Concluding our month of focusing the lens on Hotel Concepts, editor of Hotel Designs Hamish Kilburn puts Ronald Homsy under the spotlight to learn more about how he plans to make the world see luxury hotels for the experiences they shelter…
In a quiet café just off London’s Sloane Square, which is a pleasant experience itself, something amazing is happening: I am about to meet one of the men behind a new hotel collection that inspires through one-off experiences. The sharp-looking businessman approaches my table and takes off his tailored blazer and rolls up his sleeves to shake my hand, which breaks down all formal barriers. The CEO and co-founder of Utopian Hotel Collection, Ronald Homsy, sits down comfortably and starts to share what I can tell has been a driving passion of his for years.
We start talking about locations as we constantly refer to them as playgrounds that need exploring. It becomes clear that finding the hotels for Ronald’s newly launched collection is half the fun – or battle depending on how to you look at it. “We find our hotels on the basis of five principles. They are story of everything, unexpected adventure, people-to-people service, technology and the playful character,” he explains. “In addition to that, though, we want to find hotels that have unique characteristics, which of course can come from the design.”
“It doesn’t take a genius to realise that Ronald’s looking for unexpected gems.”
Ronald assures me that a hotel cannot be a member of Utopian Hotel Collection if there isn’t something exquisite about the design. Having previously read how he has worked in the restaurant and club scene before, it strikes me that Ronald is not unfamiliar of good design that works, or luxury for that matter. “Sometimes design works best when there is no design,” he says drawing me in as I am a sucker for minimalism. “A lot of our hotels within our brand are actually old buildings and they have something authentic about the interiors. To disrupt that would be wrong, so instead we aim to elevate it.” It doesn’t take a genius to realise that Ronald is looking for unexpected gems. Portugal’s São Lourenço Do Barrocal is a great example of this as it combines understated luxury with the simplicity of farm life and is one of the 25 hotels that the brand has securely under its umbrella.
Image caption: Sleek interiors at São Lourenço Do Barrocal
Ronald and his business partner Paul Cordier became friends 25 years ago at school where they both studied hotel management together. When working as hoteliers, they saw an opportunity in the bustling international hotel market. In 2014, the entrepreneurial spirit in them led them to spot the interesting gap for the need for a brand to be built around hotel experiences in 2014. “Travellers have changed,” Ronald says. “We realised that, all of a sudden, there was a huge desire to spend more money on experiences rather than physical products. On the hotel side, independent hotels needed solutions and advice.”
Helping hotels do better on all levels, the collection to me feels like an older, wiser and perhaps more knowledgeable brother who will help guide its siblings through life spotting and taking advantage of opportunities.
Image caption: Marbella Club
Ronald strikes me as a man who listens in business, which is fresh, as he asks me my thoughts on whether I have come across any areas or hotels that slot in line with Utopian Collection. “Have you heard of Nevis,” I spill, almost interrupting his question. I explain how on the untouched Caribbean island, with no building is taller than a palm tree, is somewhere that has to be experienced to believe. The island has not one fast-food restaurant, which naturally fits in with the huge wellness wave that everyone is riding at the moment – and most importantly, the hotels are naturally stunning with the location itself doing most of the talking. I imagine that Ronald gets this a lot, but his general interest makes me feel as if he’s one for researching new places that have a unique core.
Hamish Kilburn: What’s your favourite colour?
HK: Where’s next on your travel bucket list?
RH: Nevis now that you’ve mentioned it!
HK: What’s your number one travel essential?
RH: My iPhone.
HK: Biggest inspiration in business?
RH: Steve Jobs.
HK: Biggest inspiration in life?
RH: My stepdad.
At first, luxury simply equalled opulence. Today, it is just as much about attitude. 72 per cent of people would rather spend money on experiences than things; with travellers now seeking more than just exceptional service, fittings and furnishings. There’s an appetite for the intangible and a desire for truly authentic adventures which enrich and surprise. This same zest flows through every Utopian hotel which bears a luxury no longer defined by the old school; but by exceptional service, a richness of experience, one-off authenticity and the verve of youth.
Despite the hotel collection focusing its sights on the amazing unique properties in Europe, it seems to me that Ronald’s interest in my one suggestion of a tiny island with a huge personality is an almost firm indication that his sights are firmly on the world and all the opportunities that it holds. Given the gap in the market, I’m sure this is just the start of what is going to be an amazing experience for the hotel collection.