Serious business

Langham Group’s Robert Warman on ‘service with poise’

Robert Warman, CEO of the Langham Hospitality Group, on adapting hotels for today’s traveller, by MARK TJHUNG

You retired after 30 years with Ritz-Carlton and Capella. Why did you come out of retirement to work with Langham?

I met Dr Lo Ka-shui and he started talking about his vision for Langham. It was compelling. And talking with Dr Lo, I became consumed with what he saw Langham becoming.

How do you sum up that vision?

It was for Langham to be recognised as a leading hotel company around the world. We don’t have to be the biggest, but in every one of our brands we want to make sure that people look at it and say there’s something special about it.

Langham recently launched Cordis. How does the brand sit within the group?

Cordis was always designed to focus on well-being. It’s not just organic food and a yoga mat in your room; our sense of well-being has to do with being totally holistic, from food to exercise to socialising and being happy. We’ve just opened our second Cordis, in Shanghai Hongqiao.

Langham Hotels CEO - Robert Warman
Credit: Mike Pickles

How does the traveller today differ from 30 years ago?

Most of today’s luxury consumers grew up having gone to a luxury hotel. Thirty years ago, that was not the case. So I think today’s customer doesn’t need to be overly serviced. They know we’re there to help them, and I think they want us to create a warm, relaxed, attentive yet unobtrusive experience. The other big part in what I call ‘service with poise’ is empowering our colleagues to take initiative and make each stay memorable for our guests. I think customers would like our colleagues to be able to just take care of what they want on the spot. So our job is to teach our colleagues what the customer wants and let them go deliver it.

What’s your view on the disruptive innovations in hotels, like Airbnb?

I think it’s important. If the consumer’s out buying a different product, there’s a reason for that. So we need to ask, ‘What does our customer want, and are we delivering something they want?’ Also, for many years in our industry you only heard the messages we wanted to hear. Today you can hear from the consumers themselves. Overall it’s made the industry better because it’s forced us from being an industry of perception to an industry of reality.

What’s going to define the industry in the future?

With China and India, we’re talking hundreds of millions more people travelling the world, and so I think we’re going to have to become much more global in our approach as a hotel. It’s going to change everything.

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