Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down with Simon Kerr from COMO Hotels & Resorts, a brand I have had the pleasure to work with extensively over the past few years. Simon is the commercial director based out of London and a dear friend of mine.
Larry Mogelonsky: Tell us a little bit about your background. Why COMO Hotels?
Simon Kerr: I have been with COMO Hotels & Resorts for just over six years now. My responsibilities cover all commercial aspects of our business. My background prior to joining COMO has always been in the hospitality industry. After training in hotel management, I specialized in sales and marketing, and my career has included time with InterContinental, Hilton and Marriott International at the world-famous Grosvenor House Hotel on London’s Park Lane.
I was drawn to a career with COMO because of the vision of the company. Our owne, Mrs. Ong’s passion for both hotels and holistic wellness has created unique properties and guest experiences in wonderful locations around the world. My days are full of variety and can cover discussions ranging from trekking in Bhutan to yoga retreats in Bali, private home rentals in the Caribbean and exclusive events at the world-famous Met Bar in London.
LM: What was the genesis of the company?
SK: The company was started 20 years ago with the opening of The Halkin in London and has grown to now offer eight properties in locations ranging from the Turks & Caicos Islands, London, The Maldives, Bhutan, Bangkok and Bali.
LM: What is the COMO philosophy?
SK: The COMO team is encouraged to push boundaries and ensure our guests are constantly met with the best in hospitality, both within the hotel and in the destinations they are privileged to be set in. This relates directly to the core principles of the COMO brand. Design, culture, adventure, cuisine and wellness all ensure that our guests are familiar with the standards and service we offer. Yet each hotel infuses personal touches reflective of the unique destination.
LM: Who are your key competitors, and how do you differentiate the COMO brand?
SK: Due to the unique nature and philosophy behind COMO, we believe that there are no direct competitors to our brand. However, we would look towards brands such as Aman Resorts, Six Senses and Four Seasons, who share some similarities in certain areas of our business.
LM: How has COMO embraced new technology such as social media?
SK: Frequent and honest two-way dialogue with the guests and fans of COMO is essential for our business to grow. Now with platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and TripAdvisor, this conversation is fast and dynamic. Companies utilizing social media will all benefit tremendously in the future. We have a social media manager for the company, who actively manages our Facebook and Twitter platforms. This includes monitoring what people are saying about us on the web so we can start up an instant conversation. Our general managers all closely monitor what is being said by our guests on TripAdvisor and, again, ensure that comments receive timely feedback.
LM: Explain the rationale behind your departure from Leading Hotels of the World. What has the impact been on your business?
SK: We worked for a number of years with a few representation companies including Leading Hotels of the World, Design Hotels and Small Luxury Hotels. All were excellent platforms from which we could supplement our own promotional work. As the company grew, however, it became important that we spoke directly to consumers and the travel community about the core brand values of COMO, along with giving them the opportunity to find and book our hotels directly on both the GDS and Internet.
It is also important that our clients are able to find us all in the same place — so guests who enjoy the COMO experience in one location can then easily learn about our other properties. We now have our own COMO GDS chain code (CV), a dynamic web booking platform and are investing resources into building the COMO brand reputation.
LM: COMO recently announced a new hotel in Thailand. Tell us about it.
SK: Point Yamu is due to open towards the end of 2012. Positioned on the northeast side of Phuket and overlooking the stunning Phang Nga Bay, the resort will offer 125 stylish guestrooms, suites and villas along with exceptional cuisine, a COMO Shambhala Retreat and inventive activities for our adventurous guests.
LM: What does the future hold for the super-luxury resort segment?
SK: The growth of experiential travel and guests looking for a truly authentic experience means that luxury resorts will have to up their game beyond the gates. This encompasses greater interaction with local communities, proof of environmental and sustainability programs, unique cultural and adventure experiences, and an atmosphere where guests feel there is a learning element from the memories they part with.