Johannesburg - You’d think that, with the world still battling to break free of the recession and with tourism one of the hardest-hit sectors, that a top-end organisation of hoteliers and restaurateurs would be struggling.
Yet when the members and management of Relais & Châteaux met last week in Berlin for their annual conference, there was passion and optimism in the air.
This year, another South African property – AtholPlace Boutique Hotel in Johannesburg – was admitted to the ranks of the association, along with a further 35 hotels and lodges from around the world. Getting into the Relais & Châteaux family is not easy.
According to incoming president Philippe Gombert (a hotelier from France), more than 250 properties were assessed last year, some of which applied and some of which were identified by the association’s scouts.
Of these, he said, “only about 80 were realistic prospects” – and that number was eventually whittled down to just 36.
Does Relais & Châteaux set, and demand, higher standards than you would expect in a five-star establishment?
Yes, says Gombert.
“We definitely say we are five-star and more.”
That “more” is about intangibles rather than fixed assets. While each of the 526 properties is “uniquely different”, the association says “there is a common philosophy shared by all members”.
The first they call the “Soul of the Innkeeper”, where each innkeeper puts his or her personal stamp on the place and its surroundings – the food service and hospitality.
Then there is the “Taste of the Land”, where “the local terroir is expressed through architecture, landscaping, leisure activities and fine dining”.
The “Passport of Friendship” means all properties share the same core values.
“They offer our guests the same feelings of belonging, the same desire to get to know other members,” says the association.
In the “Celebration of the Senses”, the Relais & Châteaux properties “provide a natural setting for the awakening of the senses and feelings of well-being”.
The association says at the heart of its philosophy “is the notion that travel should be a journey of discovery into the pleasures of the art of living”.
Gombert says that in the 2012-2013 book year, the association’s turnover was E1.7 billion and remarkably, given their top-end status, this revenue increased by E100 million year-on-year.
Next year, Relais & Châteaux will celebrate its 60th birthday. In 1954, restaurateurs Marcel and Nelly Tilloy, who owned a restaurant on the banks of the Rhone River, came up with the idea of advertising eight properties under the slogan “Le Route de Bonheur” (roughly translated it means “the Route of Happiness”) because all offered a unique proposition with a shared passion for quality and hospitality.
Service, as you’d expect, is top-drawer, with a staff of 22 500 worldwide attending to just 12 614 rooms, one of the highest staff-to-guest ratios in the industry.
The average room price for each person for a night is E345, which has risen 5.5 percent year-on-year, and the average stay is 2.4 days.
In South Africa, the Relais & Châteaux portfolio spans some of the most iconic properties in the hospitality business. They include the Cellars-Hohenort Hotel in Cape Town; Bushmans Kloof Wilderness Reserve & Wellness Retreat in the Western Cape; Ellerman House in Cape Town; The Marine in Hermanus; Kwandwe Private Game Reserve and the Gorah Elephant Camp in Addo in the Eastern Cape; the Singita lodges bordering Kruger; Le Quartier Francais in Franschhoek; Londolozi Private Game Reserve; Tswalu Kalahari (owned by the Oppenheimer family); Camp Jabulani near Hoedspruit; Delaire Graff Lodges and Spa and the Morukuru Family and AtholPlace Boutique Hotel.
Annie-Claude Bergonzoli, the Relais & Châteaux representative for Africa and the Indian Ocean, said the market in South Africa was buoyant. The association’s members in this country “represented the highest standards” while being “unique and welcoming places”. - Saturday Star