What makes the best hotels in the world stand out? We ask the experts

By Michelle Johnson | 23 Oct 2018 | Travel, Leaders

Grand Luxury Group founders Ivan and Rouslan Lartisien take Tempus on a digital journey beyond luxury

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* The infinity pool at Las Ventanas

10 years ago, brothers Ivan and Rouslan Lartisien decided to bring their favourite luxury hotels to a digital-savvy clientele by launching the Grand Luxury Group. But their carefully curated hotel collection, spanning big name brands and intimate boutiques in countries around the world, soon began to offer far more than just a booking service. Instead, the Lartisien brothers realised the hottest travel trends and met the most intricate requirements for their club guests, and built on their growing connections to offer packages, services and apps that would introduce their clients to another world.

Tempus sat down with Ivan and Rouslan to discover next year's biggest travel trends, what pushes a hotel past the five-star experience, how their company has evolved and why the hotel industry has a long way to go before it hits it's eco-friendly goals.

How did Grand Luxury begin?
Ivan: Grand Luxury is a family owned business created by my brother and me, and we are celebrating our 10th anniversary this year. The idea was really to curate a selection of, what we thought were, the best hotels anywhere in the world and gather them on a website to enable our clients to book those hotels with a very personalised service. The second main aspect of Grand Luxury is that ultra-personalised service, with one dedicated guest experience manager or dedicated travel manager in charge of every part of your trip – so from local advice to booking the hotels, and then of course being your concierge and booking restaurants, spas, transfers, opera tickets, or whatever.

And you've taken it a step further with your app, haven't you? Merging that personal service with the most current technologies…
Yes, that's exactly it. We wanted to merge digital and luxury from the very beginning, though 10 years ago these were not two worlds that combined very easily. Everything we do is based on digital platforms. We invest a lot into the digital aspect – of course we have a website, which is one part of digital, and will soon relaunch with very new design and functionality in November or December this year. And then, of course, we have also developed some other digital tools, like our app, which is really dedicated to the concierge aspect. It's a tool for clients to enable them to book whatever experience they are looking for directly from their mobile with very easy navigation, and at any time they can also reach their advisor by phone or via this tool. It's extremely powerful for those guests who want to be very quick in their reservations. We launched two years ago and it's working extremely well. 

You're both very involved in working out what your guests want from their travels – what is it that made you focus on the guest experience as a whole?
Rouslan: At the beginning we were fascinated about hotels, so our first step was to create the connection between what we consider to be the best hotels around the world. We're a family business as Ivan mentioned earlier, so we were limited in terms of funds at the beginning. Therefore we had to answer the phone ourselves and arrange the concierge service by ourselves. That's when we realised how important our service was for our clients and thought, 'this can be a strength for our business, to focus on this quality of service'. So that's how we decided to create the dedicated advisor, and involve the concierge service to help our clients organise their stay, and how we realised the app would be a strong asset for brand. It really was talking to our clients, and understanding what they wanted. >>

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* Grand Luxury Group founders Ivan and Rouslan Lartisien

It sounds like there's a real connection with your clientele and your member hotels. Do you think that connection is very important to your business?
Ivan: That connection is really at the heart of everything for us. We want to create this members' club-like feeling for our members, but also we want our hotels to benefit from our very strong and close partnerships. It's extremely important, and makes our clients feel extremely welcomed when they are in each of our hotels. Since the very beginning when we were, as Rouslan said, three people in a very small office to now, where we have almost 75 employees and are the leading European agency for luxury hotel bookings. In Paris, London, Milan and Marrakesh we are the second largest provider in the world after American Express. So it's been a huge success, and all that is based on the connection we've tried to make between the guest experience manager, our clients, the hotels, and our employees as well.

Rouslan: To illustrate that, a few years ago one of our employees came back with an idea of the Grand Luxury Family, and now I think that concept really drives our business.

What is your criteria when you're looking for a hotel to join the collection? What elevates a hotel beyond the five-star experience?
Ivan: So I think there would be two aspects when we select hotels. There is of course an objective criteria of five-star hotels: functionality, in-room furnishings and accessories, quality of food and beverage. But we also have a very subjective view on the hotels we select. Rouslan and I visit all our hotels, and what we are looking for usually is the atmosphere. How do you feel when you enter a very high luxury hotel? Do you get the impression that you are not in a hotel anymore, that you are completely cut from the rest of the world or entering a new world in itself? I think that's what we really are looking for in a luxury hotel.

Rouslan: It's not a question of size, either. We feature big hotels with 300-400 rooms, small boutiques with 50 rooms or less. Our hotels can be contemporary or classical in style. But all of them have in common this sense of having a complete unique atmosphere than what you get anywhere else.

Can you give us an example of some of the hotels within your collection that really emphasize that atmosphere?
Rouslan: Well, it's always difficult to choose a favourite. The Mandarin Oriental Bangkok is one of the best we have in the collection. It was one of the first hotels to sign with us 10 years ago and it still remains one of the grande dames of Asia. We have the Hôtel de Crillion, a Rosewood Hotel, in Paris, which is an incredible hotel. They really understand that a new client is looking for a residential feel and this is very well done. Then we have the smaller hotels like the Anantara Qasr al Sarab Abu Dhabi, which is a like a castle that's completely lost in the desert. You take a three-hour journey through desert roads to get there, and you see nothing but desert, until suddenly the castle just appears. It's absolutely stunning. And another very small boutique I love is the Siam Hotel in Bangkok, which has a beautiful, high level of design and an ambience that is completely its own. You'll never see it anywhere else, and the quality of service is exceptional. There are also new hotels opening all the time which are really capturing something unique. It's a very exciting time.

Design is obviously a key feature in creating this unique ambience. Are there interior designers or architects who stand out for you?
Ivan: We never pre-judge a hotel on the name of a designer or architect, because sometimes someone unknown can completely surprise you. Of course, we admire famous designers like Pierre-Yves Rochon, and all those big names in the hotel industry, but we take each hotel on its individuality as it's really a question of the vision and the people that are behind a project. >>

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* The Baccarat Hotel in New York

Have you seen any interesting trends in what your guests are looking for from your concierge service?
I would say that one interesting trend that many of our clients are looking for is to live like a local. Everybody seems to think that a concierge service will only look at extraordinary, financially extravagant points of view, but actually a lot of our very wealthy clients want to get a taste of local life. So when they're going to New York they want to live like New Yorkers; in London they want to live like Londoners rather than eat in tourist locations. So that means our clients rely on our local expertise and knowledge.

Ivan: Exactly. Small places packed with Parisians in Paris, or New Yorkers in New York, so our guests can be part of the community and really feel the city. For instance, we had worked on some packages in Paris where guests could wake up very early and visit a lovely old bakery to learn how you make croissants, and then you can take your croissants on a beautiful little private boat ride along the Seine. So that's the kind of thing that's really showing how you can live like a local with small things that are really trendy for the clients.

I can almost smell the bakery from here! Another trend that we've noticed is the rise in sustainable and eco-friendly travel. Is that something that you've encountered as well from your grand luxury family?
Yes, that's something that we think is very important within Grand Luxury and for the hotel industry as a whole. I think there's still a way to go in the luxury market, although there's plenty of marketing around it being done. You can find those eco-lodges, but none of them reach our luxury segment, because at the end the clients here need some specific aspects that in reality are not so sustainable. But we've seen some hotels working on their own electricity generators or air conditioning solutions to reduce energy consumption, but it's still work in process to match the level of comfort and amenities with sustainable elements.

Rouslan: There are some very interesting brands we all know that are really working on local experience and tradition. I would talk about Aman or Six Senses are both really focusing on experiences with their guests that help them really feel the historical background behind the destination. I find it very fascinating how tradition can be mixed with luxury hotel products to make sure that we protect some amazing buildings, like the historic conservation projects you have at Amanyangyun Shanghai.