by Pádraic Gilligan, Managing Partner, SoolNua and Chief Marketing Officer, SITE
Rosewood – channelling “new luxury”
I first encountered the Rosewood brand almost 15 years ago in Dallas Texas. I stayed at the Mansion on Turtle Creek during a committee meeting for the Young Presidents’ Organisation (YPO) Family University that I was privileged to project manage in Dublin in July 2005. At that stage it struck me as a typical YPO-style hotel: reassuringly upscale but not at all stuffy; forensic attention to detail with intuitive service delivery; warm and friendly but not complacent or over-familiar.
At that time luxury properties like Ritz Carlton were undergoing a crisis of identity as the “ladies and gentlemen” they were created to serve were as likely to be in cut-off jeans and flip-flops as well-tailored suits and gleaming loafers. The Mansion was decidedly ahead of its time defining luxury more by authenticity than by opulence. It was set up to welcome and capture the hearts and minds of a radically changing business demographic.
Fast forward to 2018 and Rosewood is now a well established luxury global brand with such iconic properties as The Carlyle, New York and the Hôtel de Crillon, Paris flying its flag. Since 2011 it has been owned by Hong Kong based New World Hospitality who also own New World Hotels and the exciting, dynamic pentahotels – New World Hospitality, in fact, changed its name to Rosewood Hotel Group in 2013.
The Montage story
With luxury hospitality brands springing up like mushrooms after a rain shower it’s worth asking what makes Rosewood different or special or unique. I was faced with the same question recently with Montage Hotels & Resorts, a boutique collection of 6 hotels and resorts in North America (with more in the pipeline) founded by Alan Fuerstman, a legacy hospitality guy who cut his teeth with Marriott and Starwood before launching Montage in Laguna Beach in 2002.
What makes Montage different, undeniably, is Fuerstman himself and his crystal clear vision of luxury hospitality, forged over years working across the entire hospitality spectrum from bellboy to GM. With Fuerstman, Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hour rule clearly applies – like the Beatles in Hamburg or Bill Gates in his garage studio he’s paid his dues, earned his stripes, built from the ground up. I’ve heard him speak and he has charisma in abundance. Montage Hotels & Resorts has already differentiated itself and will continue to do so for as long as Fuerstman’s vision is to the fore and he’s supported by investors who agree to get out of the way. But what about Rosewood?
Rosewood – what makes it different?
Rosewood’s now rapid global expansion is happening thanks to the deep pockets of its Hong Kong based owners who acquired it in 2011 from Caroline Rose Hunt, the Texas heiress.
By then Rosewood was already a mini-chain of 7 properties located across the US, UK, Switzerland and Japan. Press releases at the time of the deal mentioned how the acquiring company would “treasure and protect Rosewood’s legacy, people and reputation”. Hunt commented that it was a “source of satisfaction” that Rosewood would be joining a company that appreciates the heritage of Rosewood and the values on which it was built”.
Rosewood – it’s all about soft power
So legacy, people, reputation, heritage, values – these are the building blocks of differentiation, these are the soft power ingredients that make up a truly unique hospitality brand. These ingredients, by all accounts, stem directly from the founder, Caroline Rose Hunt, who passed away, aged 95, just last November.
Her passing was widely reported in the international media as, at one stage, she was allegedly, America’s richest woman. According to the New York Times she wore her wealth lightly, in contrast to her flamboyant brothers who also inherited their share of their father’s astonishing wealth:
While her brothers caught the public eye with financial high-wire acts in silver, oil and sugar, Caroline Hunt led a relatively normal life. She attended college, married a World War II pilot, raised five children, wrote two cookbooks and a novel, and became a philanthropist and a Presbyterian Church deacon. She and her financial advisers made investment decisions, but she left day-to-day operations to executives whose decision-making was based on Christian principles.
Integrity was at the heart of her approach to life and business:
“If she has had any influence on the management of her enormous wealth,” The New York Times reported in 1986, “it has been to instill a certain ethos among the people in charge — an insistence on integrity and propriety that has been markedly absent from her brothers’ affairs.”
Rosewood’s original foray into London in the 1990s was at the Lanesborough (now part of the Oetker Collection) but it is now located in the stunning former headquarters of Pearl Insurance Group on High Holborn, within striking distance of Covent Garden. It’s monumental, historical external appearance, however, belies a very contemporary hospitality experience delivered with extreme panache and poise by band of confident, brilliantly trained staff dressed from head to toe in Nicholas Oakwell uniforms.
While the jury may be out on the tartan suits, there’s no denying Rosewood’s intentions – let’s shake it up, let’s be different, smart, fun, let’s give our guests something to talk about. The bar and restaurant are not your typical bland hotel outlets but destinations of their own merit, crammed with locals prepared to pay a premium for quality service delivered in an aspirational setting with its own story to tell.
We chatted with Jack at the front desk, a young man from Co Clare, Ireland destined for great things in the hospitality world. He was respectful, courteous and friendly, embodying all of the values that Caroline Rose Hunt held dear. If Rosewood can continue to attract and retain team members like Jack – and the many others we encountered over a short, one night stay – then Rosewood’s differentiation in the “luxury” market is guaranteed.
Pádraic Gilligan, Pat Delaney and Aoife McCrum run SoolNua, a specialist agency working with destinations, hotels, venues and agencies on strategy, marketing and training for the Business Events / MICE sector. Padraic also serves as Chief Marketing Officer for SITE.