Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

Luxury hospitality is an alchemy of meticulous curation: Omer Acar, CEO of Raffles and Orient Express

Omer Acar, CEO of Raffles and Orient Express, talks about the alchemy that transforms hotels into coveted destinations of luxury

Jasodhara Banerjee
Published: Sep 29, 2023 12:56:06 PM IST
Updated: Sep 29, 2023 06:26:59 PM IST

Luxury hospitality is an alchemy of meticulous curation: Omer Acar, CEO of Raffles and Orient ExpressOmer Acar, CEO of Raffles and Orient Express

Accor is one of the largest hospitality companies in the world, consisting of more than 5,000 properties and 10,000 food and beverage venues in 110 countries. It has one of the industry’s most diverse and fully integrated hospitality ecosystems, encompassing more than 40 luxury, premium, midscale and economy hotel brands, entertainment and nightlife venues, restaurants and bars, and more.

In India and South Asia, it operates 61 hotels under 10 brands, including Raffles, Fairmont and Sofitel in the luxury segment, Pullman, Mövenpick and Grand Mercure in the premium segment, Novotel and Mercure in the midscale segment, Ibis and Ibis Styles in the economy segment, and the Bheemli Resort in Andhra Pradesh.

“Accor entered India in 2004 through a joint venture with InterGlobe Hospitality, with its first hotel opening in 2006. Today, the group operates more 60 pan-India properties under nine brands,” says Puneet Dhawan, senior vice president of operations, India and South Asia, Accor. “There is a strong pipeline of 30 hotels set to join the network in the India market in coming years.”   

Accor has signed 10 hotels in India last year, which are scheduled to open over the next couple of years. Of these, three properties in the premium and economy segments have opened in 2023, with three more in the pipeline for this year. In the luxury segment, the Fairmont Jaipur and Sofitel in Mumbai are the oldest properties, having opened their doors 11 years ago; the youngest being Raffles Udaipur, which celebrates its second year in 2023.

Omer Acar, CEO of Raffles and Orient Express, who has extensive experience across several brands in the luxury hospitality sectors—from Four Seasons in the US and Egypt, and Harrods in London, to Ritz in Paris—talks to Forbes India about the evolution of the concept of high-end hospitality, what makes a hotel truly luxurious, what guests expect from it. Edited excerpts:

Q. How has the concept of luxury hospitality evolved globally?
The luxury hospitality landscape is in the midst of a renaissance, propelled by the burgeoning affluence of discerning travellers and their heightened focus on immersive experiences. Once a niche sector, the industry has seen exponential growth with a multitude of luxury hotel brands expanding operations in emerging destinations or staple favourites. This growth includes non-traditional unique selling points such as residences, yachts and private member clubs to cater to every consumer’s desire. As the world becomes increasingly interconnected, the world of hospitality will continue to evolve and provide even more personalised offerings that resonate with the modern traveller.

Luxury hospitality is an alchemy of meticulous curation: Omer Acar, CEO of Raffles and Orient ExpressRaffles Udaipur celebrates its second year in 2023.

Q. What are the specific elements that make a brand / hotel a luxury destination?
The alchemy lies in meticulous curation. At the forefront is gracious and bespoke service, a hallmark of Raffles Hotels & Resorts. Timelessly elegant interiors, cutting-edge technology and unique gastronomic experiences, like that of chef George Mendes’s new restaurant Amar at Raffles Boston, further elevate the guest’s journey. Cultural activities and signature amenities that achieve icon status, such as the Raffles butler, add layers of personality and character, making each property an esteemed gathering place in its locale for travellers and locals alike.
Q. Which have historically been the most coveted destinations for luxury travellers? Which are the destinations that have emerged more recently?
Illustrious city destinations like Paris, New York and Rome all have been the epitome of luxury travel but that is quickly changing. In recent years, destinations like Doha, and Udaipur have emerged as modern sanctuaries for the affluent traveller, offering a blend of exclusivity, local beauty and cultural richness.

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Q. What do guests expect from a luxury hotel? Do these expectations change according to the location of the property?
Guests of luxury hotels seek the pinnacle of hospitality and inspiring experiences. While the core expectations of exceptional service and refined surroundings remain constant, nuances do exist based on location. In urban settings, guests may prioritise convenience and technological amenities, whereas in more remote or exotic locations, the focus may shift to experiences that offer a deep connection with the local culture or natural surroundings.

Luxury hospitality is an alchemy of meticulous curation: Omer Acar, CEO of Raffles and Orient Express

Q. How does a luxury brand such as Raffles distinguish itself from rivals in the market?

Raffles Hotels & Resorts stands as a paragon in the luxury hospitality sector, distinguished not only by its sumptuous accommodation but by its commitment to creating culturally rich guest experiences. The brand resonates with travellers worldwide thanks to its historic properties like Raffles Singapore, Le Royal Monceau-Raffles Paris and Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor. The advent of new properties, such as Raffles Boston and Raffles London at The Owo, is poised to elevate the brand’s visibility.

Q. What have been the changes in luxury hospitality post-Covid?

The pandemic has served as a catalyst in amplifying the expectations of affluent travellers who now place even greater emphasis on exclusivity and privacy. Individuals have also prioritised travel since the onset of the pandemic and this has led to a great surge in demand for high-end accommodation and experience-based holidays. With this surge, many destinations that may not have been very popular are now seeing renewed interest while classics such as London and Bali have returned bigger than ever. The future of luxury hospitality is radiant with possibilities, and Raffles Hotels & Resorts is at the forefront, setting the gold standard for gracious service and authentic experiences.