Peak trading: How the Alps' grand hotels are welcoming the super-rich for a new style of business networking
As HNWs ditch digital in favour of face-to-face deals, these destinations are welcoming them back with open arms - and some radical new experiences
What’s the most precious commodity there is? Gold? Oil? Data? The latter may be the most valuable commodity on earth, but there’s one thing that is arguably even more coveted; and for a new breed of elite business leaders and UHNWs, that thing is time. In an often oppressively digital world, going offline and being in charge of your own time is the ultimate in taking back control – absolute, paramount luxury.
This is, admittedly, much easier when you can employ others to keep your inbox at bay, do your grocery shop or book your flights. The UHNW can afford to be among the ‘analogue elite’, those who want to connect, network and do deals in real life. It makes a difference. “Being human in a digital world is the single most important conversation when you work with HNW clients,” says Helen Brocklebank, CEO of UK luxury brand alliance Walpole.
Old-fashioned face time, sharing a meal, genuine human connections, real-world experiences: these are increasingly coveted concepts. “Putting greater value on your time has been an important trend for the past five to seven years,” says Brocklebank. “People have been creating boundaries so they can recharge – their health, their brains, their time. It’s about scheduling your email time. Or choosing just one social channel. Or just not being available when you’re on holiday. The digital world can be seen as a depleter. And if your life is about enrichment, you have to get rid of the depleters.”
You can see it in the popularity of time-tracking apps like Quality Time and Moment, designed to remind us just how long we’re spending staring at a screen. You can see it in the rise of digital-detox retreats and high end experiential travel outfits such as Black Tomato (their tagline: “We are human”), whose innovative packages transport clients to untouched natural locations. You can see it in the holiday suitcases bulging with paperbacks, as opposed to Kindles.
And you can see it in the choice of networking destinations for these time-rich UHNWs. If the uber-wealthy are to eschew the digital world for real-life interaction, it almost certainly follows that they’re going to choose somewhere luxurious and away from the hubbub in which to do it.
The trend, increasingly, is to meet in person at winter sports resorts. “We’ve definitely seen a rise in ski resorts becoming a popular meeting place for the global elite to do business,” says Oliver Corkhill, CEO of the luxury ski chalet hire company Leo Trippi, which has just won Best Ski Travel Agent in the World. “Many of our clients head to Davos for the World Economic Forum in January and it’s clear that a great deal of networking and business decisions happen over a cosy fireside chat or a private dinner back at the chalet as opposed to designated events in the Congress Centre. This type of networking seems to have spread into other resorts and it’s not just the older generations – new, younger UHNWs are getting in on the act too.” >>
Le Coucou, the hotly awaited luxury boutique hotel just opened in Meribel was built with exactly this demographic in mind. “Having recently opened Hotel Lou Pinet in St Tropez, we understand the importance of fostering personal connections and building spaces where relationships can blossom,” explains Leslie Kouhana, president of Maisons Pariente. “This is something we very much had in mind when designing Le Coucou.”
Designed by Pierre Yovanovitch, Le CouCou has a Tata Harper Spa and Beefbar, brands loved by the young jet set. “We wanted to offer warm and welcoming dining and spa facilities with a sense of community and inclusion where guests can meet with friends, host events, have business meetings and more,” Kouhana continues. “The Beefbar and hotel facilities do just that and we believe will make Le Coucou a mountain hotspot like no other.”
The grand old luxury hotels are also adapting and updating to appeal to this latter crowd. Situated amid the stunning, snowy vistas of the Bernese Oberland, the world-famous Gstaad Palace flings opens its iconic doors again this winter. It’s the resort that actress Elizabeth Hurley says “oozes glamour and style and is as picture-book pretty as anywhere on earth”, Julie Andrews calls “the last paradise in a crazy world”, and was the regular haunt of royalty, stars and shipping magnates in its 1970s heyday. “I know maybe the best hotel in the world – but it’s not like this one” mused former U.S. President Jimmy Carter. A real-life fairytale castle, dripping with old grand hotel glamour, returners today include designer Miuccia Prada, Hollywood star Anne Hathaway and superstar DJ Mark Ronson. Along with its gorgeous spa, outdoor Jacuzzi and famous GreenGo nightclub, it offers discreet, relaxed cool, impeccable service and instagram worthy experiences such as fat bike tours through the mountains or a meet and greet with the local flock of ostriches.
And, of course, there’s St Moritz – the alpine holiday resort dubbed by Business Insider as the place “where the 1% go to ski”. Billionaires, celebrity and royalty head here every winter to luxuriate in its five-star hotels, Michelin restaurants and, of course, enjoy its world-class slopes (not for nothing has it twice hosted the Winter Olympics). “Compared to other high- end Alpine resorts like Courchevel, Verbier or Zermatt, it’s far more discreet,” says Corkhill.
Last season St Moritz’s legendary Badrutt’s Palace not only reinvented its bar and nightclub King’s Social House in collaboration with chef Jason Atherton, but also gave the hotel interior a complete makeover to attract younger, trendier digital nomads, as happy to do business here as in the office. “I’ve certainly noticed fewer UHNW clients absorbed by what’s on their mobile devices,” says Corkhill, “and a much higher demand for tables at exclusive restaurants, private dining rooms and meeting spaces at exclusive members’ clubs like the Gstaad Yacht Club. We’ve also seen several clients rent a chalet for the season for the sole purpose of inviting associates out to the Alps to discuss business. After all, a day on the mountain is sure to put you in a more relaxed frame of mind to do a deal.”