London’s luxury market stands and operates alone on the global hospitality map. Although ‘competition’ is a rare word spoken among hotel operators in the city, there is no denying that the luxury hotels in the capital are all vying for the title of being the best and most interesting hotel in London.
One man who knows more than most hoteliers about the luxury hospitality scene is Thomas Kochs, the Managing Director of Corinthia London. In the last decade alone, the German-born hotelier has managed properties such as The Berkeley, The Connaught Hotel, Claridge’s and Hotel Café Royal. More than likely, it was this impressive portfolio that qualified him as the man for the job to take the helm of Corinthia’s flagship property in 2017.
Since its opening in 2011, in a building that dates back 1885, the 300-key property has proven, time and time again, that Mayfair is not the only neighbourhood for premium hotels in London. Sitting undisturbed on the bank of the River Thames; a hop, skip and a jump away from London landmarks such as Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace, Corinthia London faces, and in some suites frames, the iconic London Eye and the contemporary and eclectic South Bank.
Having just clinched the prestigious title of Hotelier of the Year at The Brit List Awards 2019, Kochs is rightfully considered one of the best in his field. With an acute eye for detail, and a calm, collected yet dynamic approach to leadership, the hotelier has seen – perhaps even led – the evolutions of many hospitality trends driven by consumer behaviour and demands. “Design has evolved,” says Kochs. “10 – 15 years ago, hotels had more opportunities to impress through design. However, a good design formula alone is no longer enough in today’s market. There are some design-driven brands where the customer only checks in because of the design and aesthetic, but we don’t consider ourselves one of them.”
Last year, Corinthia London was the backdrop of a BBC docuseries entitled: A Hotel for the Super Rich & Famous. The two-part series, which echoed a similar format of another series that featured Kochs when he was General Manager of Claridge’s, gave consumers a window into the inner workings of a luxury hotel.
As well as following the day-in-the-life of housekeepers, florists and the concierge, the cameras were also given access to creative meetings with the hotel’s Futurists-in-Residence, The Future Laboratory. The trend forecasters, who began their partnership with the hotel in 2018, believes the future of luxury is about intelligent encounters – think cool cultural exchanges, and the kind of exemplary food for the mind, body and soul that stimulates thinking. “These are dear friends of ours,” Kochs explains. “The Future Laboratory were trying to make the point that that consumers are too busy with themselves, to the point that only severe disruption would make them talk to each other.” One option suggested was to deliberately shut down one of the lifts. “That’s all well and good,” Kochs adds, “but that just doesn’t work in hotels. The aim of the partnership was to position ourselves as a forward-thinking hotel that also respects our history and brand values.”
Another common theme explored in the TV series was how decisions were made, and often changed. “Why would you stick to something that your mind is warning is not the right decision?” Kochs rhetorically questions. “I know it can sometimes be exhausting and an inconvenience to people around you, but it’s important to get it right and sometimes you just have to trust your gut.”
HK: Congratulations on your win at The Brit List Awards 2019. How does it feel, being Hotelier of the Year?
TK: It’s amazing, I have never been a hotelier of the year before.
HK: Why is Britain a hospitality hotspot?
TK: Because creativity, design and hospitality is deeply rooted in British culture.
HK: Where’s next on your travel bucket list?
HK: What’s the one item you cannot travel without?
TK: My Bottega Veneta holdall travels everywhere with me.
HK: What is the one hospitality trend you hope will not return?
TK: The idea that the most expensive is the most desirable. That was vulgar.
HK: What is the last item that will show up on your bank statement?
TK: Organic dog food, hand-cooked in Devon, for my new puppy.
HK: What is the most important element to get right in hospitality?
TK: The team is essential. The team here really do inspire me every day.
HK: What did you want to be when you were growing up?
TK: A GP in the countryside.
HK: If you were not living in London, where would you be?
TK: Somewhere with a beach, potentially Los Angeles.
HK: Who inspired you when you were early on in your career?
TK: It was more the feeling of quality hospitality that inspired me.
HK: What’s your favourite part of the hotel?
TK: I really like the Northall Bar. I like the high ceilings and the historic elements, but also there is space to breathe.
As a someone who has been at the top of the luxury hotel triangle in London since 2001, Kochs understands that the roles of a hotelier are changing, and evolving fast. “The structure of having your strategy, the next five-year plan and the budgets has remained the same, explains Kochs. But now, more than ever, you need to be really close to your team; understand your employees and what they are working on. You also need to spend time with the guests, and really consider the sense of location when doing so. The minute you lose interest in any of these components, you’re fighting a losing battle. That brings me nicely onto relevance. The hotel has to understand how to remain an exciting place. It is a beating heart; a live operation. It’s not something that we can put into storage and sell later. Instead, it’s happening now.”
It’s an interesting time for Corinthia Hotels. Following its announcement to debut in Dubai, which CEO Simon Naudi explained the ins and outs of in an exclusive interview last year. While the brand expands sensitively, the London hub remains the mothership of the group, where the DNA of its award-winning style and service was born and refined. “I do certainly feel the responsibility,” adds Kochs. “We are in one of the most exciting cities in the world, which is all too easy to forget because we have access to it every day. We are lucky and blessed that we identify trends before others. This, I believe, comes with experience. It’s crucial to stay alert and awake to consumer trends and shifts in demands so that we capture them both verbally and intellectually, which we can then communicate seamlessly through the hotel experience.
Considering its widely known reputation, it’s easy to forget that the hotel group currently only has one hotel on UK soil. “We have the advantage of being small,” says Kochs. “Look at what is going on around us. Everything is getting bigger. Travel to Vietnam, for example. You enter Saigon and the streets are a bit dusty, and souk is steaming on the side of the road. But then you are confronted with Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Prada; the same brands and products you would find on Bond Street.
“The hotel industry is not too dissimilar. The Corinthia brand is small, and we are quick in our decision making. There isn’t a corporate paralysation and we are not overly governed by brand guidelines. A large brand would argue that the opposite is their advantage, which can also be true.”
What I believe is most telling of Kochs’ style as a hotelier is the fact that, throughout our interview, he had a subtle, non-invasive watch on everyone else in the room. The self-proclaimed perfectionist continues to stand as a leading example for the brand that is slowly by surely expanding its luxury offering in far-flung destinations around the world. Personally, I believe that Kochs’ attention to detail is what sets him apart – like how, during this interview, he paused politely to ask for the lighting to be lowered as the last of the London light filtered into the late afternoon. Despite his impressive background in hospitality, Kochs remains humble, warm and a worthy Hotelier of the Year.
Main image credit: Corinthia London