Luis Contreras, President, sereno hoteLs
Luis Contreras, President, Sereno Hotels , tells SPACE editor Can Faik of his pride in watching the Sereno brand grow and prosper as it welcomes guests from all over the world…
Located in two of the most coveted vacation destinations in the world, Sereno Hotels is the private owner and operator of award winning properties including Le Sereno St. Barths, the Villas at Le Sereno, Il Sereno Lago di Como, and Villa Pliniana, Lake Como. The brand is renowned for carrying through the themes of an intimate number of oversized rooms and suites, incredible and iconic views, large villas adjacent to the hotels, and a distinctive, understated approach to luxury and service.
What is your position within Sereno Hotels?
Sereno Hotels is owned by my family, and whilst we do not like to think of titles within the brand, formally I am the President of Sereno Hotels.
What was your first job in the hotel industry and what was it like to work in a hotel?
I started in hotels via real estate development, and indirectly while I was in school seeing my father work in developing hotels.
My first hotel was Le Sereno in St Barth. When I started I initially thought it would be a real estate deal, where we find who designs, who builds, who manages, who finances and then move on to the next one. How wrong that was!
It was immediately clear to me that for a hotel like Le Sereno, full involvement in all the finer details was required, and that the modern hotel industry is organised where one party owns, another develops, another manages and one more finances…is at the root of why service is often not as good as it could be. There are too many conflicts of interest and in the end it is the client that pays.
At Sereno Hotels we own, design, build and manage our hotels. This clearly allows us to have a very long term view of the value of the properties, and allows us to instil in all the team that what matters is to wow the client…if we do that, sooner or later the finances will take care of themselves.
What keeps you motivated?
I don’t think motivation is much of a problem for people in this line of work! There is so much to do, so many interesting people to work with and to host, and so much variety to the job, that being motivated just comes naturally to me, and to our team.
What do you enjoy most about what you do?
On the development side, creating a new property from abstract ideas has to be the best part of our job. And then developing those ideas into concrete reality, working with amazing technical and creative professionals is also very enjoyable.
And once the hotel is open, there is nothing more enjoyable than talking with satisfied clients that explain why they are enjoying their stay at Sereno Hotels.
Can you think of a time when you’ve done something that has made the impossible become possible?
What we are doing now in St Barth everyone told us was not possible. Our hotel was severely damaged by Hurricane Irma last year. We had ten months not just to repair, but we decided to actually demolish most of the hotel, do a project with significant improvements over what we had before, put together the design team, the construction team, the finances, and then actually build the hotel – all in less than a year! It seemed impossible, but we did it thanks to the incredibly hard work of the team, and the support of the local authorities and local community.
What is the most important aspect of the Sereno Hotels philosophy you instil in your staff and which your guests can expect to experience at your properties?
We have young and extremely well motivated staff, and I think that is what makes all the difference. In our culture it is important that each team member is an individual first, and does a specific function second. So, we encourage this individuality to come through, making the service really personal and not just professional. To have professional service is very difficult and requires a lot of work, but it is something our clients expect, and is not enough to simply wow them. I always tell new team members that our clients usually spend Monday-to-Friday travelling for work and sleeping in the Mandarin or Four Seasons…so if we provide a very professional service like other hotels do and stop at that, we have failed. It has to be better, and especially it has to be a warmer service delivered by individuals that are happy in their job.
What are the unique selling points of Sereno Hotels?
Firstly, size – whilst all the properties are small, allowing a level of personal service that is impossible in most hotels, all of our rooms are large. The smallest room at Il Sereno is about 60 square metres, and all rooms have direct lake views. We have a very well-defined design sensitivity and work with design professionals to develop amazing properties.
Secondly, location – stunning waterside properties at Lake Como and St. Barths, designed to reflect the beauty of their natural surroundings.
What are the personality traits that define a successful and happy hotel proprietor, in your opinion?
Everyone is different – for me it’s motivation, working with interesting people and absence of a defined routine.
With two hotels opened, will the UAE become a focus for Sereno Hotels?
Whilst we have considered the UAE, we haven’t really spent a lot of time scouting the market. There is so much going on in the region that we definitely keep an eye on, and the very interesting (and much larger) projects that are being developed.
What other exciting projects do you have in the pipeline?
We are very busy looking for our next hotel. We had a deal in Venice that got derailed because of the focus we had to put in St Barths after Hurricane Irma. So, Venice and other Italian destinations are very much on the map. We are also looking at a few resort projects on the East Coast of the US and in the South of France. And for the first time, we are considering a mountain resort in the Alps. Watch this space!
What would be your dream hotel project?
Le Sereno, St Barths and Il Sereno, Lake Como are already dream projects!
What advice would you offer to those who aspire to become a successful hotelier?
Work hard and love what you do, whilst having an understanding of why your hotel will be successful.
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?
Hotels are open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, so there is never a quiet time. In my particular case it is easier, because my wife works with me and she works even harder than me to make sure that everything in our hotels is perfect. So, we do spend most of the time in the hotels, including vacations and weekends, working. It is sometimes hard for our son, but I hope it is also useful for him in the future.