by Pádraic Gilligan, Managing Partner, SoolNua
I’ve written previously about independent hotels and how they’re in the ascent these days. The pendulum has swung decisively to the left and, all of a sudden, we’re weary of homogeneity, sameness, one-size-fits-all consistency. Now we want diversity, difference, off-the-beaten path authenticity. Conrad Hilton’s vision of a global hotel chain providing an identical guest experience in New York and New Delhi, Beijing and Barcelona is almost dystopian to our evolving sensibilities. For us today that’s far too neat. Far too sanitised. Far too Stepford Wives.
Our present zeitgeist is substantially informed by millennials who have backpacked in Vietnam, trekked to Machu Picchu, slept under the stars on beaches in Kerala. This evolving generation doesn’t yearn so much for creature comforts as authentic experiences. So, naturally, global chain hotels will be less appealing than independent hotels that reflect the character and personality of the destination in the overall guest experience. That said, however, underestimating the value to destinations of the global chains – particularly in the high end, luxury segment – would be ill advised. In fact, Marl Twain’s famous dictum springs to mind “Rumours of my demise are greatly exaggerated”
This truth dawned on me rather dramatically this week upon my return to Ljubljana for Conventa, the boutique MICE exhibition by Gorazd Čad and Miha Kovačič that’s been a breath of fresh air for the Business Events industry for 10 years ago now. I was hosted at the recently opened Intercontinental Hotel, Ljubljana and quickly realised the extend by which it brings incalculable value to the destination across so many areas of consideration.
Firstly, global chains bring the reflected glory of brand reputation to destinations. The extensive brand families owned by the likes of Hilton, Accor or IHG are rich in reputation stretching back scores of years. When the Luxury Collection or Fairmont or InterContinental flag is unfurled in a given destination then that destination is immediately included within that brand’s hard earned circle of trust.
Having a flagship InterContinental in Ljubljana means the city sits within a constellation of cities where InterContinental shines brightly. It means Ljubljana has been selected by InterContinental as an urban location where the brand can flourish and grow. It’s a massive vote of confidence in the city that immediately enhances its reputation.
Global brands through their loyalty programmes, key account management structures and GDS systems also bring incremental business to destinations. Miloš Cerović, General Manager at the InterContinental, Ljubljana highlighted that point at a genial breakfast meeting at the Club Lounge of the hotel. “6 months into our opening year we’re seeing the first evidence of an emerging pattern. InterContinental, Ljubljana is not displacing business from excellent legacy properties like the Union Hotel. It’s attracting a new visitor to the city. We have a million members of IHG Rewards, the world’s largest loyalty programme, and these are now hearing about a new, hidden gem location”.
Global Standards in service delivery
Global chains are renowned for their recruitment, on-boarding and on-going training programmes developed over decades and refined in response to changing customer preferences and behaviours. They bring these best-in-class programmes to destinations and infuse the talent pool there with new standards and service levels that, over time, benefit the entire local hospitality industry.
The Draconian insistence on adherence to standard operating procedures (SOPs), can definitely smother intuition and initiative, the key characteristics of truly excellent service. This elimination of personality is the principle criticism levelled at global brands but, in ways, that’s yesterday’s story. These days global hospitality brands work hard at tuning in to local colour and culture and at channelling these as key elements in the overall service offering.
Saša Zor, Director of Sales & Marketing at InterContinental, Ljubljana stressed how dialogue between local and global management has shaped the design of the service standards so that a true sense of local culture and place is front and centre across all client touch-points.
Global Know How
Over my years of visiting Slovenia I’ve heard many times – usually from Slovenes themselves – how self-contained and insular the country can be. Despite bordering Italy, Austria, Croatia and Hungary and in spite of being enthusiastic Europeans, there’s a sort of “splendid isolation” about Slovenia that has resulted in a lack of dialogue, discussion and debate with the greater Europe and the world.
In ways this has led to static self-referencing and a certain absence of context or objectivity against which to measure progress. As Slovenes are naturally diligent and hard-working there’s sometimes a view that local standards are good enough.
The advent of InterContinental, Ljubljana brings global know-how to Slovenia’s capital, not just in the area of hospitality but in myriad other ways including financing, engineering, architecture, design, construction, technology and so on. All of these bring untold benefits to the local society at large and connect Slovenia to global best practice.
InterContinental, Ljubljana – pioneers of modern luxury
And the hotel itself? What’s it like? Does it add to the MICE infrastructure of Ljubljana? InterContinental, Ljubljana is a 20 storey steel and glass tower located on the edge of the old town in Ljubljana. It’s the city’s first 5 star luxury hotel with interiors by legendary German firm Wright Associates. From the upper floors, on bright days, the views over the city and on to the Julian Alps are mesmerizing. Guest rooms are light filled and spacious (40 sqm +) and the technology is both intuitive and fast.
For meetings there are dedicated facilities for up to 300 attendees on the basement, minus 2 level but smaller gatherings can be accommodated on the floor 19 across a number of spaces with awesome views. Conference delegates, meanwhile, will find themselves within minutes of the GR – Ljubljana Exhibition & Convention Centre and equal minutes from the Old Town. Incentive qualifiers will relax in their guest rooms on the upper floors, or in the VIP Club Lounge on floor 19 or over drinks with colleagues on the rooftop and reflect that it’s all been worthwhile. All the extra effort and hard yards for an extraordinary travel experience to an astonishing city hosted at an exceptional hotel.
Pádraic Gilligan, Patrick Delaney and Aoife McCrum run SoolNua, a specialist agency working with destinations, hotels and venues on strategy, marketing and training for the Business Events sector.