Luxury is about anticipating expectations
General Manager of the InterContinental Paris Le Grand Hotel, Area General Manager Southern Europe for the IHG group and President of UMIH Prestige, Christophe Laure is one of France's leading experts and leaders in the luxury hotel industry.
With a wealth of international experience after managing InterContinental hotels (IHG) in Egypt, Spain, Jordan, Oman and Malta, he took over the management of Le Grand Hotel in 2010.
About the "Grand", as it is called, Christophe Laure has this formula: "There are many palaces in Paris but, at Le Grand Hotel, we are Paris in a palace. An environment created in 1862 at a time when there were no luxury hotels in Europe yet."
Bureau d’Image : How would you define luxury?
Christophe Laure : The phrase "They think about it, so I don't have to" sums up what luxury is to me: a story of anticipating expectations. Everyone has their own definition of luxury, depending on their aspirations or needs. For some, luxury is space, with a large suite. For others, it's about the object. For me, luxury is anticipating the needs of a demanding clientele.
Luxury is the pursuit of perfection, consistency and maintaining that consistency. The quest for excellence is based on minute details. Like in high-level sports, where success is judged by a fraction of a second or a tenth of a millimeter.
In the same way, if at 211° the water is hot, at 212° it boils. It is that extra degree that makes all the difference and separates the good from the great. Luxury is the result of hard work and the search for that little extra (excellence) that makes the difference.
BI : Does French luxury exist and what would be its characteristics?
CL : It does exist. For a large part, the codes of today's luxury were invented in France. French luxury was born under Jean-Baptiste Colbert, Minister of the Economy of Louis XIV. He revived the king's crystal factory. The finances of the state were not good, so he developed the royal factories. This is how the world luxury industry was born in France.
Regarding the hotel industry, the codes of luxury were created in 1862 for Le Grand Hotel. French luxury is characterized by the art of living, elegance, precision, beauty and constancy.
BI : Who do you think best embodies luxury today?
CL : Bernard Arnault. It is a reference in the world of luxury. Note that more than 70% of luxury products are of French origin.
BI : What have been the major developments in luxury over the past few decades? What will the luxury hotel industry of tomorrow be like?
CL : There have been many changes, in terms of demographics, in terms of new needs, in terms of the number of people who have access to luxury and who want to experience luxury, especially the Asian clientele. There are also more and more millionaires and billionaires in the world, between 20 and 50 years old, who love luxury.
The extension of the market in Asia and the Orient should be highlighted. Brands that were on the back burner have been revitalized and we have seen the rebirth of brands that had disappeared or that have entered the specific luxury market. Some brands have never experienced a crisis, such as Hermes or Rolex, but others, such as Gucci, have been able to revive and rebound.
Another very significant change is in the customer experience. It is no longer enough to buy a nice watch or a nice bag. What matters more now is the experience you have during a week in a hotel or resort. You remember it 20 years later.
Tomorrow's luxury hotel industry will need to be more responsible and concerned about its impact on the environment. What will count is the product and the experience we offer, with an essential social and environmental responsibility.
BI : How do luxury hotels stand out?
CL : The genesis of the creation of a Brand or a hotel determines who you are today. DNA and story-telling differentiate great hotels from each other.
BI : How would you describe a successful customer experience in a store, in a hotel or while traveling? What are the key factors to delight and retain customers?
CL : What is most important is the human factor. Empathy, sincerity, emotions... The sensations that touch us are born through an exchange, a look. Then comes the power of the product and service itself.
BI : What is your greatest memory in a luxury hotel?
CL : I have many extraordinary memories! At the Hotel de Paris, in Monte Carlo, I remember a fabulous and exciting moment of sharing in the restaurant Le Grill, with the Chef who told us the genesis of one of his dishes. I also have fond memories of a stay at the Al Bustan Palace in Oman, which has long been number 1 in Condé Nast Traveler. An environment where scents and colors transport you. There are many olfactory emotions, in a very refined oriental luxury.
BI : What is the most luxurious gift you have ever given?
CL : Love.
BI : What is the most luxurious gift you have ever received?
CL : Same answer! (Smile)
BI : What is considered a luxury, but you couldn't live without?
CL : I love my silverware! (Laughs)
BI : What kind of leader are you? What principles guide your professional life and what requirements does running a luxury establishment demand?
CL : We do an extraordinary and extremely demanding job. For me, courage is the first value to possess because it determines the others: listening, empathy, sincerity, strength, loyalty and trust. If you get the mix of all this, you can aspire to be a good leader. This requires emotional intelligence, listening skills, empathy, humility... This is how you can unite around you, your vision and your values, motivate, stimulate and inspire your teams with the leitmotiv of fostering and accompanying the personal development of each person.
BI : What is the most important quality you require from your teams?
CL : Above all, it is the commitment that comes first. Passion is the prerequisite to this commitment. We are in a vocational business. With our heart and soul.
BI : How do you view recent recruitment issues?
CL : In the luxury hotel environment, we are fortunate to be able to offer our employees special attention, support and care to improve their well-being. It's probably more complicated outside the luxury sector. Today, the young generation needs a project. They don't just want a job. We need to be involved with them to carry out this project together. They want recognition, fair and equitable sharing when things are going well.
BI : Which fault inspires you most indulgence?
CL : All.
BI : Why is it essential to train your teams in customer service excellence?
CL : The customer experience is fundamental because it is what people remember many years later. This is why our teams are trained and supported to be able to deliver this excellent service, in line with the DNA of the establishment.
BI : What importance do you attach to the posture and soft skills of employees in the luxury industry?
CL : This is very important because the knowledge of how to behave is inherent to the world of luxury. The right posture enhances each of us, makes us prouder and reassures us. And it demonstrates the high esteem in which we hold our clients.
BI : Even as an executive, do we continue to learn more and more about luxury, its codes and its many ways of embodying it?
CL : As we mentioned earlier, the way young people look at things and their expectations are changing the codes of luxury. So we learn new elements about our world every day to adapt. Without denying our convictions (smile).
BI : What advice would you give to young professionals?
CL : (Enthusiastic) Have fun! The luxury hotel business is a beautiful world, a privileged environment.
BI : What do you recommend for men: neat beard or close shave?
CL : Neat shave.
BI : For women: for or against red nail polish?
CL : For.
BI : For or against tattoos? Piercings?
CL : For tattoos. Concerning the piercings, it depends on the brand you represent. For example, at the Kimpton Hotel, just a stone's throw from Le Grand Hotel, it's not a problem. In any case, what is important is that our employees are true to who they are. That they are themselves! We accompany them in the codes of luxury.
BI : If luxury was a color, what would it be?
CL : White.
BI : An animal?
CL : A Golden Retriever.
BI : An adjective ?
CL : Epicurean.
BI : An emotion ?
CL : Love.
BI : An object ?
CL : A diamond on a woman's hand.
BI : A motto?
CL : Nothing is impossible for a valiant heart.
BI : A virtue?
CL : The courage.
BI : A historical figure?
CL : Winston Churchill.