In a hotel world with an increasing number of soft brands, collections and representation firms, Executive Director and Global Brand Leader Jean-Luc Naret is trying to position The Set Collection as a tailored offering, with owners, investors, and management teams given options and agility to procure only the marketing support they really want and need.
Launched in 2021, founding members of The Set Collection are The Set’s own hotels owned by the Akirov family — the Conservatorium in Amsterdam, Café Royal in London, the Lutetia in and Mamilla in Jerusalem. In 2021 Upper House, Middle House, Temple House and Opposite House joined the Group. The goal is to reach some 150 member properties in three years.
In May of this year, The Set Collection joined Dubai-based Global Hotel Alliance (GHA), operator of the multi-brand loyalty program, GHA DISCOVERY, to bolster its distribution. The Set Collection’s founding member hotels will also become members of the alliance’s Ultratravel Collection, an exclusive selection of the program’s most luxurious properties in destinations worldwide.
HOTELS spoke to the veteran luxury hotelier Naret, former CEO of La Reserve Hotels in Europe, about The Set Collection to better understand what sets it apart and
HOTELS: How is the portfolio performing and what is the Collection adding to date?
Jean-Luc Naret: We have already signed new hotels that joined us at the start of 2022, the incredible House Collective properties in Hong Kong, Shanghai, Chengdu and Beijing. Overall, the portfolio is performing very well as we adapt to and enjoy this new period of great results in travel.
H: Why compete with the likes of The Leading Hotels of the World, Relais & Châteaux, etc.?
JLN: Naturally, we cannot help but be compared to other players in the field, but The Set Collection was born out of a desire for an offering that is markedly different. Not only something that we felt was lacking but also a need we heard time and time again from our peers. Unlike those mentioned brands, our organization is run by active day-to-day hoteliers, and helmed by a family that owns their own highly successful and lauded hotels.
There is an abundance of large number of hotel brands in this dynamic and exciting industry today, most of which belong to large hotel groups (Accor for example has about 60, Marriott twice as many). Simply put, customers and owners get lost in this multitude of brands and need clearer reference points.
Our brand, The Set Collection, was created by the four founding hotels of the Set Hotels brand (Lutetia in Paris, Cafe Royal in London, Conservatorium in Amsterdam and Mamilla in Jerusalem). Each of these hotels is undeniably recognized as one of the jewels of the luxury hotel industry and a leader in its market. For example, the Lutetia is the only Palace on the Left Bank.
By creating The Set Collection brand, we wanted to address hoteliers and owners who are looking for an alternative to traditional representation. We offer our members the possibility to safeguard their own hard-won identity and brand recognition without having to join a management brand and are able to provide them with a full range of a la carte services at both the commercial and representation level. Not only do we offer our talents, expertise and cutting-edge practices across multiple disciplines, but we also offer the opportunity to benefit from our strong commercial power. Another very important point of our differentiation is the fact that we offer an a la carte selection of services, tailor made to the member – a point of flexibility that our competitors do not offer.
H: How do you differentiate or manage fees differently than traditional rep firms?
JLN: Our fee structure is flexible, and performance based. Our fixed fee is uniquely low in the industry with the performance-based revenue model ensuring mutual accountability and a drive to conversion. Again, unlike the competitor models, The Set Collection offers a very agile service structure, a bespoke menu of add-on services that are strictly relevant to the member.
H: What are the growth expectation and timing?
JLN: Our goal is to have approximately 30 hotels within our collection in the first years on the five continents and approximately 150 within three years.
H: Could you potentially add a portfolio of properties to The Set Collection, similar to what GHA has done, versus one-offs?
JLN: We are looking at both one off, independent properties as well as portfolio additions. The hotels in our collection will be the independent leaders in their destination and we will help them to position themselves globally. In addition to these quantifiable criteria, there is, of course, something that cannot be transcribed – a feeling of a likeminded outlook or similar attitudes. One could even call it chemistry. At The Set Collection, we believe that it is the artistry of our people; our combined talent, skills, expertise and flair that create these inspiring environments that feel beautifully composed, and it is this that we seek in our collaborators.
H: Where are you looking for new member hotels?
JLN: Hotels wishing to join The Set Collection must be luxury hotels in destinations complementary to our existing properties whose owners wish to keep the management of their hotels but entrust us with their marketing and the network we have built around the world.
We aim to build a portfolio of non-competing hotels, which can work collaboratively to deliver a richer experience and greater value for our Set Collection guests, while maximizing cross exposure and revenue generating opportunities. While the overarching aim is to limit member hotels to one per location, there are some exceptions that would be considered. For example, when the hotel experience offered is different enough that a Set Collection guest would choose to stay in only one of the hotels based on their personal preference, perhaps one property boasting very contemporary design and the other very traditional. Of course, should hotels share the same ownership that has requested more than one be included this would be allowed, as it would when an existing member brand acquires a new property.
H: Talk about your distribution model, its strength and differentiation.
JLN: We have partnered with the big names in distribution which everyone will be familiar with, like Sabre, and they provide everything you will be familiar with from the more traditional representation models.
However, we have gone a step further rather than just plugging our member hotels into the distribution eco-system and leaving them to it. For example, with our booking engine we worked with a very talented third party to build a ‘skin’ which sits on top of the Sabre booking engine and provides a more luxurious and user-friendly experience for our customers, increasing both conversion and alignment to the brand ethos at the booking stage.
We have also partnered with some other experts in the areas of distribution and business intelligence to provide our members with some truly exciting technology which allows them to be at the top of the game in terms of maximizing profitability and revenue generation but without needing to add heavy additional resources or headcount themselves, which is a crucial consideration for independent hotels.
Because of our business model, where the fees are largely performance-based, there is mutual accountability for driving results which also means that, in addition to our member hotels benefitting from the finest distribution technology on the market, they also benefit from our expertise and guidance as much (or little) as they require in order to get the most out of it and deliver the best results.
H: How do you “tailor” membership?
JLN: The great thing about our business model is that we are ‘asset light,’ meaning we can be agile to the ever-changing market conditions so prevalent in our industry.
We don’t have large offices around the world which we need to cover in our fees regardless of whether they are providing the same value to all member hotels or not. What this means is we can build a truly bespoke offering for each of our members to ensure they are only paying for the services which are important to them.
We do not offer a one-size-fits-all package. We do, of course, have certain services which are included for everyone such as the CRS, booking engine, GDS, etc. But then we have an a-la-carte menu of additional services which member hotels can choose from based on their own needs such as global sales representation by market, digital marketing expertise, PR support, etc.