Steigenberger finds their Prince

    150 150 Daniel Fountain
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    When I was in Hamburg to create the Review of Accor’s Sofitel the adjacent Steigenberger was pointed out to me as belonging to the brand that was the leading German five star hotel group. It was described as an old fashioned Sleeping Beauty waiting awakening. Steigenberger found their prince in Puneet Chhatwal, one of Kurt Ritter’s so successful team who drove the expansion of SAS Hotels through various liaisons of increasing passion and intensity until consummated with US suitor Carlson. Taking a dozen 1990’s SAS Hotels through Radisson into Rezidor now to the full embrace of Carlson, Ritter fell a little short of his self – proclaimed target of 700 hotels by the end of 2012, but he came damn close, and instrumental in realising his targets as his Director of Development from 1998 was Puneet Chhatwal.
    Chhatwal speaks fondly of Ritter, who he still sees on a regular basis. The whirlwind development of the group is not on the cards for Steigenberger though, he says. Steigenberger is a part of the group of hotels which includes 35 Intercity Hotels and 3 cruise vessels operating on the Nile and Nasser Sea. The 49 individual luxury hotels that are the Steigenberger’s face change, but defined by Chhatwal as defining themselves around those parameters that epitomise German engineering vis-a-vis BMW and Mercedes – quality, leadership, reliability. Steigenberger will be a purely management group, and will remain German based. However as it has a former finance director of Thomas Cook on the board I would expect to see major overseas expansion from their German homeland.

    Whilst staying German based the group will seek to keep the best of German qualities whilst developing an international character. Chhatwal will look to the international design community much as Rezidor did, remembering with affection Joseph Ransley of the now alas defunct Ransley Associates (see NH Brussels as an example of his work, one of my very early Reviews) but also speaking well of Peter Joehnk of the eponymous Frankfurt JOI interior design practice.

    There are ten or so Steigenberger’s that Chhatwal sees as the equivalent within the group of the Mercedes ‘S’ class within the car groups portfolio, and is grappling with how to differentiate them. Rezidor always in my view had a problem differentiating the Missoni and Regent brands as up-market brands within their portfolio and never really got their minds around the issues of this up-market differentiation, indeed I don’t think Radisson management grasp 5 star. Chhatwal has identified this as an issue to be resolved in Steigenberger and it will be interesting to watch the group development to see how he applies his solutions.

    Like Sternlicht did when in charge of Starwoods in growing the ‘W’ brand out of Westin, Chhatwal sees an opportunity in the differentiation, but, as he says “it is a different world from when Sternlicht did ‘W’”. Agreed but that is the nature of opportunity and as we come out of recession and look ahead to a possible six years of growth, now is the time to be doing it.

    I will watch with interest how Chhatwal addresses the issues, develops design identities and moves the group ahead. The first of the new and refurbished hotels competed on his watch have now been completed and I am off to Dusseldorf to see the refurbished Steigenberger Park in my first look at the new iteration of the brand. Watch this space…

    ©Patrick Goff Interviewed Puneet Chhatwal at the WTM on the 4th November 2013

    Daniel Fountain / 16.11.2013

    Editor, Hotel Designs


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