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Filip Boyen first got his start in the hotel business by working as a commis chef in a hotel kitchen in Belgium. From this experience, he learned that the hotel business would allow him to discover new countries and cultures. Three decades later, he’s the new CEO of Small Luxury Hotels of the World (SLH), and he’s inviting travel agents to discover SLH’s new agent rewards program.
TravelAge West sat down with Boyen to hear more about what’s buzzing at SLH.
How does Small Luxury Hotels (SLH) set itself apart from other independent hotel collections?We call ourselves the “anti-brand” because we think that it comes down to the independent characteristics of each of our hotels that ultimately unites them. Our hotels offer an element of surprise and are consistently of high quality. It’s the element of discovery and unique sense of place that sets them apart — even when the curtains in the guestroom are closed.
SLH recently launched a new agent recognition program: Small Luxury Heroes. Why did you decide to shift the focus to agents? We’ve created a program that rewards agents with SLH gift cards and complimentary room nights, among other things. Two-thirds of our reservations come from travel advisors, and the lion’s share of that is from agents in the U.S. We are very loyal to agents because they are very loyal to us. They know we’re not trying to go around them to get direct bookings. We respect them for what they do and for the support they give us, and so we wanted to continue that relationship.
How has Small Luxury Heroes fared since its December launch? We have already had 800 agencies join, although we still have a lot of room for improvement. We’ve also been adding sales representatives in the U.S. market and recently opened a West Coast office in San Diego.
Will SLH’s new iPhone app impact agent bookings? I think we will see guests who have traditionally booked via tablet or through our website use the app much more. But we expect that those who have reserved through travel advisors will continue to do so.
How does your past experience at Orient-Express Hotels (now Belmond) help evolve SLH?I understand hoteliers — what makes them tick, their frustrations, their challenges and what makes them happy. That’s very important in this business, which is very much based on relationships.