Humans are consubstantial with luxury
Vice-President of Orient Express, the new hotel brand of the Accor group, Guillaume de Saint Lager himself describes his career path as "singular and multiple", combining rational worlds on one hand (law and finance for his studies, as well as a career as a lawyer with the Darrois Villey Maillot Brochier law firm), and creative worlds on the other (making haute-couture hats with Maison Saint Lager).
"Passionate about the history of the Orient Express", Guillaume de Saint Lager is today at the head of the development of the Collection of the same name, the hotel version of the mythical luxury train. The first address will be inaugurated by 2021 in Bangkok's emblematic skyscraper, the King Power Mahanakhon Tower. Around ten others will follow suit, all over the world, between now and 2030.
From the scents created by perfumer Thierry Wasser to the uniforms imagined by designer Louis-Marie de Castelbajac, not to mention the spas designed by Guerlain, the Orient Express Collection creates its own universe between history and modernity, preserving the right balance between the Brand's identity and the personality of each hotel that will reflect the soul of the destination.
The Accor group is developing this attention to detail and refinement, particularly for its luxury division in partnership with Bureau d'Image. The firm regularly assists Raffles, Fairmont, Pullman, Sofitel and MGallery establishments with innovative and tailor-made training courses on grooming and service excellence.
Bureau d'Image: How would you define luxury?
Guillaume de Saint Lager: Three notions essentially characterize luxury to my mind. The first concerns time, because luxury, by its very nature, upsets time, slows it down or speeds it up. For example, 100 years ago, the Orient Express considerably reduced travel times. Conversely, the work of a craftsman in luxury will take longer.
The second notion covers the emotional dimension because a luxury product or service touches the heart of the customer, in other words their right brain, which is emotional and intuitive. Finally, and this is in my opinion the most important notion: the human dimension, which is consubstantial with luxury. This is the key to differentiating it from machines and robotics. From the creation and meticulous work of a craftsman on a bag, a chef in the kitchen, an interior designer or a maître d', unique and precious moments are born, which can be associated with luxury.
BI: Is there such a thing as French-style luxury and what are its characteristics?
GdSL: Luxury is still very much rooted in France because of its rich history and heritage. The symbolism between France and luxury is closely linked to its human dimension and creativity. This creativity is free and insolent in France. France does not follow trends but, on the contrary, it takes the opposite view. Its singular creativity, against the trends, is much envied and inspires the whole world.
BI: What have been the major developments in the luxury hotel industry over the last few decades?
GdSL: In my opinion, there have been two main developments: 1. the increase in personalization of products and services to individualise the customer experience; 2. the decompartmentalisation of product and service universes that have long been divided. The major Brands are increasingly entering the world of services (Louis Vuitton, Bulgari, Dior, etc.). In the luxury hotel business, competitors will soon no longer be just the hoteliers themselves but also - and above all - world-famous Brands with very powerful and committed communities. And in the long term, why not an Apple or a Google inviting themselves to the hotel table? Anything is possible with such powerful brands!
BI: How do luxury hotels stand out?
GdSL: Obviously by a quality of service that is remarkable in every way. But that's not enough in my opinion. To continue to stand out in the next 10 years, I think that luxury hotels will have to be able to create even more links with their community (their clients in other words), beyond the simple stay in the establishment. A luxury hotel brand has to think 360° and be able to fully engage its community to create emotion before, during and after a stay. In this respect, ALL - Accor Live Limitless (the new lifestyle companion for everyday life that brings together and enriches all the brands, services and partnerships evolving within the Accor ecosystem), will be an undeniable ally in enabling us to reach our customers outside their stays, by offering them a range of unique experiences!
BI: Which leader are you? What principles guide your professional life?
GdSL: Affect is what guides me on a daily basis, in line with the way Millennials approach work. Today, it is not possible to be bored at work and it is essential to feel good in your professional life. That is why it is important for me to know the people around me well, to appreciate their passions and to measure their creativity. I try to understand them and help them with maximum empathy and kindness. I strive to create a climate in which they feel good. A climate conducive to imagination and creation. I am both very close and at the same time very demanding. This is in line with the values held by Sébastien Bazin, CEO of Accor, who also chairs Orient Express.
BI: What requirements does the management of a luxury hotel require?
GdSL: The brand of a luxury hotel must run in the veins of its Managing Director. He must take it over and be passionate about it in order to embody it. Tracy Lowe, Director of the Orient Express Mahanakhon Bangkok, is a good example of this approach. She has taken a deep interest in Orient Express to be in tune with the Brand and create a unique experience for our customers.
BI: What is the most important quality you demand from your teams?
GdSL: Passion, because above everything else, you have to love what you do and the environment in which you operate. Therefore, we naturally live, embody and promote the Brand we work for.
BI: What fault inspires you the most indulgence?
GdSL: The temporary lack of availability which can be linked to various external factors. We are not machines and our personal life can sometimes affect our professional activity. That's why it's essential for me to know my teams well in order to better understand and support them.
BI: Why is it essential to train your teams in service excellence?
GdSL: Every luxury establishment continuously trains its teams in service excellence. It is an essential foundation. But in order to go a step further and be able to tell a story to our guests, to attract special attention, the hotel's teams must know the history and DNA of the Orient Express. They are the brand's first ambassadors to guests.
BI: Even as Vice President of Orient Express, do you continue to learn more about luxury, its codes and the many ways it is embodied?
GdSL: Yes, the learning process is ongoing. For example, contrary to what many people say, luxury is omnipresent these days. It is protean and democratized, even if it is draped in a rarity that it has lost. I read and learn about this world all the time, which helps me to question myself and ask myself the right questions: what risks, what opportunities and what strategy should we put in place to engage our community around Orient Express as much as possible?
BI: What advice would you give to young professionals?
GdSL: Be yourself. Be cheeky. Express your personality, be unique, assert yourself and above all challenge your managers. Also live - with strength - your passions outside of your professional life; this is essential.
BI: What do you recommend for men: neat beard or a close shave?
GdSL: In the same way that I encourage all my employees to live and develop with their personality, I don't have any recommendation: just be yourself.
BI: For women: for or against red nail polish?
GdSL: On this question as well: be yourself!
BI: If luxury hotels were a colour, what would it be?
GdSL: The Night Blue of the Orient Express.
BI: An animal?
GdSL: The peacock, charming and seductive.
BI: An adjective?
BI: An emotion?
BI: A work of art?
GdSL: Rodin's Thinker. Massive, majestic, but also intimate and very personal. He is very well known and remains to be discovered...
BI: A currency?
GdSL: "Created by humans for humans", a motto borrowed from Tristan Auer, the interior designer who re-imagined the Art Deco interiors and plant motifs of the original Orient Express cars for the Collection's first hotel in Bangkok. The human dimension is essential to create dreams, surprise and irrationality.
BI: A virtue?
BI: A historical character?
GdSL: Georges Nagelmackers, founder of the Orient Express. He changed the cards by creating luxury trains, introducing modernity and haute gastronomy, combining the know-how of artist-decorators such as René Prou and René Lalique, Christofle silverware, Haviland porcelain, the greatest wines and champagnes, the first on-board magazines... In terms of management too, he innovated by considering the well-being of his employees.