Viceroy Hotel Group’s CEO talks travel bloggers, true content and the heart of hospitality
He might preside over a luxurious hotel empire these days, but ask Bill Walshe about his introduction to the hospitality industry – many a moon ago – and what you’ll discover is that it was not only humbly home-grown, but also remarkably ‘hands-on’. No “airs and graces” there, as he puts it.
Setting the scene as we begin our interview over a crackling phone line from Paris to West Hollywood in the US, where he’s now based, Walshe begins by recounting his tale of debut – and it starts, unassumingly, at a modest, family-owned B&B in the heart of Limerick, Ireland:
“My uncle, who was in the hotel business initially – the only person in the family or the extended family who had anything to do with hospitality – asked me if I wanted to make some money,” he says.
“He owned a guest house in Limerick and my answer was: ‘Well, of course I want to make money!’ I was about 14-15 years old at the time.”
This budding enthusiasm as a business savvy (and cash-strapped) young teenager secured him his first paid hotel gig as “the kid who took out the trash twice a week”, and with that, his journey to the top had begun.
“I'd get on my bicycle, cycle over to the guest house and take out the trash bins, and they'd get emptied,” he recalls.
“Then the following day I'd go back up that big hill, upon which the guest house was perched and start over. After doing that day-after-day I started to see more of what happened within the business and I liked it. I then got a weekend job in a hotel, started working school holidays and finally decided to do hotel management in college…”
Fast-forward, and the rest is now history for the head of the Viceroy Hotels Group.
Today, he sits at the executive helm of an impressive haute hospitality empire – managing its global operations with a holistic eye on both its inner workings and international expansion – in charge of more than a dozen spectacular properties to-date, across the US, UAE, the Caribbean and Central America – and counting.
Viceroy recently opened its latest establishment – the breathtakingly opulent Los Cabos, Mexico this May; with its next door – a 96-room San Francisco boutique hotel dubbed Hotel Emblem (formerly Hotel Rex) – slated to re-open in early 2019 after an extensive renovation and rebrand inspired by the Beat Generation.
There are also plans to open several more doors over the next few years – expanding Viceroy’s footprint across Europe, Asia and parts of Central and South America – specifically in Algarve, Buenos Aires, and Cartagena; as well as locations in Panama, Vietnam, and Serbia (the next opening on the list).
Evidently, Walshe’s current post at the pinnacle of luxury property management is a considerable far cry from his first fledgling start in the trade – but there’s also no denying that the development of his career path, was authentically ‘organic’.
When I mention this at the start of our interview – far from eschewing the irony – Walshe just chuckles and immediately acknowledges the stark contrast (and humor) of it all in his slight Irish twang; and with a casual, charismatic air which speaks volumes about his refreshing attitude to both life and business.
“Yes, it’s true – as cliché as it sounds – I've gone from trash room to board room in my career so far,” he jokes. “Who knows? Maybe I'll end up back where I began!”
This frank, easy-going and unpretentious approach is a genuine quality which consistently colours our conversation as we continue to speak; and throughout the course of our interview it becomes clear that these are also key traits which Walshe has intuitively weaved into his overall management style at the Viceroy Hotel Group – and attributes which are now firmly embedded in its core DNA.
In a nutshell, Walshe describes the company’s point of difference as “consistent individuality” – and this seemingly paradoxical combo not only succinctly encapsulates their signature ethos, but it’s also what gives their hotel offering an alluring and distinguishable edge in the increasingly saturated market of luxury leisure and travel.
In Walshe’s book, the formula for thriving in today’s luxury climate and making sure that consumers’ desires are consistently met, is exquisitely straightforward: Retain a certain uniqueness, stay true to your values, and maintain authentic connections – to people, cultures, and the essence of each and every destination.
He extends these tenants to his marketing mix and – particularly when it comes to branded content and influencers, the ‘real deal’ of which, he admits is becoming harder to find – believes that quality should be paramount over buzz and pomposity, and that singular creatives who can craft novel narratives with a spin all of their own are infinitely more compelling and worth their weight in gold – more valuable than an army of empty likes and followers.
“Social influence is becoming a bit of a grey area I'm afraid, because these days everybody is a content creator in that social media space,” he says, to that effect.
“I think that’s a shame because there are some genuine content creators and social influencers out there who work very hard and who genuinely want to educate and communicate with their followers and will be great. But then they're dwarfed by the number of people who just want a free holiday. And they think that by having 20,000 Instagram followers that entitles them.
“So what I do love to do, is to find people who are truly creative by nature. Maybe they’re photographers, or maybe they have a great social media following, etc. But I don’t just ask them to come and stay for free and post a picture of what, hopefully, they like – rather I ask them to come and apply their creative talent to what we do, to live and document that experience their own way… and that really resonates with our customers.”
Overall, the sense I get is that – while the decades, distance and a wealth of experience – now separate Walshe’s past from the present, his innate connection and initial love for the hotel and hospitality sector is just as genuine as it was when it emerged all those years ago, observing the daily grind of his uncle’s business; and it all stems from one simple belief which has stoically stood the test of time in his eyes.
“Yes, the style of the hospitality aspect of the Viceroy hotels – the luxury side of things that I'm associated with now – is very different from where I started my journey, but the obligation for me remains exactly the same,” he says.
“As hoteliers, as innkeepers, our fundamental obligation hasn't changed for hundreds of years – since people used to stay in other people's homes while making journeys on foot. And that basic principle is that we keep people safe, we keep them warm, and we keep them nourished. And we do that with genuine care. We do that human being to human being.
“Now, that applies in the two-star, three-star, five-star hotel. I don't believe that there should be any deviation from that.”
The modern embodiment of Walshe’s resolve is the Viceroy Hotel Group as it stands today – a selection of first-class establishments strategically located in extraordinary spots across the globe, each offering an exceptional experience and traveller’s sanctuary, complete with both heart and local soul. A home away from home, which is at once cool, classy, and sophisticated – but above all: REAL – according to Walshe; by staying in touch with how and why the true concept of hospitality was born.
As he eloquently sums up – and, as ever, quite contrarily – often the key to complex balance is to take it back to basics. You can’t be all things to all people – sometimes all you have to be is unique.
“Luxury can be many different things for different people,” he muses. “But what I consistently see guests paying a premium for these days, above all else, is individuality. The kind that is brought about simply, by true thoughtfulness to detail and the authenticity of putting an experience together that, ultimately, is all about creating memories that will last a lifetime.”
Here, Walshe talks to Tidlrs about his role as head curator in creating that experience of "consistent individuality", and how and why his hotels maintain that memorable point of difference.
How did you get into the luxury hotel and travel sector? What attracted you to the hospitality industry in the beginning?
Well, that’s a funny story. It was all very much an accident to be honest. I'd never done anything in the realm of hospitality or in the accommodation sector at all. But it started out when I was growing up in a town called Limerick in Ireland…
So my uncle, who was in the hotel business initially, the only person in the family or the extended family who had anything to do with hospitality, asked me if I wanted to make some money. He owned a guest house in Limerick and I said, "Well, of course I want to make money!" I was about 14-15 years old at the time.
That led to me becoming the kid who took out the trash twice a week. So I'd get on my bicycle, cycle over to the guest house and take out the trash bins and they'd get emptied. Then the following day I'd go back up that big hill, upon which the guest house was perched and start over. After doing that day-after-day I started to see more of what happened within the business and I liked it. I then got a weekend job in a hotel, started working school holidays and finally decided to do hotel management in college.
So, as cliché as it sounds, I've gone trash room to board room in my career so far. Who knows? Maybe I'll end up back where I began!
What is your personal definition of luxury – now that you have so much experience behind you in that sector – and how have you infused this into the current Viceroy Hotel Group offering?
Well, in my mind, there are two main components to that.
One, is just picking up on what you said at the beginning and that's: where I came from being a far cry from where I am. And, yes, the style of the hospitality aspect of the Viceroy hotels – the luxury side of things that I'm associated with now – is very different from where I started my journey, but the obligation for me remains exactly the same.
As hoteliers, as innkeepers, our fundamental obligation hasn't changed for hundreds of years since people used to stay in other people's homes while making journeys on foot. And that is that we keep people safe, we keep them warm and we keep them nourished. And we do that with genuine care. We do that human being to human being.
Now, that applies in the two-star, three-star, five-star hotel. I don't believe that there should be any deviation from that.
And I think that when hospitality, perhaps and particularly modern luxury hospitality rather go wrong, it's because they set out to be perceived as cool, or they set out to be aesthetically pleasing, or they set out to create disruption for the sake of disruption -- which I view as nothing more than interruption -- and lose sight of that fundamental reason to be and the purpose of hospitality.
We express it through Viceroy's ideology which is our series of commitment statements. It's our statements of intention as to why we do what we do, and that keeps us grounded in a world that could otherwise let us get a little bit carried away with ourselves.
In terms of luxury, I think that there are a couple of ways to answer that question based on what I see happening with the behaviours of the modern luxury guest today.
To me personally, the great luxury is being able to spend my time in a way that is something that I will remember and cherish as a memory, because it’s like that phrase that says: The cash rich, die poor. There’s so much truth in that. Time is a very perishable and it’s the only utterly irreplaceable currency.
So when I see people coming to our hotels, particularly the resort, maybe to reconnect with family, to get some downtime after a very busy travel period, whatever it might be, and their ability to use that time effectively to satisfy what it is they want to get out of the visit is the ultimate luxury. Which means that we have to understand why people are there and we have to tailor experiences according to the individual needs. So ultimately it's about individuality.
It's about customisation and experience according to what a guest is looking for. A modern luxury guest is not accepting of transactional experiences anymore – ‘one size fits all’ just doesn’t cut it. They want more than that, a cut above. They want to bespoke, and – increasingly – they want content. Good content.
For a lot of people these days the ultimate luxury is also to be somewhere truly unique, that no one else who follows them on Instagram has been. So that they get the opportunity to post unique images and have people go "Oh my God! You're such an early adopter! You're such a leader!
You know: “like, like, like, like, like”.
So, luxury can be many different things for different people, but what I see guests paying a premium for these days is individuality that has brought about by true thoughtfulness to detail and the authenticity of putting an experience together that ultimately is about creating memories that last for a lifetime.
How would you describe your brand DNA in a nutshell then? In a few words?
Yeah, I can give it to you in two words. It's an oxymoron of a description and it's quite simply consistent individuality. Where the Viceroy experience exists is at the sweet spot of the collision that those two opposing forces.
My job as the curator of that moment is to make sure that we have a sufficient degree of consistency within the way that our hotels operate because you need consistency in operation. But that that consistency stops before it becomes suffocating to spontaneity and individuality and energy and intent.
So we have to find that collision point for consistent individuality, and I think we do that really well here.
Is it a challenge keeping that element of spontaneity alive amidst the changing demands of consumers and shorter concentration spans in today’s digital age?
To a degree. Today, I still see our customers get excited about experiences. In fact, I see them get more excited than they ever have about the authenticity of experience -- the opportunity, for example, to connect with the community and to feel part of the destination. Again, particularly for leisure travel.
But by that same token, people don't want to wake up in the middle of a rainforest and have their first thought as they look around the room be: “I'm in a Ritz Carlton, or I'm at a Viceroy.” They want to wake up remembering the rainforest and they want to understand the ecosystem of that rainforest. They want to meet the people who are indigenous to the region and get that sense of a real, true connection with the place that they’ve travelled to.
So I think people are actually more excited than ever about that. And what people are less excited about – which used to be something that made it easier for us in luxury hospitality – is the physical attributes of the hotel, which are now no longer nearly as impressive as they used to be.
The reality is that back in the day people used to come to luxury hotels because they were nicer than where they lived. And now, people's lives, our customer's lives, have caught up and in many cases have blatantly surpassed the level of luxury being offered in many hotels.
They already have these extraordinary lives full of wonderful attributes and material things. So trying to hide behind the fact that we have deep, plush carpets, chandeliers and George Smith sofas and nice art work on the wall, that just simply doesn't cut it anymore.
The excitement, the sensation, the inspiration that the guest is looking for is coming from human interaction and connectivity to a culture or a place, and uniqueness. And if there's an opportunity to do something that also has purpose, and that purpose is good, it makes the guest even happier. But they won't compromise, the offering has to be truly special to stand out.
Modern luxury hotel guests want to save the world. But it's contribution without compromise. They want to save the world but they want to do it in comfort sitting by the pool or on a terrace with a view.
So if we can demonstrate that the hotel experience, particularly the resort experiences that we're creating that also gives back to the local environment, to nature, that we are connected and doing good for local community – creating work, aiding education, etc – it makes our guests feel really good about themselves.
It's vicarious. Which I'm fine with.
Basically, as hoteliers, that bar of excellence is getting higher and higher – and back to that point I made earlier about people's lives these days being so incredible – the other thing that I don't think we can equally underestimate the obligation that we now have to create content.
If you said to me five years ago that I'd be walking around a hotel with an interior designer and an architect looking for at least five Instagram moments as we create a new hotel, I would have said you were a lunatic.
But that's what we do today. We have to build in these moments. Where's the best selfie moment? If we put a balcony here, does the terrace overlook something that'll look great in a photo? We’ve tested it. We have to do all this stuff, and encourage and invest in content creation.
So how does the Viceroy Hotel Group connect effectively with those consumers around the world? What does your marketing mix look like currently?
It is conventional and unconventional. On the conventional side we have great websites, which is very important. We also love travel agents. I would be nothing without our partners. I think independent travel agents put their reputations on the line recommending Viceroy branded products, and I couldn't be more grateful.
My favourite day of the week is approving commission checks. I love it because we are part of a community of travel. We're just not big enough to make it on our own, nor is that the strategic intent. Third party endorsement and third party recommendation is an opportunity to be part of something very big, more than what we do.
Additionally, we then also have databases and we communicate through those – email, newsletters, internet services and all of that stuff.
One of the other things that we've done is we have joined the Global Hotel Alliance. GHA, which you will find details on via gha.com.
Obviously, the inspiration for GHA was from the Star Line, and One World, based on a concept that allows proud, independent brands to collaborate for reach – and in the case of GHA – to have access to a DISCOVERY program which currently caters to 12 million active members, recruited across all of the 560 brands and hotels that are part of the alliance today. So that essentially means that I can recruit for Viceroy without actually having had to connect specifically via my branded marketing touch-points with that guest.
So the way it works is: if there's a discovery member who was recruited by Kempinski in Germany and earned a state of true frequency at Kempinski Hotels, and suddenly finds themselves coming to New York and says: "Wait a minute. Kempinski is my favourite brand. It's my preferred brand. This is whose loyalty card I hold,” but they don't have a hotel in New York; their very next thought will be: "Hopefully that preferred hotel brand is part of an alliance who do have hotels in New York.” There's a Viceroy there, in New York and even though I never stayed with Viceroy, I've never communicated or touched Viceroy in any way – when I walk in the front door of Viceroy New York and I show them my elevated loyalty status, my tier, they will ‘welcome me back’ with the same level of benefits via the connection with the discovery platform – even though I'm there for the first time."
So, that credible card and connection to an international alliance, for a company of our size, gives us global reach that we otherwise wouldn't have.
On that note of expanding reach and collaboration – and tying back into your point about the importance of content creation – how are platforms that are essentially content-based, such as Tidlrs.com, assisting groups like the Viceroy Hotel Group to engage with new markets?
This is the way I think that it is. Growing up in Ireland and London they'd say to me that you can judge a character of somebody by the company that they keep. I think for a brand, again, such as ours, we're well known and we have reach, but we're small in the great scheme of things.
Therefore, I look at associations, collaborations and relationships with content providers in the same way that I talked about the travel agent community earlier in our conversation. It's not only a positive relationship, it's a dependent relationship.
Because if we're not exposing our product to taking advantage of a content opportunity that will get us five-fold in customers whose profile matches those of our guests, then that’s not smart business. If we don’t dedicate time to content partnerships and collaboration, then those potential customers might never know about us, or might never have the confidence to explore our brand or to try our services.
Essentially, being seen hanging out in the right circle, being featured on the right websites, having our industry available, and endorsed by the right partners is hugely important. Because our consumers are often introduced to us because existing customers have told them about us or because they’ve never heard anything about us, but then have come across our brand in a content-rich environment that prompted them to go and find out more, and that's converted them into loyal guests.
For example – when I look at viceroyhotelandrewards.com – it's an important but very, very small part of our own reach strategy. So, if I had to choose tomorrow between shutting down viceroyhotelsandresorts.com, or not featuring on any third party websites, I'd shut it that down and stick with the third party sites. That’s how vital I think they are.
Does that theme of content collaboration also extend to third party influencers, like celebrity ambassadors and social media icons? Is that something that Viceroy Hotel Group invests in?
Well, it's becoming increasingly difficult to know who the real influencers are. Social influence is becoming a bit more of a grey area I'm afraid, because these days everybody is a content creator in that social media space.
And I think that’s a shame because there are some genuine content creators and social influencers out there who work very hard and who genuinely want to educate and communicate with their followers and will be great. But then they're dwarfed by the number of people who just want a free holiday. And they think that by having 20,000 Instagram followers that entitles them.
I think there are unfortunately a potential number of naïve brands and business owners who have been caught up in this whole social media world thing, so when that when the email comes in saying — "Hi I'm a social media influencer from France or wherever and I've got 50,000 followers. In the past year I've stayed at this number of hotels" — they say OK.
But every hotel that accepts them without qualifications then creates the difficulty for the next hotel. Because if they come to me and say — "I'm a social media influencer and I want to stay at Viceroy Los Cabos," and we say: "Okay, sure, go have a four-day vacation on us" — and they're not the real deal. That’s not right.
But then, the next hotel they’ll go to will get the same spiel. So they’ll say — "Hi, I'm a social media influencer. The last hotel that I stayed at was Viceroy Los Cabos" — and that tells that hotel that because we may have done that, then they might be in good company, when it may not actually be the case.
So, overall — I think we're gonna see hospitality industry take a more meaningful turn towards the proper qualification of people. For example — we have a social media influencer from Mexico, who stayed at Viceroy at Cabo earlier this year. She posted an image standing by our pool, tagged Viceroy Los Cabos, and within 20 minutes had 67,000 likes and our followers went up 2,000 on the Viceroy Los Cabos account — in an hour. So, there are absolutely people out there who have immense influence — it's just really hard to know who they are, so you have to choose carefully.
At the end of the day I have found that what people appreciate overall is what we offer and how we operate as a brand — our level of customer service, locations, that we pay our travel agent commissions on time, etc. — and that in my view is what's going to be the definition of commercial success for this hotel brand. Not whether we had 11 social media influencers stay in our New York hotel last year. If the social media influencers disappear tomorrow I don't think it would affect us as much as losing one meaningful travel agency relationship.
What is your process then – for identifying the “real deal” in regards to social media influencers?
So, what I do love to do, is to find people who are truly creative by nature. Maybe they’re photographers, or maybe they have a great social media following, etc. But I don’t just ask them to come and stay for free and post a picture of what, hopefully, they like, rather I ask them to come and apply their creative talent to what we do, to live and document that experience their own way… and that really resonates with our customers.
Réalisation Par, in particular, is this fashion brand which was setup by Alexandra and her friend Teale Talbot – they specialise in making these summer dresses, and it has blown up hugely – now they have all sorts of celebrities and models locked onto it, and it’s become this massive hit.
So Alexandra stayed at the Viceroy Sugar Beach Resort in St. Lucia, where we just finished a renovation of the resort experience, and I basically just asked her to capture it through her lens, kind of the story log it as you would if it was her [4th and Bleeker] blog. And it was unbelievable the collection of images and work that we got, and so courageous. We would never have done anything like that.
So there is a great example of our brand working somebody who had social media influence, who had followers, but really tapping into why she had those followers in the first place – which is because of her talent and creativity, and her courageous style of collaboration – rather than just trying to get likes on her stay. It’s much more authentic that way, and has a more meaningful impact for the brand.
Speaking of brands and differentiation – you recently decided to create three tiers for the Viceroy Hotel Group: The Viceroy Icon Collection, the Viceroy Lifestyle Series, and Viceroy Urban Retreat Collection. Could you tell me a bit more about that and how that was born?
It was born of a phrase that I used a little bit earlier – consistent individuality – and the two key components of what we do to drive bookings and to drive revenue.
Essentially, when you have a business that has multiple components and parts, such as the hotel portfolio, the emphasis is on consistent individuality. However [without the proper differentiation and branding], that individuality could become confusing for our guests.
What we came to realise, however, is that guests were touching our brand initially through one experience, and then making an assumption that every experience will be exactly the same. And that could potentially set up guests for disappointment, because every Viceroy is different – even if you take our two hotels in the same city of L.A as an example – each has their own style and vibe.
So what we wanted to do with those three tiers was to give our guests certain indicators of style. It's not virtually hierarchical because it's not saying that the Viceroy Icons are better than the Lifestyle Series or that the Lifestyle Series is better than the Urban Retreat. It's merely saying that we're different. We have an individual streak.
So that branding initiative was about managing expectations and creating understanding for what the vibe would be like, and whether that style appeals to a person's manner and what they are looking for from their Viceroy experience.
Where do the Viceroy Residence offerings fit into the Viceroy Hotel Group ecosystem?
We have no residence project that is not part of a development that has a hotel at the heart of it. So we're not getting into having standalone apartment buildings or residence communities that are not hospitality driven and hotel driven.
But where we have Viceroy Residence offerings, that means that some rooms in the property are owned by an investor/buyers who will occupy that residence, or that condominium unit, often only for X number of days per year. When they're not using it, they give it back to us, and we use it as filler product to sell as we would a normal hotel room. Our property in Bocas del Toro, Panama is a great example of that — bungalows over crystal clear water… it’s just stunning.
Sometimes you’ve also got an entire hotel which is a condominium model. In our case, that's the Viceroy Snowmass, our ski resort out in Colorado, where every individual hotel room and suite is owned by an investor. That investor uses it, again, for X number of days per year and it's just a regular hotel room. But they get a share of the revenue that we generate and by loaning it out to hotel guests.
It's a standard practice, and the rooms are perfectly in sync with our branding and hotel standards – the only difference is that, for example, the room is owned by an accountant called John Smith in Delaware, and that owner gets a portion of the revenue that they have made.
I understand that you also have a few new properties in the pipeline – how many hotels exactly do you have on the horizon set to open; and in which destinations?
Well yes, the pipeline is robust, and we have certain regions that we favour. We're very positive about Latin America at the moment. What we have in Mexico at the moment – the Viceroy Riviera Maya and Viceroy Los Cabos, – we love, so we have an understanding of that market and it will be key.
So I think we will be doing another couple in that region – which are as yet unannounced – in Mexico and Cartegena in Colombia, because I think it is an amazing market. It's one of my favourite new places that I've visited in the last 10 years.
In Cartegena, it's 16th century – almost heritage – building and in its time has been a monastery, a convent, a Pentecostal; and it's just such an emotional building in the old town of Cartegena that I just know we're gonna create such an extraordinary hotel there.
Our next opening outside of the US though, is likely going to be the Viceroy Kopaonik in Serbia. We're creating a ski and ski out in town in Serbia, which is going to be a phenomenal success. There's so much demand there and with the surrounding customer base, we are really going to come to the heart of the destination. There’s also Algarve in Portugal for Europe…
So we've got a very eclectic, global mix in our portfolio and in terms of the expansion plans ahead. But we haven't given up on America by any means. I'd like to see some more properties on the East Coast.
My number one target destination for the brand though – in the world, – is London. But here's what's happened recently in London. We either found the right hotel and the wrong location or wrong hotel and the right location. And it's not a market I'm prepared to take any compromise to whatsoever. It has to be perfect, so we’re not in a rush with that.
We're not slaves to our growth. In fact, one of the phrases that we use with this company is that today is our tomorrow.
I see very many hotel groups of our size fixated on their future growth, to the detriment of their current hospitality and service delivery. We're not going to do that. We're actually quite proud of who we are and we're comfortable with who we are.
We're content with ourselves and we're excited about the opportunity to grow and to make the portfolio more varied and to make it more exciting. But for us, that's not the be all and end all. The be all and end all for us is that every guest who walks into a currently open and operated five-star managed hotel, has an extraordinary experience that they'll never forget.
Looking towards the future – what challenges and opportunities do you see on the horizon for the luxury travel industry and for the Viceroy Hotel Group? Particularly in terms of technology, AI, and digital – how will we see that emerge and evolve in your own properties?
From the technology perspective, I see it as an opportunity to become more efficient and offer more to our customers, but the key there is to not unnecessarily complicate things.
So when I talk to guests, I try to make sure that we are taking a co-creation approach to the evolution of our technology offering, and that we are bringing guests to the conversation by asking them: "What would you like us to do?" before going out and spending the dollars doing something and just hoping we get it right.
I think what's really interesting that's happening at the moment though is the incorporation of voice activated command. Marriott has started to roll out Amazon’s Alexa in the bedroom, and I think it's going to be interesting to see guest's reactions to that, because for a bunch of people I know, Alexa is a polarising debate. Some people love it and some people hate it.
But I do get that if you could walk into the room and you could say: "Hey Alexa, could you turn on the golf channel and turn the lighting down to 30%, shut the drapes and order me a cheeseburger and fries." And that's all we had to do, that would be unbelievable. And that's where it's going, no question about that.
Other than that, wifi obviously will continue to be an increasingly very important component of an overall guest stay, particularly for the younger audience, and they are emerging as the ultimate future guest. Because they will have multiple devices that engage in multiple activities and conversations concurrently and if the wifi is not surprising positive with the speed, then everything else becomes irrelevant.
I see that myself in my own life. I have two sons – they are 15 and 17 – and we go anywhere, it can be the most amazing physical environment with incredible views and extraordinary activities available… but if the wifi sucks, the place is a complete disaster.
Ultimately though, I think as technology develops, the obligation on us, as I said earlier, is no different from what it's always been. Identify those absolutely non-negotiable key attributes and deliver them brilliantly and everything else will be the icing on top.
In terms of the new Viceroy Los Cabos property in Mexico which you’ve recently opened, what can they expect when they arrive there? Are there any key, stand-out features to look out for?
First of all, in terms of the visual impact of the hotel, it's amazing. It's a very differentiating factor within the market. The Los Cabos hotel [designed by Mexican architect Miguel Angel Aragonés] is extremely contemporary and it's activated and also very connected.
The danger with having a very modern building in a location like Los Cabos was striking the right balance between that inviting, dominant palate, very sharp lines, individual buildings – and nature. But we have combined those elements really well and softened the experience through the interior activation and a lot of nature brought into the hotel.
From a content point of view – wow – there’s just so much. Our signature restaurant, which serves ceviche and sushi, is called Nido – which is Spanish for the nest — and the nest is structured beautifully, and when you sit in it, it just feels like its suspended on top of water features.
It is a lot of firsts that people will encounter from a technology point of view also. For example, we are giving our guests rubber wristbands that they can wear in the ocean, in the pool, at the beach, which also has door lock capability and is, additionally, a payment mechanism hat you can use across different activities and operators.
The wristband for our guest is big step in the direction of technology, evolution and efficiency – because they not only will be able to utilise it within the footprint of Viceroy Los Cabos, but also while working with partners in other destinations.
So there are a lot of innovative things that we're doing at Viceroy – and lots more ahead.
Words / Daniela Aroche