Hans Jörg Meier, CEO of COMO Hotels and Resorts
Chief Operating Officer, COMO Hotels and Resorts, Hans Jörg Meier talks to SPACE’s Can Faik about the future of the COMO brand…
COMO Hotels and Resorts offers personalised luxury travel experiences at its urban hotels, island resorts, adventure retreats and wellness resorts through individualised service, commitment to holistic wellness and award-winning cuisine.
With more than 30 years experience in the hotel industry, Hans Jörg Meier, began his hospitality career in food and beverage at the age of 16 in Switzerland. Hans has overseen a number of significant developments to include rebranding, milestone anniversaries and new openings.
What was your background in hospitality prior to working for COMO Hotels and Resorts?
I started off in hospitality through a Swiss apprenticeship programme with focus on Service and the Kitchen. This taught me some valuable skills, which I built on by working in luxury hotels and on cruise liners around the world, followed by a management course at Belvoirpark Hotel Management School. From there, I went through the ranks and held leadership roles with Peninsula Hong Kong and Raffles Singapore, amongst others, which gave me a taste for Asian hospitality. In 2015 I was appointed as COMO’s Chief Operating Officer.
What does your current position involve?
I’m overseeing the daily operations of COMO Hotels and Resorts. I’m also responsible for the development, operation and improvement of our services and the COMO Hotels and Resorts brand experience at large.
What do you enjoy most about your role?
I like to be part of a group where entrepreneurial spirit is valued and fostered. I enjoy working with many different cultures and colleagues who are deeply passionate about hospitality and the creation of memorable experiences. There are always interesting challenges, but the individual no-cookie-cutter approach makes the company stand out and exciting to be part of.
What are the complexities of meeting the demands of shareholders, fulfilling the growth of your management team and delivering the brand’s values to the guests?
Since COMO Hotels and Resorts is a privately owned company, there are fewer shareholders involved compared to some of our competitors. However, this comes with its own challenges and opportunities, which need to be managed. Building a strong team and finding the right candidates to push your brand forward is probably one of today’s biggest challenges and a concern across our industry. While working in hospitality can be hugely rewarding, it’s a sector with a continuous talent shortage.
What does COMO Hotels and Resorts have to do to stay one step ahead of its competition?
Being a smaller brand, we have the opportunity to be more dynamic than others–we consistently develop new services and experiences while staying true to our core values and brand pillars–Cuisine, Hospitality, Wellness, which have always been the foundation of COMO Hotels and Resorts.
What are COMO Hotels and Resorts Unique Selling Points?
We provide extraordinary experiences in some of the world’s most desirable locations. A stay at COMO is much more than a bed for the night. We have deep-rooted relationships with local communities and our portfolio reflects an authentic local flair whether you are in Bhutan or Bali. Our properties are unique in design while embracing key COMO elements such as our COMO Shambhala spas or outstanding dining experiences from Michelin-starred cuisine to healthful COMO Shambhala menus.
What is your plan for the COMO Hotels and Resorts in Europe and the UAE?
Europe is an important market for us and we consistently look for new opportunities that fit with our brand philosophy. We are currently working on two potential properties, which we will hopefully announce in the near future. We are also keeping an eye on the UAE, but there aren’t any existing plans at this point in time.
COMO’s latest resort, COMO Echo Beach is opening up later this year. How do you feel this will different from the other COMO properties in Bali?
COMO Echo Beach will be opening in Canggu, a laid-back surf-friendly spot, about 20 minutes north of Seminyak. Located right on the beach, we will be able to offer guests luxury surf programmes and a fantastic base to explore the 8km long coastal stretch, bordering on rice paddies. Our two existing properties, COMO Uma Ubud and COMO Shambhala Estate will provide guests with the opportunity to explore two of the most sought-after parts of Bali, while staying in COMO style.
Who are you working with on the design for COMO Echo Beach?
COMO Echo Beach is a design collaboration between Koichiro Ikebuchi and Paola Navone. Both have worked with us on numerous projects in the past with Paola Navone being responsible for the interiors of our most recent projects, COMO Point Yamu in Phuket and COMO Metropolitan Miami Beach. As with all projects, the vision and personal taste of our owner is very much part of the design process.
This year is COMO Shambhala’s 20th Anniversary. Do you have any special plans to celebrate this milestone?
To celebrate this milestone, we have produced a limited edition tote with luxury goods company, Mulberry. The canvas bag, ideal for carrying essentials, is available in two colours — light tan and navy — and is finished with leather straps and a stitched COMO Shambhala logo. It is sold exclusively at COMO Shambhala retail outlets worldwide, and COMO Hotels and Resorts Boutiques.
What are the personality traits that define a successful and happy hotel proprietor, in your opinion?
People need a hands-on approach in hospitality, with the passion and desire of being a host. Individuals need to be creative, understand the figures and live the brand beyond their job. Besides that, the aspiration to create a happy environment for staff is crucial for a successful operation.
Have you noticed any particular trends in hotels in Europe compared to US and Asia?
One of the trends I’ve noticed is restoration–many hoteliers in Europe have taken on old buildings that served a different purpose in their former existence and gave them new leases of life through meticulous renovation projects. Although not in Europe, we did something very similar with COMO The Treasury in Perth, which is a former government building that has been restored to its former beauty.
Have you noticed any particular trends in hotel interior design?
I think hotel design is going in two directions at the moment –either contemporary and paired-back or the embracing of a more traditional look, which is partly driven by big renovations such as The Ritz in Paris.
How important do you feel hotel design has become when launching a new hotel?
I believe the design plays a huge part of the guest experience. Design needs to work with the environment, the guest, but also the staff that provide our service. It’s like a puzzle and every piece needs to be carefully considered to create a beautiful environment that can be functional at the same time.
What would you say are the three best places you’ve ever stayed?
Naturally our Beach front Villas at COMO Parrot Cay for direct beach access and the perfect turquoise waters of the Caribbean. The Peninsula Hong Kong as one of the classic grand hotels of its time. A hut in the Alps, surrounded by fresh air, nature and healthy, honest food.
Where currently ranks highest on your travel wish list?
I would love to do a tented safari in Africa.
Let’s finish with the issue of personal and work life balance. How do you aim to achieve a good balance and what do those closest to you think of your attempts?
A healthy work-life balance is crucial, but not always easy to achieve. I do sport to switch off and spend time with the family. I can’t say whether I’m successful – you should ask my wife…