Lessons in luxury – Pierre-Louis Renou on the evolving definition of excellence in the hotel industry

The Glion Art of Luxury Leadership conference in Paris brought together industry experts and students to discuss the challenges and opportunities in today’s luxury marketplace. Over two panel discussions, two keynotes and plenty of informal conversations, a range of topics were covered. Afterwards, we caught up with panelist and Glion alumnus, Pierre-Louis Renou, to discuss luxury hotel service evolution.

Pierre-Louis’ international career has taken him from Paris to London, San Francisco and Washington DC, working with leading hotel brands including Hilton and Sofitel. A graduate of Harvard and Glion, his roles have encompassed events, operations and hotel management. Now Area General Manager at Hotel Barrière Le Majestic Cannes, he shared his thoughts on catering to today’s Millennial customer needs.

Pierre-Louis Renou answers our questions

Luxury is about being exclusive, but many of today’s young luxury travellers value informality over formality. As General Manager in a group that holds many exclusive properties, how do you keep the informal touch for these new guests?

“It’s true that the habits and desires of our customers have changed – and so we change with them. It’s imperative that we react to these changes and are able to evolve and adapt, while still obviously retaining the high standards of excellence and expertise that have made our brand so successful. At Barrière, we strive to cultivate a relaxed and friendly atmosphere. At the Majestic, the service is impeccable, professional and personalised but never starchy. It is discreet, yet also warm and convivial. We learn to get to know our guests so that we can always exchange a few words and offer personal attention for each and every one of them. Anticipating their requests, adapting our behaviour to each guest, service and situation, creating experiences and making dreams come true are just some of the aims that we are actively pursuing. This is the Barrière spirit.”

“This informal touch which is so important to us comes without sacrificing the excellent service and high-quality services that we offer. Our guests, who are used to the world’s best and most exclusive hotels, appreciate the discreet and elegant luxury which characterises Le Majestic. They are enchanted by the “family-style”, personalised welcome that awaits them here and are won over by the Barrière spirit which has been behind our excellent reputation for over a century. This spirit of constantly reinvented tradition is bold, charming, elegant and sensual and is renowned across the globe for its typical French art de vivre.”

Luxury brands not only face new standards of informality, but must also work to attract new customers from countries where luxury was relatively unknown until recently. How can a luxury brand serve every audience segment? Should it even try? How does your company approach this paradox?

“At the Majestic, we host a diverse array of guests of all ages and nationalities. In order to best meet their needs, anticipate their desires and understand their customs and habits so that we avoid offending them, we have a dedicated and attentive multicultural team at our disposal.”

“We understand luxury to mean freedom. The freedom to be served at any time of the day, in the restaurant, in your guestroom or elsewhere. The freedom to be surprised – or not. The freedom to choose your activities yourself or to allow yourself to be guided by our concierges.”

This flexibility in our service and welcome is evident throughout the hotel and throughout your stay. Thanks to our organisation and to our personalised approach, we are able to adapt to all ages, all types of people and all nationalities.

“Nobody is forgotten and no request is too extravagant. Our experienced concierges are there to guide our guests, to find solutions, to satisfy any request and to ensure that guests enjoy a very special and unforgettable stay at the hotel.”

Millennials are constantly changing the hospitality and travel industry. One of their top demands is for unique and authentic travel experiences. How does your company provide them with a new and different experience?

“The millennial generation is constantly searching for new ideas, unique pleasures and personalised experiences, and does not have the same expectations as previous generations in terms of hotel accommodation. This ties in perfectly with our philosophy, which demonstrates our constant capacity to reinvent ourselves in order to meet the requirements of our guests as closely as possible.”

“At the Majestic, we take inspiration from the very latest fashions in eating and drinking to offer regular temporary restaurants and pop-up bars, as well as beauty concepts and activities that will bring pleasure to our guests. One such example is the famous La Folie Douce team from Val d’Isère which has taken up residence on the hotel’s beach for “after beach” events and unique evenings beneath the stars. This summer, we also opened Le Boudoir, a “summer pop-up” where guests can enjoy cocktails and spicy tapas both before and after dinner.”

“For this generation, for whom everything moves with such speed and which is constantly seeking change, temporary concepts enable them to never get bored. For the Majestic, this provides an opportunity to test new offers and to occasionally be at the forefront of new trends.”

“Throughout the year we also host exclusive concerts and unique shows. In addition, we pay special attention to wellbeing through the development of an extensive and varied range of services in our spa and wellbeing spaces, from personalised massages to yoga classes on the beach.”

“And as millennials are hyper-connected, we keep a close eye on what is being said on social media before, during and after their stay with us. We have also “dematerialised” a large number of services within the hotel. For example, daily newspapers are available directly via phone, room-service orders can be placed via our app and check-in can take place without the need to physically check in at reception. Guests can also contact our Guest Service Center or Conciergerie via our app to book a car transfer or a wake-up call, for example.”

Do you think that the current luxury hospitality industry is compatible with millennial demands? How do you see the industry evolving?

“The hotel industry is undergoing major change in the face of two unique challenges: new competition and a clientele with needs and requirements that are completely different to previous generations. To respond to this, the Majestic is continually reinventing itself both in terms of its facilities and its services.”

“In order to provide services that adapt to the seasons, to the latest trends and to a quest for unique experiences, we are looking to significantly develop temporary concepts within the hotel, including ideas such as escape games and pop-up bars. We take our inspiration from new trends in the luxury hotel sector as well as from start-ups in order to meet the requirements and expectations of our guests as closely as possible. By doing this, we are able to set ourselves apart from traditional luxury hotels.”

“In terms of dining options, we are focused on offering local, organic and/or gluten-free products. This important and necessary environmentally conscious policy is also in line with that of the Barrière group itself and this change can be increasingly seen on the menus in our restaurants.”

“We’ve developed our communications channels in order to offer faster and easier ways to make bookings (via social networks and apps, for example). Given our strong presence on social media, we have significantly developed our digital communications over the past few years. And as a trend developer, we regularly invite influencers to discover our hotels and to find out more about our facilities and services. As key opinion-shapers for this generation, they have completely transformed the world of communication.”

“In this quest for efficiency, security and simplicity, we now also offer a dematerialisation of the check-in process – an important differentiator for millennials keen to get to their rooms as quickly as possible without having to pass by the traditional reception desk.”

Glion strives to prepare students with the skills to adapt to these changes and become the luxury leaders of the future. What skills learnt at Glion have been most valuable during your career in the luxury hospitality industry?

“During my years at Glion, I did indeed develop qualities and skills which are indispensable to me today. The quality of my mentors, who were always there to listen and share their experience and culture, showed me the importance of perseverance in order to succeed, the need to believe in yourself and not to give up at the first hurdle. This demanding school also demonstrated, in practice, the importance of consistent hard work if you want to progress and not get left behind. This is now one of the determining factors in my career.”

“At Glion, we were taught how to develop our sense of curiosity and how to test different concepts, which was highly formative and exciting for a young student. Meetings with industry professionals and experiences abroad gave me a broad vision of what was out there, of the values in the hospitality sector and the different ideas of luxury. It also gave me the chance to develop a network. It is the many experiences on the ground, in direct contact with professionals and also with guests, which has taught me the most. How to be reactive, to adapt to different situations, to be diplomatic, how to transform a complaint into a satisfied customer… It was by coming into direct contact with the reality on the ground that I evolved and grew up, developing a sense of service and a real pleasure in accomplishing my work.”

“This is what enabled me to head out into the world of work and to learn which job and which sector interested me the most.”

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