Jan 21, 2009
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Luxe hotel group aims to shine despite slowdown

Jan 21, 2009

By Miral Fahmy

SINGAPORE (Reuters Life!) - The world economy is in recession, but that has not put off a new luxury hotel group from opening 8 properties across the globe with the belief that any room filled at another hotel is an opportunity.

The West Paces Hotel Group, led by veteran hotelier and ex-Ritz Carlton president Horst H. Schulze, is launching the hotels under its luxe Capella brand in Japan, Singapore, Mexico, Ireland, Austria, Germany and the United States, aiming to attract guests of all 5-star chains by offering even better service.

In an interview with Reuters, Schulze acknowledged that 2009 was likely to be a tough year, but said the downturn in the industry was likely to open more opportunities for Capella, partly because other hotel chains are seen cutting back.

"This year, like every other industry, there will be setbacks, but things will not always be this way and over the next two to three years, there will be opportunities," he said.

"Blaming the economy is a poor excuse, my managers wouldn't dare use it. As long as there is one room occupied, and there are many despite the situation, that means we haven't managed to get that guest and we just have to go out and get them," he added.

"We're not doing Capella because that's our fantasy, its customer driven."

Capella, named after one of the brightest stars visible in the night sky, is the world's only 6-star hotel and resort management company.

Schulze's experience in the hotel industry is vast.

He started out as a busboy at the age of 14, and worked as a waiter and in housekeeping. He was part of the Hilton and Hyatt hotel groups before joining Ritz Carlton in 1988, helping to build the luxury brand, and has been awarded many industry honors, including "Corporate Hotelier of the World".

Schulze's vision for Capella stems from his belief that there will always be a demand for quality, niche products.

"Not everybody buys commodities, and that's what a regular hotel room these days is, just a commodity, a place to sleep. We don't do that. We set out with the goal of once we've got you, you'll stay with us forever," he explained.

He said Asia was where the chain saw the most opportunity, adding the group was in talks to set up hotels in China as well as Thailand. Their first Asian property is Capella Singapore, which opens in March.

"Asia as a whole is undoubtedly where the opportunity is," he said. "There are a lot of clients looking for our value and reliability from within the region, and others who visit it."

Schulze said he used a yardstick he developed during his long tenure in the hotel business to set up Capella that includes: would guests want to come back, would they recommend the hotel and did they feel they got "service that cares".

The hotel brand has chosen prime locations, and buildings and interiors are designed by renowned architects, including award-winning Norman Foster.

Asked how Capella hoped to compete with other, boutique hotels set up by international, and better-known, names such as Versace and Armani, Schulze said he hoped his hotels would provide "a better fit".

"It's like an Armani suit and a Brioni suit," he said, referring to the Italian fashion house that specializes in bespoke suits.

"Once you try on the Brioni, you'll realize that it fits better than anything you've tried on before and it will make you want it even more. It's the same with us."

(Editing by Ian Geoghegan)

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