Our very ambitious vision for the future is ‘a world in which anyone can experience the feeling of genuine Five Star service, everyday’.
Your path to Forbes Travel Guide – a fortuitous accident or a passionate ambition?
After 18 years with Orient-Express/Belmond and 3 years as CEO of SLH I jumped at the opportunity with FTG. What attracted me was our focus on improving service excellence in the industry. We verify luxury and to me this means we champion, support and celebrate all those with a passion for extraordinary service.
2020 marks the 62nd year of the Forbes Travel Guide Star Awards, winning one (particularly the Five Star) is definitely the ambition of many hotels, restaurants and spas, why do you feel it is so important to be recognised by you?
Our evaluations are conducted with total integrity. Our inspectors’ book, stay and pay like any other guests. Only 269 Hotels worldwide have achieved the Forbes Five Star rating so far, a very exclusive club! Hotels and their teams work extremely hard for this recognition of excellence. Our website FTG.com is a completely reliable and trusted platform for Travel Advisors and Consumers to assist with their booking choices.
A key goal of your inspectors is to be the eyes of the guest and to be undercover, does that always work out and if they are ever discovered do you have to redo the assessment?
One of the requirements for our more than 50 inspectors around the world is that they have no presence on social media whatsoever. We use different booking platforms to book their stays and they sometimes travel with partners or family members just to stay undetected. If seldom happens that an inspector is detected, we would stop the evaluation immediately and re-schedule a new inspection.
In recent years we have seen the expansion of your global reach, will there be any new destinations added in 2020 and if so, is this a sign of a strengthening commitment to improving luxury standards in the sector?
2019 saw our biggest expansion ever. We now rate nearly 2000 Hotels, Restaurants and Spas in 73 countries. For the first time we rated luxury properties in the Maldives, Seychelles, Mauritius, French Polynesia, Russia, India and South Africa. We will be more strategic about our 2020 expansion. Two of our next destinations to rate will be the Alps and the Greek islands.
You believe ‘service is where top properties are made’, do you think the modern-day traveller is seeking a different style of service and if so, what impact will it have on the future of luxury hospitality?
Current high-end travellers are curious and want to discover the best a destination has to offer. It is our job in Hotels to facilitate that. It starts with creating a sense of place and this is not only achieved through design and decoration but through the personality and character of the local employees. Our standards are 75% based on service, it is all about ‘how does the Hotel make the guest feel’ the emotional and engagement components of service. We feel that ‘if we make the guest think or work harder, luxury disappears’ The human connection has always been and will always be the key to extraordinary service.
The importance of training is something you are a passionate advocate of, do you feel the industry could do more good with this and extend mentoring programmes to help ‘give back’ to local communities?
Our biggest industry challenge is all about people. How to find, train and retain employees and how to attract and retain the younger generations into our amazing industry. We will need to find more desirable and exciting ways to promote and represent hospitality. I love the concept of mentoring and it is being adopted by more and more Hotels. Mentors just love giving back and sharing their experience and knowledge. In the end, that is their legacy and that is what they will be remembered for.
What do you feel is the essence of Forbes Travel Guide, your signature?
To open up the concept of service excellence to the world. Already our executive trainers are working with the Cruise Industry, Luxury Residential, Care Homes, High end Retail, Private Clubs, Private Aviation etc. Our very ambitious vision for the future is ‘a world in which anyone can experience the feeling of genuine Five Star service, everyday’.
You began your career as a Commis Chef, if you could create a restaurant today what sort would it be and where would you choose to be located?
I am still thinking about that! Once a chef…always a chef! My dream concept would be a very informal and especially fun eatery based on the recipes of my mother and grandmother. My mother grew up on a big farm in Belgium and my brothers and I used to spend our school holidays there. We loved sitting at a big table every night and listening to the simple but amazing and funny stories. My uncles were hunters, so we ate a lot of game and simple but delicious dishes. My grandmother used to make the world’s best ice cream without an ice cream machine! There was no TV or radio. It would be incredible to recreate that feeling in a restaurant. The first rule would be: No phones allowed!
What or who inspires you?
I visited over 330 hotels since I started with Forbes. What always inspires me is the commitment and passion of the thousands of rank & file employees that deliver excellence day in and day out. They deserve all the credit and they are the ones making it happen. They make the difference between a good and a legendary hotel. It is so good to see how much they are appreciated by their great leaders in so many brands and independent hotels.
Do you have a favourite place to stay or somewhere you go to recharge?
When I can spend time with my 92-year-old mother and my favourite sister back home in Genk, Belgium.
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