In a city full of historic hotels, it can be hard to be the new property on the block. But when The Langham, New York, Fifth Avenue debuted in 2013, it found its footing quickly around the Big Apple, distinguishing itself with modern, glamorous décor; an impressive contemporary art collection; crave-worthy Mediterranean fare at Ai Fiori from popular chef Michael White; and touches that Langham is known for, like the sweet ginger flower scent drifting through the building and the pink flowers adorning the lobby.
The Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star hotel eventually became the U.S. flagship for the brand, whose origins go back to 1865 with the opening of the opulent London outpost.
As The Langham, New York celebrates its fifth anniversary, we checked in with managing director Richard Bussiere, who shared how luxury has evolved over the years and where to find the best view in the Midtown hotel.
How has the hotel changed since opening five years ago?
In the five years since this hotel became The Langham, we have made some exciting cosmetic changes to the hotel in the form of new guest rooms, actually increasing our room count by 20 through some clever reconfigurations, and adding in two well-designed Penthouses and a Presidential Suite. We also completely revamped and expanded our event space, The Gallery at The Langham, to allow us to better host more signature events.
And we installed a multimillion-dollar art collection by the famed New York painter Alex Katz — the largest private collection of his work outside of a museum that we know of in New York City.
But the most impactful change has been that, in transitioning an existing hotel to be a Langham, we have come to embody all of the best elements of the Langham brand, which has instilled a greater sense of pride in our employees, many of which have been here since the building first opened, and have made us better every day in the service we provide our guests.
How have the guests changed?
When Langham took over this hotel, there was a lack of recognition among travelers in the U.S. about the Langham brand, and there was a perception that Midtown was not an ideal location for a luxury hotel.
Over the last five years, awareness of the Langham brand name has grown, not only domestically but internationally, and Midtown has become a hot spot for hotel development, taking away the perception that this location isn’t ready for a luxury hotel. Both of those factors have allowed our guest loyalty to grow stronger, so we have seen an increase in repeat guests as well as more guests coming from the cities in which our sister hotels are located.
What does luxury hospitality mean to you?
Twenty-five years ago, “luxury” had a very limited definition. It spoke to customers of a certain age, who drove a specific type of car, lived at a certain address, held a certain position in life. There were certain expectations of a luxury hotel that were understood and well-defined, by both the guests and the industry at large.
Luxury consumers in 2018 are less defined. They can be from any walk of life, any age, any nationality. And, more often than not, they tell us what luxury is to them rather than us predicting what it will be on their behalf.
For those reasons, it is important to stay nimble, be innovative and to personalize the service you offer in the luxury market, because it changes based on the desires of each guest you serve.
What do you think makes The Langham, New York, Fifth Avenue special?
I truly believe our best asset is our colleagues. Being well-versed in the art of hospitality is not something that everyone can attain. We have managed to find and hold onto some of the very best in the industry that have this skill. They stay with us because we continually celebrate their success at the hotel level but also company-wide.
Some of the stories I could tell you about how our colleagues have gone above and beyond for our guests would give you goosebumps. But even on the most basic level, there is not one member of our team who doesn’t live our values here at The Langham.
And we empower them to make our guests happy. No gesture is too big or too small if it will help that guest create a great memory of their time at our hotel.
What are your favorite parts of the hotel?
I love our event space, The Gallery at The Langham. It has wonderful natural light and it’s where we house most of our art collection by Alex Katz. It has been the setting for some of our most memorable moments at the hotel as well, since it is where I have the most opportunities to interact with our guests at special events and celebrations.
I also like the view from the southern side of the building — our Empire State Views. Not only do they afford a spectacular view of the Empire State Building but, on a clear day, you can see all the way down Fifth Avenue to One World Trade Center, which is an inspiring sight.
What is next for the hotel?
We are currently investigating whether we have the space in the hotel to build a Club Lounge, which is something that Langham Hotels around the world are known for, and which would be a wonderful addition for our guests.
We are also continuing to strengthen our hotel as being one of the most sustainable in New York City. We currently hold Silver Status from EarthCheck, the independent benchmarking agency employed by Langham Hospitality Group, and we are going for Gold. We have committed to decreasing the overall output of waste from the hotel.
For example, we invested in a state-of-the-art Orca machine that turns food waste into environmentally safe water, and which allows us to break down 700 pounds of food per day. On average this investment has allowed us to keep 4,000 pounds of organic waste from going to landfill.
Langham is opening a hotel in Dubai in 2020. What else is going on for the brand?
Langham is expanding in very exciting ways over the next few years. In addition to Dubai, Langham has hotels planned for Tokyo, San Francisco and Jakarta, among other locations.
What keeps you motivated?
I started in this industry out of college in 1980. In 1986, I moved to Asia as an expatriate, first in China and then in Southeast Asia and the Pacific. I came back to the U.S. in 2013 to work as the managing director of The Langham, Boston — my first time working in the U.S. in nearly 30 years.
This then lead to my current position, as managing director at Langham, overseeing both The Langham, Boston and The Langham, New York, Fifth Avenue, which is really the pinnacle of a career spent doing what I love. To have the opportunity to lead a luxury hotel in the middle of Fifth Avenue to greater and greater success is an achievement that makes me feel proud and excited to come to work every single day.