The Peninsula Manila earned its first Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star award. Most years, that would be a headline-making achievement on its own. But in 2019, the news is merely a fabulous footnote to an even bigger story: with the Philippines property receiving hospitality’s highest distinction, that means all 10 Peninsula hotels around the globe hold Five Stars. In Forbes Travel Guide’s 61-year history, this marks the first time a brand swept the Five-Star category across all of its hotels.
To achieve such widespread success, you need everyone from the general manager in Shanghai to the gardener in Beverly Hills to understand the company’s mission and apply it every day. Peter Borer knows how difficult a task it is. As the chief operating officer of The Hong Kong and Shanghai Hotels, Limited, owner and operator of The Peninsula Hotels, Borer is responsible for keeping everyone on the same page.
Forbes Travel Guide recently talked to Borer about his team, his nearly 40-year tenure with Peninsula and what this tremendous brand-wide accomplishment means.
Every Peninsula hotel has earned a Five-Star honor this year. What does this across-the-board success say about your brand?
We were happy to receive this accolade. But most importantly, we’re very grateful to our staff around the world who made this happen. This is really a tribute to all our employees who, day in and day out, work hard, try to please and try to follow these exacting standards and sometimes surpass them. To me, it’s a great tribute to them and I’m very, very grateful to all my colleagues.
How is the news going to be relayed to all of your teams?
When the news breaks when we’re all in Los Angeles [for Verified, The Forbes Travel Guide Luxury Summit], we’re starting a five-day celebration in all our hotels. The employees will be invited to have a massage, a special lunch or they can bring their family to tea. We have an array of different initiatives. They will also get a special recognition from the board of directors.
Of course, the hard part is sustaining brilliance. How do you keep up Five-Star excellence year after year?
Well, good service can be trained. Training plays an incredibly important part in this. Good service also comes from the heart because it has to be delivered with passion.
We’re a small company. We’re only 10 hotels. We have an incredibly wonderful ownership structure, with our chairman, Sir Michael [Kadoorie], at the head of the company. His family has been involved with this company almost since its inception 150 years ago. We work for a man who himself exudes passion for the hospitality industry. That makes it a very special place to work.
I’ve had the great pleasure of working here for 38 years. And I’d do it all over again. And many of my colleagues around the world are in the same boat.
In the long history of the company, we’ve been very privileged to receive quite a few nice accolades. But it’s important that you stay humble, and it’s important you appreciate [the honors], but you don’t let them go to your head. Once you’re at the top, you can only go one way and that’s down. And that’s not what we want.
You need to continuously train, keep the passion alive and stay humble.
You mention being with Peninsula for the past 38 years. How have things changed in the industry?
To me, luxury is in constant evolution, but the principles of luxury remain the same. If you have a choice, you’re a free person and that, to me, is the greatest luxury. Space and time are an incredible luxury. I believe that time has become an even greater luxury because the world is getting so much more connected, which is an advantage.
But at the same time, it makes our life so much faster. That’s something I ask all of my colleagues to try to appreciate. Try to have a healthy work-life balance. That’s something I wish for everyone, that we’re not on this constant running wheel that goes faster and faster.
From our guest point of view, we’re trying to adapt our product to a customer who may have different needs than they had all those years ago. Connectivity comes to mind. Health is much more in the forefront than it was all those years ago. Thirty years ago, you [only] had a swimming pool. Today you have all-encompassing spas, healthy cuisine and much broader offerings.
These are all incredibly nice developments. They’re allowing us to make our offering more complete, and they make the employment opportunities for my colleagues more interesting.
To me, evolution is a wonderful thing. I live in a city, Hong Kong, which is the epitome of evolution, reinvention and a constant drive for excellence.
If you look at the hospitality industry of Hong Kong, we’re blessed with wonderful hotels. That keeps us on our toes, and that’s a great environment to be in.
What has kept you excited about the business for 30-plus years?
There are a few key factors. Number one factor is clearly the family I work for — the Kadoorie family. It has been incredibly good to me. It has supported me all the way and given me the opportunity to enjoy a wonderful career.
On the other side of the coin, I’ve worked hard for them. I’ve helped, in a small way, to shape the company to where it is today.
I have wonderful colleagues around me who’ve been with us for many, many years.
And I live in a city that energizes me. It’s a great place for hospitality. It’s filled with people who really enjoy working in our industry and do their jobs with passion.
I had the great privilege of running The Peninsula Hong Kong for 10 years. When you go to work there every day, it’s a privilege because you have a great team, great guests and you’re running an iconic hotel. What else could you ask for?
Are you able to find a work-life balance?
I’m trying. I had to learn, but I think I’m getting better.
Peninsula has a strong presence in Asia and the United States. Where do you envision the company going in the next few years?
As you know, we’re not just managers; in most cases, we are owners or we have a stake in each of our hotels. Right now, we have three hotels under development. One is in London, one is in Istanbul and one is in Yangon. They will open within the next three years.
For us to add three hotels, when you only have 10 [to begin with], is quite a challenge. We’re working very hard but we’re very proud of these new additions. I believe that they will help to strengthen the brand image and strengthen our presence in Europe, where we currently only have the one hotel in Paris. It’s a nice progression.
And, of course, it’s very encouraging for the younger people in our company to see that there’s growth. It gives them an opportunity to have career growth, so it’s very positive.
After someone checks out from a Peninsula hotel, how do you want him to feel?
I want them to feel that they had an exceptional experience, that they felt at home, that they got good value and they have a great desire to either return to that hotel or try another hotel in our company.
This week, we revealed our 2019 Forbes Travel Guide Star Awards. Click here to see the complete list of winners.