Brett Butcher would love to see Langham set up shop in San Francisco and Washington, D.C., among other gateway cities.
Brett Butcher, CEO of Langham Hospitality Group since 2009, dreamed of being a chef. And like many of those born outside the United States, he always wanted to work in America—and, as he tells it, he didn’t care where. Just in America. Land of opportunity. But as his story unfolds, America was not exactly where he’d make his mark.
Today, Butcher leads Langham Hospitality Group, which is a subsidiary of Great Eagle Holdings, and manages hotels under the Langham, Langham Place, Eaton and Eaton Luxe brands. It is a role that Butcher, a native of Australia, relishes, fueled by the backing of a strong real-estate parent company and a plan to take the Langham name global on an aggressive scale.
But first, back to Australia. His father turned him on to a hospitality management program at QAC (now known as the University of Queensland, Gatton Campus), from where he graduated in 1980. Precisely then the States came knocking. “An associate of mine called and said, ‘We have a job for you in Boston,’ ” Butcher said.
He packed his bags and made his way to Boston, where he worked for The Flatley Company, a commercial real estate developer, which, at the time, ran many Sheraton-branded hotels. One of these was the Sheraton Tara in Braintree (since closed), where Butcher worked as a trainee manager, toiling for 15 hours a day, six days a week. “It was my first real hotel job,” Butcher said. He and Sheraton proved a good match; he stayed with the Sheraton group for some 20 years.
Then, in the late 1990s, the company shipped him back to Australia. “At that point, Sheraton was expanding through Asia-Pacific; they got into that at the right time,” Butcher said. “This crazy expansion of the tourism business really helped me.”
He became the general manager of the Sheraton in Auckland, New Zealand, which was subsequently acquired by Great Eagle and reflagged The Langham Auckland. Then, after some time as area manager for Sheraton in Sydney, Australia, Great Eagle came calling on Butcher. “They knew me,” he said. In 2001, Butcher left Sydney for Hong Kong, and worked on developing and opening a Langham hotel there, in Mong Kok. Eight years later he’d be CEO of Langham Hospitality Group, which today operates 20 hotels, with an impressive eight more to open between this year and 2016. Twelve of the 20 hotels are also owned by Great Eagle, but, according to Butcher, “moving forward, the management side of the business will grow faster than the real estate [side] as it’s tougher to move quickly when you buy.”
Langham Chicago’s Pavilion serves Afternoon Tea in a manner that is a tribute to its Langham London sister hotel.
Enlarging the footprint
Langham’s management-contract-driven business strategy is a somewhat about-face. “When I started with Great Eagle, the idea was to not start a management company; we were going to own,” Butcher said. “But then the chairman [Dr. Lo Ka Shui] had the idea to start Langham Hospitality Group and create a global hotel management company and take back the management of hotels.”
While the Langham brand has its roots in Asia and Europe (the flagship Langham, London, has been around for some 150 years), Butcher is looking to expand its global footprint. He is beginning to do just that, particularly in the U.S., where Langham now has four hotels in gateway markets; that’s double the inventory it had in the U.S. as of 2012. The Langham Chicago opened in September in an original Mies van der Rohe-designed building (for photos of the grand opening, see page 64) and, in New York, the former Setai Fifth Avenue was taken over by Langham last year and rebranded Langham Place, Fifth Avenue, New York. These join other Langham-branded hotels in Pasadena in California (just outside Los Angeles), and Boston.
Butcher would like to add even more to the U.S. portfolio, and specifically denoted Washington, D.C., and San Francisco. “If it’s the right opportunity,” he said, “we are ready.” He also said that a Langham resort is not out of the question.
The company is also on the lookout for deals in the Middle East, in the major hubs. Butcher said the company is in “active negotiations” in three different Middle East cities, which he declined to identify, but hinted they were the major cities.
Meanwhile, the financial turmoil in Europe has made the proposition to buy there “difficult to consider,” Butcher said, but the continent may be coming around, he added, noting that getting into Paris is “on the agenda.”
The speed at which Langham/Great Eagle is able to deploy capital and open new hotels is somewhat an anomaly for a smallish hotel group. But according to Butcher, this is what will set Langham apart from other luxury hotel companies. They have invested a lot of time and energy into setting up global networks, including sales offices and other alliances. “Now we have the benefits of that,” Butcher said. He also said that, unlike other hotel companies with Asia roots, which took decades to grow outside the region, Langham has been able to do it in very little time. “When we started in 2004 [with the conversion of the Le Méridien in Boston to The Langham, Boston], within a year we were already operating on four continents,” Butcher said. “Our infrastructure is in place now; we can work effectively in North America, Asia, Europe. This platform allows us to grow faster.”
A Classic Suite at The Langham Chicago has floor-to-ceiling windows with views of the Windy City.
Langham Hospitality Group
Executive Chairman: Dr. Lo Ka Shui
CEO: Brett Butcher
Vice President Sales & Marketing/North America: Rose Genovese
Headquarters: Hong Kong
Portfolio: 20 hotels across Asia, Europe, North America and the Pacific under the Langham, Langham Place, Eaton and Eaton Luxe brands.
Meet Langham’s Advisor Advocate, Rose Genovese
It’s been a big year for the Langham Hospitality Group in the United States. The opening of its Chicago project let the Hong Kong-based luxury hotel company instill its vision of what a true Langham hotel should be, in terms of physical offerings and service style. Langham also garnered a foothold in the Manhattan market by purchasing the former Setai New York and labeling it as a Langham Place, Fifth Avenue, a brand hybrid that is luxury through and through, but with a more relaxed service delivery. (There are currently eight Langham Place hotels in China.) The Manhattan hotel will undergo some product improvements to ensure it’s in line with the brand. The existing spa, for example, will be converted to a Chuan Spa in 2014. And Langham Hospitality’s Chairman Dr. Lo Ka Shui, an avid art collector, is currently purchasing pieces for the New York hotel.
Langham Hospitality also created the corporate-level position of vice president of sales and marketing of North America and named Rose Genovese to the post; Genovese most recently worked with Denihan Hospitality, launching the posh Surrey Hotel on Manhattan’s Upper East Side for the company, its first luxury offering.
We asked Genovese, who also worked at Le Méridien and Regent Hotels, to outline Langham’s positioning in the luxury marketplace; she told us the brand is being positioned against traditional luxury hotel brands as well as lifestyle hotel brands.
“Langham Hospitality and Langham Place are ‘fraternal twins;’ both have the goal of attracting luxury travelers,” said Genovese. “Langham is our heritage brand and Langham Place is what we call ‘Heritage Rendered Anew,’ with a more relaxed luxury in the way the service is delivered,” she says, likening Langham Place to the revived Burberry brand.
Having the two Langham monikers provides the opportunity to have multiple Langham hotels within one city, she explains.
Langham hotels also have a close affinity to their locations.
“The vision of our CEO and our chairman and everyone at Langham is to really embrace the local community,” she said. The Langham Chicago takes on that challenge by being in a significant landmark building in a city that’s well known for its architecture and art.
Langham’s vision is also to redefine the club concept in a luxury hotel. The Club Lounge in Chicago has 360-degree views that take in the Chicago River and part of Lake Superior, all seen through floor-to-ceiling windows. Private check-in, snacks and meals are provided throughout the day as well as cocktail service in the evening and butler service for those on the Club Floor lounge. If a guest needs to depart later in the day, say if they have an overnight international flight that departs at 10:30 p.m., the lounge provides showers and a place to change. In all, it’s designed to feel like a private club, similar to an Ivy League college club in Manhattan. Guests might even feel inclined, with the views provided and the comfort of butler service at their beck and call, to use the lounge as their work space, rather than going back to their rooms to check their e-mails.
Butlers at the Langham Chicago are intuitive in service delivery. “It’s about taking signals from the guest to determine what they want,” said Genovese. “That’s part of the butler training and development. Some people want a more standoffish service; others want their baths drawn and to have their luggage unpacked. It’s about delivering intuitive, genuine, authentic service, which comes down to doing your homework about your guest prior to their arrival. That’s what makes the guest feel more comfortable coming back, when you learn things the first time around and then they get it the next time.”
“When people ask us what the difference between Langham and other luxury hospitality companies is, we pride ourselves on being a hotel company that knows our hotel guests the best. What’s on my radar now is how do we translate that to North America now that we have additional properties here? That’s a very important element: How do we manage our database, how do we gather information and what do we do with it? We have so many resources in place; it’s about channeling them and translating them for the North American market.”
What’s on the table for luxury travel advisors? “I really am a very big advocate of the travel agent community,” said Genovese. “I was thrilled when I came to Langham to see that we already have some programs in place that we probably just need to take up a notch in North America. I see travel agents as an extension of our sales team. They are very much on the pulse of trends and are able to directly give us consumer input, so, for me, it’s a critical focus and one that we will be spending a lot of time on this year.” The company is hosting advisory board meetings to continue to get input on trends. “The market is changing so rapidly,” said Genovese. “What’s really interesting is that in North America, one third of all hotel reservations are still made through travel agents. It’s critical that they’re advised and knowledgeable. I spend a lot of time in that space talking to a lot of agents and meeting with owners and figuring out what it is that we will offer and provide them.”
A by-invitation-only program currently running is called “Couture,” comprising 17 agency owners. “It’s primarily a recognition program and we’re looking to evolve that in 2014,” said Genovese.
Langham currently has about 7,000 advisors enrolled in a training program with Travel Agent University (the program is owned by Questex Media, LLC, which also owns Luxury Travel Advisor).
“Clients definitely look to their advisor for advice on what’s new in the market,” said Genovese. “Even if the guest says, ‘Hey, book me at X hotel, I’m going to Chicago and I always stay there,’ there’s an opportunity for the agent to say, ‘Have you heard about the new Langham hotel in Chicago?’ The guest at that point may not want to switch right then, but they will check it out and hopefully, if we’re doing everything right, they’ll be more intrigued to try it the next time.”
Rose Genovese, seen at Langham Place, Fifth Avenue, says she is excited to be working with a truly global luxury brand.