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A former palace now a hotel based on an ‘intimate journal’. A hotel/hospital that presents you with a ‘how-to-manual’ for your next 45 years. You might think Claus Sendlinger, head of Design Hotels has seen it all but, as the ‘lifestyle prophet’ explains to Jamie Mitchell, and his eyes are still ‘wide open’.
It’s hard not to feel envious of Claus Sendlinger, a man whose job it is to traverse the globe in search of the finest boutique hotels. Since founding his company, Berlin-based Design Hotels in 1993, the former estate agent and PR executive has become one of the industry’s shrewdest observers, revered as a ‘lifestyle prophet’ and a ‘trend spotter’. But since the global financial crisis, the future of luxury leisure has become a little harder to predict.
So what’s going on? ‘Our society is undergoing a value shift at the moment,’ says Sendlinger. ‘The importance of “soft factors” such as quality of life and well-being is growing along with a rediscovery of simple, human, even humble values’.
The word ‘humble’ needs to be put into context here: Design Hotels’ portfolio of 175 ‘one-of-a kind hotels’ aren’t cheap, but what Sendlinger identifies as a shift towards more ‘human values’, driven by the recession and increasing awareness of environmental factors is, he Assures me, ‘definitely a long term development’.
What began as a marketing company representing 10 contemporary hotels has blossomed into what Sendinger describes as ‘a global lifestyle brand…synonymous with distinctive architecture and interior design balanced with functionality and exceptional service. We provide our member hotels with the global exposure they need while preserving their individual identity,’ he continues.
According to Sendlinger, there is no shortage of hotels wishing to affiliate to his prestigious brand, but will the company’s services still be in demand if the global economy continues to shrink?
‘We see the current market situation as a chance for Design Hotels,’ says Sendlinger. ‘In times of economic downturn it is crucial to be out there in the market place. We strongly advise our hotels to not bury their heads in the sand. We provide this kind of visibility to our member hotels on a global level, which makes us an important partner to them.’
Sendlingers advises hotels to offer more for a fairer price: ‘People are willing to pay for a good product. Rather than lowering prices, we advise our hotels to upgrade their product through extended services. A hotel could, for instance, offer complimentary parking, Internet, airport shuttle or exclusive gallery tours and personal shoppers.’
In the 1980s, Sendlinger predicted that hotels would embrace the spa business. He was right on the money. So what’s the next big thing?
‘Hospitality concepts that concentrate on health and wellbeing are definitely a major movement within our industry, he says. ‘The Life Medicine Resort in Austria, our first member hotel offering medical services, melds hospitality with high-techmedical treatment, old-school spa culture and modern diagnostic and therapeutic technologies.’
On a recent stay, Sendlinger had a complete check-up and was presented with a how-to manual for the next 45 years of his life. It sounds a lot nicer than waiting in line at your local GP’s.
‘It all comes down to the right concept for the right crowd at the right location, he explains. ‘Hotels with contemporary aesthetics were once a novelty, but now a days design alone is no longer enough to create premium experience. Architecture, design, service, gastronomy and lots of intangible qualities must come together like pieces of a puzzle to create a coherent picture.’
Sendlinger never bought into Dubai’s hotel explosion, writing it off as mostly ‘luxury 101’, but what he’s seen on his travels is that next hot spot for luxury hotels could be anywhere.
‘This is a global movement within our industry. Hotels will be increasingly created around experiences such as The Other Side in Neiden, Norway, an extreme-climate take on modern luxury with panoramic views of tundra, salmon rivers and the Barents Sea, or the AnaYela in the heart of Marrakech which is Housed in a 300-year-old palace. The hotel is named after a former occupant, a girl named Yela who left behind an intimate journal in one of its secret rooms. The hotel name translates literally to “I AmYela,” and everything in it references the life and times of its past dweller.’
So what’s a typical day in the life of Claus Sendlinger? ‘The great thing about my job is that there is nothing like a typical day. I meet a lot of fascinating people and get the chance to visit extraordinary places and hotels. My eyes arealways wide open.’
This article was first published in FX Magazine.
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