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Angelica Carrara

Milan, Palazzo Parigi, 3 May 2019

In conversation with Ida Johansson, Managing Director at The Leading Hotels of the World, Europe

The color of red-and-white umbrellas at the Faena Hotel Miami Beach ingrained in memory. The greeting in the Dolomitan language Ladino – Giulian! at La Perla di Corvara in Badia. The hammam at Palazzo Parigi in Milan; an express trip to Morocco. Afternoon tea at the Ritz in London where the waiter serves a new teacup after two sips because the water has gone off. The madeleines on the bedside table after turndown service at the Le Royal Monceau in Paris. The ceiling-high fireplace at the Carlton Hotel in Saint Moritz. The pied dans l’eau restaurant Berton Al Lago on Lake Como. At the Andana, a message left on the bathroom mirror the morning of departure spelling out see you soon. Hotels that share details that make them stand out. The Leading Hotels of the World is the collection of more than 430 hotels in over eighty countries.

‘Luxury’ is obsolete as a word. One can replace it with ‘authenticity, says Ida Johansson, LHW Europe Managing Director. An educated traveler never gets mixed up, never assumes luxury a question of standard, and remembers privilege. “A Leading traveler is as curious as those who undertook the Grand Tour, when young British adults were sent to Europe to shed their undesirable behavior and finish off their education, preparing them to become perfect British aristocrats”, says Johansson. The identity of a Leading Hotel is built on its links with its location; it is never a building that sticks out or mars its surroundings. Leading hotels dialogue with the genius loci, aspiring to become a part of it themselves. “We were the first to talk about experience and want to bring the local culture into our hotels.” Those staying at the American Colony in Jerusalem will find themselves reading and learning about its history: a Christian community founded by Horatio and Anna Spafford who opened the hotel in 1902. Lawrence of Arabia slept here, as did Tony Blair. In 1992, the members of the Israeli government met with the PLO in Room 16 to reach a decision over the Oslo Agreement. Today, diplomats without their uniforms and Palestinian ministers hold meetings opposite the bar housed in a wine cellar.

The owner of the Bauer au Lac in Zurich is now the Chairman of Leading Hotels of the World. Set up originally in 1928 under the name The Luxury Hotels of Europe and Egypt, it was founded by a group of European hoteliers who decided to open an office in New York to establish contacts with elite travelers and travel agencies on the North American market. At that time, it was difficult to transmit bookings from America to the Old Continent. In the early morning, the sellers would go down to the port to ‘suggest hotels’ to those boarding the transatlantic cruise ships heading to Europe. It would then take at least two weeks to telegraph the bookings back at the office. At the end of the sixties, there were seventy member hotels, all in Europe. In 1971, they expanded into the rest of the world and by the end of the eighties this number had risen to 235. “There was no competition then. Today it is a question of quality. We were the first to conceive parameters for quality checks in hotels based on 800 standards.” One wonders how hotels can remain independent in character when they belong to a list of parameters that is the unified for all. “Only 20% of each criterion must be shared by each hotel around the world, while the rest takes local culture into consideration.” Ketchup on the table is a must in the United States, in the same way that it is forbidden in Italy.

Hotels pay to belong to LHW. “Contracts have a five-year duration. The fee (an initial payment and then another that varies every year) is generally based on the number of rooms, the duration of months that they are open for, and relates to the revenue that LHW guarantees each hotel in the ratio 1:19, namely each dollar paid by the hotel to LHW corresponds to 19 dollars in revenue.” After adding fifty properties in 2018, twenty-one new hotels are to open this year as Leading Hotels. LHW never seeks new members; it is the hotels themselves that request membership. “Only 1% of them succeed.” Applications require a reference from a hotel that is already part of the collection. The request is then subject to acceptance, followed by inspection reports presented to the Executive Board and an interview between LHW and the owners making the request.

Like the hotels, individual travellers can join LHW and take part of a community by becoming members of the Leaders Club. This introduces a series of benefits, including room upgrades on arrival, flexible check-in and check-out times, breakfast in room-only hotels (this type of accommodation is more widespread in America than in Europe), complimentary internet access, and other similar perks. The annual fee is 175 U.S. dollars, and one gains a Leaders Club point for every dollar spent on room rates. Once one accumulates enough points for that particular hotel, they can be used to pay part of the bill. As of last year and to mark the ninetieth anniversary, the program was modified: following the first stay, members receive a room upgrade that is confirmed before check-in. “Should the hotel management not agree, LHW pays the difference to the hotel, guaranteeing our members their upgrade.” The new Leaders Club Sterling level rewards its most loyal members with new benefits, such as five room upgrades a year, plus a 5% points bonus on renewal; “with the new program, you have to earn points, not buy them.” Above Sterling level, LHW has introduced an invite-only level that can be obtained by paying a membership fee but that’s all we know—it is invitation only. “We are not allowed to reveal the number of Leaders members. We like the idea of having strangers meet, who share the same passion: travel.” Bruce Chatwin, the acclaimed mid-1900s English travel writer, springs to mind. His letters tell tales of the pleasures of meeting ‘nice people’, whether they were Graham Greene, Susan Sontag, Salman Rushdie or Jackie O.


New openings this year:

  1. BLESS Hotel Madrid, Madrid
  2. Ikador Luxury Boutique Hotel & Spa, Abbazia, Croatia
  3. Britannia Hotel, Trondheim, Norway
  4. J.K. Place Paris, Paris
  5. Lily of the Valley, La Croix Valmer, Southern France
  6. Katikies Garden, Santorini
  7. Savoy Palace, Funchal, Portugal
  8. BLESS Hotel Ibiza, Ibiza
  9. ĀNANTI Resort, Residences & Beach Club, Budva, Montenegro
  10. Nobu Hotel Los Cabos, Los Cabos, Mexico
  11. Mr. C Coconut Grove, Coconut Grove, Florida
  12. HALL Arts Hotel, Dallas, Texas
  13. The PuXuan Hotel and Spa, Beijing
  14. Capella Bangkok, Bangkok, Thailand
  15. Baglioni Resort Maldives, Maagau, Maldives
  16. Emerald Maldives Resort & Spa, Raa Atoll, Maldives
  17. The Legian Sire, Lombok, Indonesia
  18. Halekulani Okinawa, Okinawa, Japan
  19. The Okura Tokyo, Tokyo
  20. Nobu Hotel Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
  21. The Houghton, Johannesburg, South Africa