fundamentally French; modern, imaginative and tinged with international influences.”
More on the Horizon
While The Lanesborough move was big news for the luxury hotel world, it reflects a momentum of a three-year expansion for the privately held Oetker Collection, which owns four grand dame hotels outright: Brenners Park-Hotel & Spa in Baden-Baden, Germany since 1923; Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc in Cap d’Antibes, France since 1969; Le Bristol Paris since 1978; and Chateau Saint-Martin & Spa in Vence, France (Provence) since 1994.
In 2012, the company took on the management of the new Palais Namaskar in Marrakech. Fregate Island Private joined the group in July 2013 and L’Apogée Courchevel in the French Alps in December 2013. Eden Rock - St Barths joined the Oetker Collection in April 2014; the company co-owns the posh Caribbean resort.
The hotels set the landscape for ultra-affluent guests around the world who pay an average rate of 1,000 euros a night.
There is definitely more to come. Marrenbach told us that the company has a scout on the ground keeping a steady eye on New York, Rome, Hong Kong, Singapore and Shanghai. He noted, however, that even though Asia is on the horizon, the Oetker Collection is “Eurocentric. We can relate to the American mentality. We feel comfortable here. We can speak the language. We knew our way around. We have a good network. This is how we want to do it.”
|The Lanesborough London has just reopened after a massive renovation that included a re-do of its public spaces, rooms and suites.|
The company is owned by the Oetker family, whose fortunes originated when Dr. August Oetker invented baking powder in Germany in 1891; over time the Oetker Group diversified into food products, beverages, sea transport and grand hotels. Their love of their hotels keeps them close to management, who, in turn, keeps close to staff to ensure the family ethos of a very high level of service is adhered to.
Because of that private ownership, the company doesn’t have to prove a constant robust growth to appraising Wall Street analysts. For that reason, Marrenbach and his team are quite willing to turn away an opportunity that simply doesn’t fit the portfolio. “You’re only as good as your last big decision. You can have done many things right and then you make a major mistake, and you’ll be judged on this major mistake. For us, choosing a wrong hotel would be terrible,” Marrenbach tells Luxury Travel Advisor. “So far, we have not made wrong decisions.”
|Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc has long hosted artists, writers and world leaders on the French Riviera.|
The measurement of any new addition to the Oetker Collection would undergo fastidious appraisal addressing such issues as: “Is it really helping us? Can we really make a difference here? Is it complementary and good for the long-term scenario of the company?”
|Brenners Park-Hotel & Spa in Baden-Baden is set in a private park with a river running through it.|
|Villa Stéphanie is the new addition to Brenners Park; it’s a stand-alone wellness spa in a historic building.|
This very careful growth strategy is aimed at protecting a portfolio of what Oetker calls “Masterpiece Hotels,” all unique and irreplaceable. Marrenbach says that having nine unique hotels is akin to having nine children, each requiring different attention. In fact, the company’s mantra is “Individuality Together,” and it continues to invest in that individuality.
Le Bristol Paris finished up a six-year renovation in 2014, dramatically updating its signature suites and rooms, adding 19 more suites to its inventory and revamping its lobby. Other major additions included the one-Michelin-starred brasserie, 114 Faubourg; the three-Michelin-starred gastronomic restaurant, Epicure; the very Parisian Le Bar du Bristol; and Spa Le Bristol by La Prairie. The hotel, set on the very fashionable Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, has hosted guests such as Marilyn Monroe, Grace Kelly, Charlie Chaplin and Orson Welles since it opened in 1925. Now in its 90th year, the Oetker Collection has been celebrating the milestone all year with very French events. In October, Chef Eric Frechon will create a gala dinner in the Salon Versailles which will spill out into the hotel’s gardens; dress will be ’20s style as a nod to Le Bristol’s heyday. A guided tour of the city from Art Deco collections to the early decadent days at Le Bristol is also being offered to guests.
|Palais Namaskar, Marrakech opened in 2012 with 41 rooms, suites, villas and palaces.|
Brenners Park-Hotel & Spa is the flagship property of the Oetker Collection; it’s located in Baden-Baden, Germany, where the company is headquartered. Brenners Park is also the first hotel purchased in 1923 by the Oetker family and it’s been lovingly updated and refurbished over the years. In January, it opened Villa Stéphanie in a historic building on the hotel’s grounds, which are located adjacent to a green park at the foothills of the Black Forest. The new addition is a five-story, 54,000-square-foot destination health and wellness spa.
|Le Bristol Paris was the first hotel in France to receive the title of “Palace.” In its 90th year, it’s considered the ultimate Parisian hotel.|
“Baden-Baden was one of the founders of the Spa movement in Europe, and Brenners is entwined within the heritage of the historic spa town,” says Marrenbach, who also serves as managing director of Brenners Park-Hotel & Spa. “With our own depth of experience, curated over decades, we feel it is the right time to bring the subject to a completely new level.”
Marrenbach knows Brenners Park well; it’s where he began his career with the Oetker group in 1997; he subsequently moved up to executive director and he has been running the Oetker Hotel Management Company from Baden-Baden to this day. In his previous life, Marrenbach worked in some of Europe’s most prestigious luxury hotels, such as The Berkeley in London and Hôtel de Crillon in Paris. In 2005, he became a member of the Executive Committee of The Leading Hotels of the World and has been its vice chairman since the end of 2010. This fine pedigree of luxury service has incorporated itself into the Oetker Collection’s DNA.
|Fregate Island Private in the Seychelles has just undergone a renovation that included its 16 private pool villas.|
Elements of Luxury
Marrenbach, not surprisingly, has a very specific hotel aesthetic which refers to “four elements of luxury.” They include heritage, craftsmanship, focus and rarity.
Heritage, Marrenbach says, should not be confused with tradition, which becomes obsolete over time. “Tradition is wearing ties in restaurant, for instance, or a tuxedo. Heritage means we come from somewhere. We are quintessentially, a European hotel company. We’re deeply rooted in that. That’s important to us.”
Craftsmanship comes in to play, he says, at the most minute level in a hotel, where it could mean having the forethought to provide just one chambermaid to that one guest who doesn’t want many people coming into her suite. It, of course, relates to the superstar three-Michelin-star chef, Eric Frechon at Le Bristol, but craftsmanship also speaks to having an excellent reception manager who can artfully train staff to interact with guests properly.
|L’Apogée Courchevel in the French Alps is set at the top of a former Olympic ski jump. Rooms are rustic chic with high-tech TVs.|
Having focus means you can’t be everyone’s darling, says Marrenbach. “I cannot cater to everybody. I have to risk that someone might say they don’t like my hotels because they’re too traditional. But, as long as we cater to our guests, we will have enough guests to follow us.”
And then there’s rarity, which all comes back to having iconic hotels that can’t be duplicated because they represent all of the tenets of luxury mentioned above.
“If someone were to say, ‘We stayed at Brenners Park and we really loved it,’ nobody would say, ‘Which Brenners?’ because there is only one. Rarity is a consequence of the three previous elements. These together, I think, provide a good filter when you set out to create something,” he says.
|Château Saint-Martin & Spa in Provence draws families and couples to its villas, pool and bountiful gardens.|
To Marrenbach, luxury is also about the intangible. “It’s ambiance. It’s how people in a hotel speak to you, or how they don’t speak to you because they sense that you don’t want to talk to at this very moment. It’s how a hotel embraces you as a guest. The hotel needs to look at you and say, ‘Wow,’ to you because you are the centerpiece.”
Watch for more growth from the Oetker Collection, but know that new additions will be carefully selected (“Strategy means knowing what not to do,” says Marrenbach). And know that along the way, this CEO will be especially careful to select the right leadership to execute Oetker’s unique understanding of service.
“Why are places special? They are special because of the people. It’s the people who give a place soul,” says Marrenbach.
|Eden Rock-St. Barths in the Caribbean is a big draw for A-listers. Top digs include two ultra-luxe villas, “Rockstar” and “Nina.”|
The Oetker Collection
CEO: Frank Marrenbach
Headquarters: Baden-Baden, Germany
Senior Vice President Operations and Sales & Marketing/ President & Managing Director of Le Bristol Paris: Didier Le Calvez
Vice President Marketing & Communications: Alain Brière
Director of Sales & Marketing, North America: Caroline Goux
PORTFOLIO: Nine luxury hotels:
L’Apogée Courchevel, Saint-Bon-Tarentaise, France: A luxury ski chalet at the top of Courchevel 1850 in the French Alps.
Brenners Park-Hotel & Spa, Baden-Baden, Germany: An iconic grand hotel set in a sprawling private park; the historic Villa Stéphanie was recently added as a destination spa experience.
Le Bristol Paris: A French palace completely refurbished, located on the prestigious rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré.
Château Saint-Martin & Spa, Vence, France: A chateau in the heart of Provence with views over the Mediterranean coastline.
Eden Rock - St. Barths: A luxury Caribbean resort built on a rocky promontory, surrounded by white sandy beaches and turquoise sea.
Fregate Island Private: A resort featuring lush forest and gardens overlooking the waters of the Seychelles.
Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc, Cap d’Antibes, France: Legendary luxury hotel (think F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald) where old-world glamour meets modern luxury.
The Lanesborough London: Fully revamped Regent-style residence with classically British service.
Palais Namaskar, Marrakech: Set in the Palmeraie, an exclusive residential area of this exotic Morrocan city.
|Didier Le Calvez leads Le Bristol Paris, an ultra-luxury “Palace” hotel.|
The Right People
For Frank Marrenbach, the actual infrastructure of the Oetker Collection, a family-owned hotel, is its people. “We have also proven to be very successful when it comes to right management,” he says, alluding to that average 1,000 euros a night rate.
By the “right management,” Marrenbach means those who actually run the hotels. (“Strong people will attract strong people,” he tells Luxury Travel Advisor.)
In the case of Le Bristol Paris, it’s the legendary Didier Le Calvez, president and managing director of the hotel, who was also recently appointed as the company’s senior vice president of operations and sales and marketing.
In the case of The Lanesborough, it’s Managing Director Geoffrey Gelardi, who has been running the property since before it even opened in 1991 and was asked without hesitation to stay on after Oetker signed the deal to manage it.
|Geoffrey Gelardi is the man behind The Lanesborough London, Oetker’s newest hotel.|
As Marrenbach reports firsthand, he said to Gelardi at the time of the sale: “Geoffrey, please do me a favor. Stay. Don’t go.”
Marrenbach knew Gelardi’s DNA quite well; he was a junior receptionist at the Berkeley when The Lanesborough opened 24 years ago and was so in awe of the new hotel he was hesitant to step through its doors (“I didn’t dare go in,” says Marrenbach with a laugh.) And when you hear how Gelardi originally crafted the style of The Lanesborough prior to its world debut, you realize his ethos is an ideal fit for the Oetker Collection. “In opening The Lanesborough, we wanted a quintessentially English hotel but without the pompous British attitude,” he told us in a cover story profile in January 2011, in recognition of having been named “General Manager of the Year” by the readers of Luxury Travel Advisor.