Kempinski Hotels Will Succeed on Its Own Terms

Kempinski Hotels has unique position and bright future, says CEO By: Kenneth Shapiro
The Kempinski Cairo is one of the chains newest properties. // © 2010 Kempinski Hotels
The Kempinski Cairo is one of the chains newest properties. // © 2010 Kempinski Hotels

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The Kempinksi Cairo features the Othmanly Restaurant // © 2010 Kempinski Hotels
The Kempinksi Cairo features the Othmanly Restaurant // © 2010 Kempinski Hotels

The Details

Kempinski Hotels

Kempinski Hotels is not your typical luxury brand, and that’s a good thing, according to Reto Wittwer, CEO and president. At a recent luncheon in Beverly Hills, Calif. the direct and outspoken Wittwer painted a clear picture of the differences between Kempinski Hotels and its competitors.

To begin with, he said, Kempinski is the oldest hotel company in the world, a claim that nobody else can make.

“That’s why we put in our tagline: ‘Hoteliers Since 1897.’ We’re now 113 years old,” Wittwer said. “Another company bought its name from the widow of Cesar Ritz to give their company some history in the absence of having real history.”

Kempinski is not only the oldest hotel company, hospitality is its sole focus.

“Some other hotel companies, they also make submarines, or are into car manufacturing, or mobile phones or coffee makers, and their hotels are a sideline,” Wittwer said. “We’ve only done hotels since the beginning of our existence.”

Wittwer, who has been the company’s CEO for the last 15 years, also pointed out that Kempinski is the only brand the company has to focus on.

“We are also not a brand supermarket, like in Starwood where you have five or six brands and even people within Starwood cannot clearly tell you what the difference is between the different brands. We are also not a brand escalator, where you can go from one-star to five-star, like Holiday Inn and InterContinental, and people get confused,” Wittwer said. “It’s not good or not bad, it’s just different. My point is just that we are different and we don’t like to be compared because we are not comparable.”

Despite the fact that Kempinski has 64 properties in its portfolio with another 60 in the pipeline, the brand is not as well known to North American travelers. In part that’s because there are no Kempinski hotels on the continent. Wittwer said he would love to change that, but he understands the importance of careful growth.

“I believe that luxury has to be capped in size … because luxury should not be accessible to everyone otherwise it becomes a mass product,” he said. “We will never have more hotels than the age of our company. This is a very strong statement that we made. And we believe that we make this statement to protect our clients, to protect our owners, to protect our partners. We don’t want to have a Kempinski hotel on every street corner. Then it’s not really exclusive.”

According to Wittwer, another important aspect of the brand is its unique properties. He said that when Kempinski enters a new location, it looks to be either the market leader or be the most unique property available.

“We want to have hotels like the one in Bruges, a 600-year-old monastery that has been converted into a hotel,” he said. “Or our palace in Istanbul, which is 350 years old, and is now a world-famous hotel. We have landmarks and we have recreated landmarks.”

Finally, Wittwer said at least 50 percent of his time is spent developing the talent that is necessary for delivering on the promise of the brand. Unlike competing hotel companies, he said on-property personnel are encouraged to be “authentic” in how they interact with guests.

“Our managers are very entrepreneurial. We want the people to be authentic. We don’t want to make clones,” he said. “In other hotels, if you say something that isn’t in the script, the staff runs away because they don’t know what to say. You have to be authentic. You have to be who you are.”

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