Timo Grünert is the managing director and chief financial officer of the Oetker Collection. Based in Baden-Baden, he oversees the expansion, growth and business development of the hotel group. He plays an active role in the activities of Brenners Park-Hotel & Spa and the other hotels in the portfolio. For London Design Week 2015, he was in conversation with Conde Nast Traveller’s publishing director Simon Leadsford, on the subject of ‘The Art of Masterpiece Hotels.’ Here he talks career highlights, the changing face of hotel design and what to expect from the future…
How did you get into the hotel business? I started my career in the finance department of the head office of the Oetker Group, a family-owned company with activities in shipping, food, beer, sparkling wine, private banking, chemicals and hotels. This job gave me the opportunity to look into all different kinds of businesses and to work with many inspiring personalities on many inspiring projects. One of these projects was the creation of “Oetker Collection – Masterpiece Hotels”. And here I am.
Career highlight? In the course of the opening of Hotel L’Apogée in Courchevel late 2013, the Financial Times described Oetker Collection as arguably the most prestigious hotel group of the world. Now we are thankfully too humble to take that flattering statement too seriously, but at the same time it was great to see that the new brand receiving such a positive recognition only three years after its creation. Besides that single moment, being able to develop a new business with lots of entrepreneurial freedom in an amazing industry with a great team who works passionately day and night to create something special is a constant highlight.
How are hotels changing? What do people want out of a hotel experience today? Well, first I would say that expectations may differ, depending on who you are and why you travel. But there are some general dynamics in the world which also have an impact on hotels and guests’ expectations: people want to be inspired, they want authentic experiences, they want quality and choice, they want things to be easy and not complicated. And in the luxury segment, in addition to that guests want a truly personalised service and recognition. This may not be new and sound a bit trivial but expectations have reached new levels here. And rightly so – as even formerly less service-oriented industries make an extra effort to be friendly and accommodating.
What do you predict for the future of hotel design? To be honest, I am quite happy that I am surrounded by experts that may have a better view on that question than I do. But speaking for our market niche and naming something obvious: the perspective of the guest has to be at the centre of everything. That means for example that hotel design should not ask the guest to become an observer like in a museum, he or she should not asked to say, “Wow”. Design should not scream but whisper, design has to create an ambience that embraces the guest, which makes them feel at ease. That may mean different things for different markets and segments. And then there are of course the trends from above: being authentic, inspiring, etc.
What’s your favourite hotel? That is a tough question! It is a bit like asking a mother which of her children she likes most. What I am probably most proud of today is the consistency of our hotel portfolio. All nine properties in the Oetker Collection are true masterpieces and I sincerely feel at home in all of them. Besides it is also a question of the purpose of the stay. To give an example: for my honeymoon I would perhaps chose Fregate Island Private, 17 villas in a natural paradise in the middle of the Indian Ocean, for a shopping trip Hotel Le Bristol in Paris, then skiing in Courchevel, a week of well-being at Brenners Park-Hotel & Spa… I could go on like this for quite some time, I really have a great job!