PETER C. BORER, CHIEF OPERATING OFFICER, The Peninsula Hotels.
Peter Borer has willingly given 35 years of his professional expertise to The Peninsula Hotels. He tells Can Faik about the changes he’s seen in the group over that time – and explains how it has maintained its unique place in hospitality since 1866…
Since its founding in 1866, The Peninsula Hotels has been at the forefront of innovation, invention and philanthropy – from running the world’s most glamorous hotels in Shanghai in the 1920s to creating today’s cutting edge, technology-drivenspaces.
Characterising the brand throughout the years has been the finest designs and craftsmanship, always with an eye to the ultimate in comfort and luxury and with the aim of giving each guest a unique, unforgettable experience.
What was your background in hospitality prior to working for Peninsula Hotels?
I was educated in Lausanne and worked in a few jobs in Europe and the USA, but have spent most of my time with The Peninsula Hotels – it’s actually my 35th working anniversary with The Peninsula this year!
What is your position within Peninsula Hotels?
Chief Operating Officer.
What do you enjoy most about what you do?
What is so fascinating about the hospitality industry is that it is dynamic and prone to the environmental circumstances that we have to anticipate and prepare for unpredictable changes. It is always a challenge to differentiate oneself in a busy luxury hotel brand environment, especially with a company as small as ours, so whatever we do, we need to stand out in all our offerings, from location to design, service to bespoke guest experiences and so on. That’s why I find it the most satisfying when we are honoured with industry awards, reflecting how our customers and industry colleagues perceive us and our brand.
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?
In fact, the most unique element of The Peninsula Hotels as a group is that we’re one of the smallest luxury hotel groups in the world. We have 150 years of history and yet our group’s philosophy is upheld to the highest levels because of the commitment of the Kadoorie family and their interests in the company. Heading the group since the 1920s, they’re still the majority shareholders of the company and that is a commitment and a level of support that no other global hotel company can claim to have.
It means assurance for quality, in that our majority shareholders care about upholding this brand on a long-term basis irrespective of fluctuating global markets and crises. This means that everything we do is really for the long term, with a long term vision. For the staff, it really means that they are part of the family – the security of knowing who we are working for and that this is not going to change. For someone who has worked in the hotel industry for many years, I can tell you that is very unique.
We own or part-own and operate all of our properties, and so the philosophy is that when you own something, you give it a lot more commitment. From a staff point of view, that is really reassuring and that translates to the guests as well. They know that when they check into a Peninsula hotel, that hotel is being treated like someone’s property so this commitment and assurance to guests has helped us uphold our brand standards over the years.
What are Peninsula’s unique selling points?
As mentioned, it is our ownership structure which comes from the Kadoorie family that makes the Peninsula brand unique. Another thing is our philosophy. We believe it is best to own or part-own the hotels we manage – or at least have a stake in those hotels – so we do not do management contracts. Again, that allows us to focus on our brand and our standards of quality without having to make too many compromises. Having such a large financial involvement in the hotels gives us a greater say in what we do with them and how we run them.
All Peninsula hotels are very much of their destination, and this concept is carried through the entire hotel from design to artwork, cuisine to culture. We believe very strongly that we can only be successful if we are fully accepted, welcomed and embraced by the local community, who are proud to have a Peninsula hotel in their location.
We embrace our heritage as Asia’s oldest hotel company. The Peninsula Pageboys are the people and personalities behind the Peninsula brand and they bring the hotel experience to life. The white Pageboy uniforms date back to the opening of our first property in Hong Kong in 1928 and have become a symbol of our heritage and our approach to personalised service.
Other unique selling points are our Lobbies, Afternoon Teas, Rolls-Royce fleets, in-room technology and more – but above all, the commitment to personalised service to our guests.
What are the personality traits that define a successful and happy hotel proprietor, in your opinion?
Successful hotel proprietors acknowledge and fully understand the importance of quality and integrity in all that they do is the key to success. This is exactly the founding principle that has guided our company for 150 years, and is one that has been embraced by employees across the group and appreciated by our guests. Hiring and retaining the right employees continues to be my and actually, our company’s top priority, and so we focus on investing time and effort in training and developing the right staff to build employee loyalty to our brand.
Tell me about the newly announced Peninsula London Hotel, and what we can expect from your new property?
We have announced our first hotel in the UK – The Peninsula London. In July 2013, we purchased a 50 per cent economic interest in 1-5 Grosvenor Place, Belgravia, London. The site is a spectacular location at the entrance to Belgravia, opposite the Wellington Arch at Hyde Park Corner with views across to the gardens of Buckingham Palace. We target to commence demolition and construction by 2017.
What other exciting projects do you have in the pipeline?
We have lots of exciting developments occurring at the moment and in the pipeline. The Peninsula Chicago is undergoing a major renovation for a fabulous new look to be completed in April this year. Its rooms and suites are having a chic design upgrade, together with the installation of our cutting-edge in-room technology. We expect that this will position The Peninsula Chicago as one of the most advanced hotels in the city and will greatly enhance our value and appeal to guests.
Likewise, showcasing a new take on the Capital, The Peninsula Beijing is currently undergoing an exciting transformation with a brand new facelift, with which we aspire to reposition the property as the finest hotel in China that perfectly combines Chinese artisanship with western sophistication. Guest accommodation will go from 525 to 230 rooms starting at 60m2 – the largest in Beijing and among the largest in China – and include classic chic design, pioneering in-room technology and Chinese art and savoir-faire.
Looking a little further into the future we have signed an agreement to take over a beautiful old building in Yangon, Myanmar and transform it into The Peninsula Yangon. Formerly the HQ of the Burma Railway Company, it is an elegant colonial building and one of the most distinctive in Yangon, located a few minutes from the UNESCO World Heritage Shwedagon Pagoda and famous Scott’s Market. In addition, we are also delighted to share that we have just announced a proposed development project in Istanbul, Turkey, where we aspire to redevelop a property into a Peninsula hotel located in Galataport in the heart of the city with great views of the Bosphorus.
How do trends differ – if at all – between hotels in Asia and Europe?
Today, hotel guests are increasingly demanding and sophisticated, and while different people have different needs and preferences, regardless of the location of the hotels and the nationality of the travellers, guests in general expect personalised service in a safe and hygienic environment.
Hotels need to have a very clearly defined “sense of place” in order to provide guests with an authentic cultural experience when they stay at the hotels.
Therefore, The Peninsula Hotels is very selective when it comes to location. Currently, we own 10 properties in Asia, Europe and the USA. Each hotel is literally and figuratively at the heart of our destinations – iconic addresses such as the Bund in Shanghai, Fifth Avenue in New York, overlooking the Imperial Palace in Tokyo and the Champs Élysées and the Arc de Triomphe in Paris and so on, greatly enhancing the “sense of place” and thus the guest experience, bringing a nonpareil level of distinction and glamour to the luxury hotel market. There will be opportunities for future growth, but it will be at a very controlled pace. We build for long-term and are willing to wait for the right opportunities for development.
All Peninsula hotels are very much a reflection of their cities, and this concept is carried through the entire hotel from design to artwork, cuisine to culture. We believe very strongly that we can only be successful if we are fully accepted, welcomed and embraced by the local community, who are proud to have a Peninsula hotel in their location.
Have you noticed any particular trends in hotel interior design?
Different companies have different takes on hotel design. For The Peninsula Hotels, we do not really follow trends. Our aim is to be classic, elegant and timeless – never trendy. When we are designing our hotels, it comes down to a balance between design and operations, yet the aim at all times is to “embrace” the guest and engage all his or her senses.
How important do you feel hotel design has become when launching a new hotel?
Design plays a vital role in new hotels. We believe that good hotel design is about the sequences of experiences which must engage the senses. It actually commences from the very beginning of the guest’s interaction with the hotel – the website, the booking confirmation and so on – but in this context, “design” starts from the moment he or she enters the Peninsula car en route to the hotel, as many of our cars have been customised to our own requirements. The guest is led on a journey from arrival at the hotel, in which every element and aspect – tangible or not, ranging from décor, lighting, smell, etc – has been carefully designed to play a part.
For us, our design process is meticulously orchestrated to ensure that our guest rooms are the most comfortable yet also outstandingly functional at the same time. First a plywood mock-up room is created with accurate dimensions of the proposed furniture and fittings to check the space and “flow” of the room, and to envisage how the guest will make his way around it. Once approved, a fully functioning sample room is built in a secret location in Hong Kong, comprising every proposed element from bathroom fittings, in-room technology, furniture and fixtures – even the “view” from the windows is a photo of the actual vista from the hotel rooms! An exhaustive review process ensues, with company executives spending nights in the room to “live” the experience as a guest would, with multiple rounds of changes and tweaks – both major and minor –until the room product is as perfect as it can be. Only then is it signed off and then installed into the hotel.
What would be your dream hotel project?
I have pretty much completed my dream hotel projects – the renovation of The Peninsula Hong Kong, the opening of The Peninsula Tokyo, Shanghai and Paris, etc, all of which seem so different yet involve so much creativity, leadership and synergy among people from all walks of life, and hence are so rewarding when they are proved to be successful. I look forward to being part of the development of our hotels in London, Istanbul and Yangon!
Where currently ranks highest on your travel wish list?
My next goal is Patagonia, with its amazing variety of scenery, ranging from mountains, deserts, steppes, lakes to glaciers
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?
As my life is very hectic and I travel extensively, work-life balance is important for health and just being able to get away, clear my mind and think. I’m glad and appreciate that my friends and colleagues all respect my personal life and my free time. I have a personal trainer session several times per week, and skiing is one of my favourite sports. In addition, I’m a keen hiker – hence why Patagonia’s on my travel wish list radar – and love getting out of the city into Hong Kong’s country parks and trails, as hiking is such a wonderful way to get away from the hectic way of life of this fast-paced city. Hong Kong has some stunning countryside and coastline, and with about 40 percent of land designated as country parks and protected from development, you’re never far away from greenery and water!