There are only nine One&Only hotels around the globe. It feels like there are more, though. One of the reasons for this is that their reputation surpasses their actual reach. When travelers have great experiences, word spreads. And that’s been the case with this luxury brand.
So, when Forbes Travel Guide announced its 2020 Star Award winners on February 12, it came as no surprise that six One&Only properties — Five Stars One&Only Palmilla, Los Cabos Resort; the Maldives’ One&Only Reethi Rah; Mauritius’ One&Only Le Saint Géran; and One&Only Cape Town; along with Four Stars One&Only The Palm and One&Only Royal Mirage in Dubai — were honored.
Philippe Zuber is the chief operating officer for Kerzner International, a company that has One&Only, Atlantis Resorts and Residences and Morocco’s Mazagan Beach & Golf Resort in its proud portfolio. He’s the first to tell you that it takes a team of skilled workers to execute excellence every day. Zuber also knows that it’s going to take even more commitment to ensure that three One&Only properties opening later this year reach those same high standards.
During our recent chat with Zuber, he talked about the brand’s 2020 expansion, One&Only’s unique service philosophy and the biggest changes he’s noticed in today’s luxury traveler.
To what do you credit for the brand’s across-the-board success?
We have a long history with Forbes and One&Only. I think what makes us very, very proud is that one of our core values is developing passionate and committed people. We cannot be more proud than that. A hospitality company is all about services, and that’s why we are so thrilled to have an international company recognizing those skill sets that we have amongst the One&Only hotels.
We’re very global. We are on each continent. We have more than 11,000 colleagues. But most importantly, we are managing more than 100 nationalities. So, yes, if you ask me what makes us so unique, it’s that hospitality is a universal language that needs to be delivered in a very personal manner and the fact that we’ve been recognized by an international company [like Forbes Travel Guide] makes us extremely happy. It’s really a credit to the team and to what they are doing on a daily basis.
Doing ultra-luxury services is not easy. It requires lots of concentration. It requires a lot of work and a lot of training. And I think it is a great recognition that we have four hotels which have been recognized at that high level.
You were instrumental in creating One&Only’s We Create Joy initiative. Can you explain a little bit behind that philosophy?
This is a service philosophy which is based on five pillars. And instead of being the usual pillars, which are then being deployed into guidelines, they are based on behaviors. And the fact that they are based on behaviors gives a lot of self-confidence to our colleagues that, when they are interacting with our guests, they are doing the extra touches that makes the difference between a luxury hotel and an ultra-luxury hotel, you know?
Those five pillars are based on warmth, empathy, anticipation, precision and creativity. We have lots of tools in order to push our colleagues to be the best on all of those pillars. The success of this We Create Joy philosophy is that, if everybody behaves that way, it only can drive everyone to be a better person the next day. Because it’s a self-correction attitude.
From the leadership down to any of our colleagues within the organization, they all have to behave to those five pillars. It’s extremely, extremely strong and it really talks to the value of One&Only as well. I’m so passionate about that because I think it has been such an amazing journey and the response of the colleagues toward this philosophy has been absolutely amazing, and the way that we deploy it with the team and the resorts is very, very unique.
We are one of the only companies that has this brand gesture — the hand over the heart. So, if you go to any One&Only resort around the world, the people are greeting you the same way. And that’s affiliating to our brand — we have a unique brand that gives these kinds of little touches. It’s not in your face. You don’t think it’s there. But when you go to one resort and then to another one, suddenly you recognize there is some consistency of the way that you have been greeted. It goes into things which are very discreet, which are not being forced.
Tell me a little bit about your road to where you are now.
I joined Kerzner four years ago and I was, at that time, appointed uniquely to look after One&Only. And I’ve been with an amazing team, being able to really work on repositioning One&Only, making sure we continue to denote this brand strength. We changed the brand architecture at that time, being able to develop some new particulars of the brand, a real estate part called Private Homes. In any of our new resorts, we’ve attached some unique real estate proposition, which our guests can own.
And we have been able to develop urban resorts and nature resorts. Historically, One&Only was always a beach resort company. So, the brand becomes more global, being able to impact more locations. By developing the We Create Joy philosophy and by doing a lot of transformation to the brand, we are able to have a really strong road.
So, as you know, we currently have nine One&Onlys in our portfolio. But this year, we are opening three. We are opening One&Only Desaru Coast in Malaysia. We are opening One&Only Portonovi in Montenegro, and we are opening One&Only Mandarina in Mexico. We have a very, very strong pipeline.
We have a hotel that we are developing, One&Only Kéa Island, in Greece. We have another hotel in Dubai [coming as well]. We have a lot to announce very soon. What we have in the pipeline is extremely, extremely exciting. So, the joy for me is to see the work that we have done with the team has paid off and that Forbes Travel Guide recognized that and really puts One&Only as one of those unique companies.
I was always in the high-luxury sectors. Before joining Kerzner, I was in charge of Emaar Hospitality, which is a Dubai-based company that had amazing brands in their portfolio. The most recognized one is Armani Hotels and Resorts — [which includes] Armani Burj Khalifa in the tallest building in the world — Al Alamein and as well the Address Group and some other brands, which are very, very unique.
And before that, I worked my entire career with Park Hyatt. I was in South Korea. I was in Paris. I was in Morocco. I was in Berlin. I led many, many assignments for Park Hyatt around the world. I started my career with them.
So, that’s my journey. Passionate about people. Passionate about luxury. And passionate about having an impact to the ultra-luxury space. This is what we all are working towards. And I can only do that because I have an amazing team.
You mentioned people and the transformation of the brand. I would love to talk briefly about the transformation of the high-end traveler. How have you seen guests evolve or change over the last five or six years?
I think they have the same expectations when they come on vacation. [But] I have seen changes in the children of our customers. We are very lucky to work with a very exclusive clientele, very niche, very well-traveled and they are very, very confident of what they want and what they like. What surprises me now are the amount of expectations that are coming from the children. They really would like to be much more entertained than the previous generation would. They would like to have many more activities. They want to have larger choices and they are very, very sensitive on each of the details, which, in the past, they were potentially a little more easy to please. But now, it requires us to really up our game.
We’ve always had a clientele that was very demanding and extremely attached. It’s the service that makes a difference. It’s definitely not the design of the hotel, which has an amazing importance. But what it is [that ultimately] makes it or does not make it [a great experience] is the delivery of the service experience.
What else I have seen lately being increasingly more important is the food and beverage as the reason to select the hotel. Food and beverage, restaurants and entertainment are absolutely key to the selection of a hotel.
But to be very honest, I have not seen that many changes. It’s always high-level individuals who want to get the best of their vacation and want to have amazing services, want to have the respect of privacy and want to have the services at the time that they want. That has not changed. That’s been the same for years now.
You’ve spent your whole career focusing on the happiness of others. When you have a break, how do you relax?
I’m enjoying so much the hotel which I’m working with. We have some people who say, “Oh, I need to switch off, I need to go to other places to enjoy.” I actually am the opposite. I love to spend my vacations with my family within our hotels. I force myself to spend vacation in other hotels in order to see how the market is doing and to keep up to date. I really, really love spending time with my family.
Honestly, I’m very much invested in my job. I’m traveling a lot. Just being with my family gives me so much joy. So, the best way for me [to relax] is to be in a beautiful location and to just spend a good time with my family. I’m certainly a fan of being relaxed and having some very basic and nice activities around.
I have a family which loves dining, so we have that as a common passion. We love to discover new cultures, new foods, new restaurants and new celebrity chefs. This is what the whole family is totally crazy about, so we’re usually building our vacation around that.
That sounds like a good vacation to me.
You cannot make any mistakes like that. You select one or two chefs that you want to follow, and you go and make a trip around it. You’re never disappointed.