COMO Hotels and Resorts is a brand synonymous with international luxury; an incredible feat given that the chain has only been around since 1991 and curates less than a dozen unique properties worldwide. A European business-vacation hybrid in London, England, afforded me the chance to visit one of the brand’s first hotels, The Halkin by COMO. The 41 room and suite abode embodies what is meant by the term ‘boutique hotel’ which individualized service and a branded design that is unique to The Halkin as well as the COMO umbrella.
Nestled in the quiet, uber-posh downtown neighborhood of Belgravia, The Halkin is also renowned for its dining selection, recently launching Ametsa with Arzak Instruction. The latter has been shepherded by Elena Arzak, the joint head chef of the Michelin three-star restaurant Arzak in northern Spain. To discuss the cuisine’s appeal, the hotel’s unique features and the brand at large, I sat down with Simon Wakefield, The Halkin’s General Manager, to shed some light on what makes for a successful boutique property.
Give us some background on your career with COMO Hotels and how you arrived at The Halkin.
I first worked at The Halkin by COMO as the Rooms Division Manager in 2001. I then re-joined the COMO team in the beginning of 2013 having worked in several other management roles for Intercontinental and the Savoy Group. Most recently I was the general manager at London’s Athenaeum Hotel and Apartments.
COMO Hotels and Resorts has two properties in London: The Halkin and the Metropolitan. Discuss a few key service and amenity differences between both hotels. In other words, what is unique about The Halkin?
I think it’s important to point out that all COMO Hotels and Resorts are very individual in their approach. When The Halkin by COMO opened in 1991, it was seen as the first design-led boutique hotel in Europe – contemporary, stylish yet functional. This approach translates into all COMO properties with the mutual goal of creating a ‘home away from home’ and introducing guests to new experiences throughout their stay, whether it’s on a cultural level, or through adventures, wellness or cuisine.
The distinct difference between The Halkin and Metropolitan by COMO is that they are both attracting a different type of traveler. Guests of The Halkin are usually mature travelers who are looking for a central location along with a discreet place to stay with its own identity and personality. The Halkin also has a very different restaurant offering with the newly launched Ametsa with Arzak Instruction. A new Basque cuisine eatery that was launched in partnership with Elena Arzak and her father Juan Mari Arzak as well as the Arzak Instruction Team. The Halkin is cozy and chic at the same time, which makes it a special property amongst other London hotels.
The Metropolitan on the other hand attracts a younger crowd who want to be seen and enjoy the hustle and bustle of Park Lane. The Metropolitan is also much larger with its 141 bedrooms, a dedicated COMO Shambhala Urban Retreat, the famous Met Bar and, of course, Nobu, the Michelin-starred Japanese-Peruvian restaurant. It’s the perfect place for people who want fast-track access to the vibrant metropolis.
What level of cooperation exists between these two properties? How do you coordinate marketing efforts?
Both properties are part of COMO Hotels and Resorts, so we certainly share the same DNA. Besides that, we have a centralized reservations department for both properties, share the same sales and marketing support and use the spa facilities of the Metropolitan for guests who are keen to experience that side of the COMO experience. We also often have guests who stay at one property for a while and then change to the other, knowing they will be appreciated.
London is a city that I would consider ‘saturated’ with luxury and super-luxury properties. What are COMO and The Halkin doing to distinguish its brand from competitors?
I think both properties are interesting for travelers who like to do things out of the ordinary. A stay at one of our properties provides personalized service, consistency and privacy, but also an ‘in the know’ feeling. To stay at a well-known property in London seems often obvious, but doesn’t provide the same experience we are able to deliver. We have also always been trendsetters when it comes to gastronomy and hospitality at large.
What are COMO guests looking for in a London luxury experience? Is offering an ‘authentic local experience’ a big factor these days? How does the new restaurant become a part of this experience?
People are looking for consistency within any international brand including COMO Hotels and Resorts, but it’s the local knowledge that takes them above and beyond the obvious that gives them the unique experiences, which is the ‘new luxury’ these days.
What are COMO and The Halkin doing to innovate the hotel experience, either through technological integration, amenities or new service offerings?
It may seem straightforward, but what the luxury traveler really wants these days is making things practical. For us that means complimentary WiFi in all hotels, which is unfortunately still not common amongst luxury hotels, especially in London. This also includes easy use of in-room technology including plugs, switches, air conditioning and many others as well as support from our techno butlers whenever there is a problem. Plus, we have above-the-norm television channels in several different languages to satisfy all of our international travelers and our in-room amenities are developed by our sister brand in wellness, COMO Shambhala.
What is COMO’s strategy for the near future in terms of expansion and upping the ante for super-luxury accommodations?
COMO grows very organically. However, there are exciting new properties coming up this year which include Point Yamu by COMO in Phuket, a third Metropolitan in Miami Beach and a second property in the Maldives, Maalifushi by COMO. The designs will showcase a new twist on the much-loved COMO trademark style, and there will be exciting new restaurant concepts.
What trends do you feel will play an important role for luxury travel in the next five years?
A big trend will be connectivity and communication. Guests want to know they are looked after from the moment they make the reservation to the point of check-out. Social media will also continue to be hugely influential on the guest’s perception of a luxury brand.
(Article published by Larry Mogelonsky in eHotelier on August 26, 2013)