Timo Gruenert of The Oetker Collection on the takeover of the hotel industry in Europe: Travel Weekly
Luxury hotel group Oetker Collection is accelerating for a recovery in Europe, by recently reopening its Brenners Park-Hotel & Spa in Baden-Baden, Germany, as well as its Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc in Antibes and ChÃ¢teau Saint-Martin & Spa in Vence, France. At the same time, the company is considering further European expansion, with plans to launch the Woodward in Geneva later this year and the La Palma Hotel in Capri in 2022. Hotel editor Christina Jelski met with the CEO of Oetker Collection , Timo Gruenert, for an update on the outlook for Europe, growth trends in the Caribbean and where the group could look to plant future flags.
Question: With the majority of your portfolio of nine properties in Europe, what’s the latest news on the recovery front there?
A: We struggled with restrictions, and it’s no surprise. We are now in a situation where we have announced the reopening of several hotels quite recently. But everything is very short notice. You wait for the government announcement that you are allowed to open in a week or two, then reopen, and notify your contacts and guests. And then you just wait and see what happens.
What we are really waiting for is upcoming American affairs. We know there is strong pent-up demand, and it’s clear everyone in the industry, at least at the luxury level, has seen it over the past few weeks and months. But we still see some hesitation when it comes to confirming the trip. And I think that’s because although the situation has improved, the restrictions are not completely lifted. So for some markets, and in particular in the US, customers say, “let’s just wait and see over the next few weeks how things go, then we’ll make a reservation for July or August.”
Places like the south of France will clearly be faster to recover, as people just want to go there, but quite frankly, other destinations in Europe will probably have to wait another four weeks or so. [to get more clarity].
Question: Compared to Europe, some Caribbean markets have proven to be quite resilient throughout the pandemic. How are your Caribbean Eden Rock hotels in St. Barts and Jumby Bay Island in Antigua doing?
A: The Caribbean really [been buoyed by] the only market that has been exceptionally strong over the past two months has been the United States And looking at the United States even at the end of last year, when there was no good news regarding the number of Covid cases and there was also a political situation, there was almost no impact even then on our activities in the Caribbean. I would say we’re at almost normal activity levels there. We had a very good year in 2019 for both properties, and this year’s performance can easily reach that benchmark. But then again it’s important to note that when we talk about the size of the properties there we are talking about 37 units in St. Barts and a large villa rental company and then in Jumby Bay Island we have 28 units plus another villa rental company. , we are therefore definitely in a particular niche of the market. For obvious reasons, villa rentals were particularly strong, as people sought that private experience in combination with the space.
Question: What is your strategy for longer term expansion?
A: Being a very small company in this big gorilla market, we decided to take an extreme niche approach and focus on a small part of the market. So this means that in order to open another hotel, we really have to believe that this hotel is already a masterpiece or that it can become a real masterpiece. And that, of course, sets the bar high enough, and it is not easy to find these opportunities. Looking at the Oetker collection in total, we have about a third of our guests coming from the United States, so it just seems natural to us at some point to have one or two hotels in the United States. And there are definitely more destinations in Europe that we would like to enter. So we keep our ears and our eyes open.