Meet the owners: Petter Stordalen of The Thief, Oslo

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Petter Stordalen is a successful hotelier who has been somewhat concealed from the attention of the global hotel industry. Yet he is one of Scandinavia's most successful businessmen, worth an estimated US$1.2 billion according to the Forbes World's Billionaires list,. Named as the most acclaimed strawberry seller in Norway at the age of 12, his talents in business and entrepreneurship have helped him to build a successful portfolio of property development investments, including 171 hotels under his Nordic Choice Hotels group.

The Thief is the name of his newest hotel that opened at the beginning of this year on Tjuvholmen (Thief Island), a new cultural and urban development in the Norwegian capital, Oslo.  Reportedly costing US$1 million per room to build - more than any hotel in Scandinavia - all 119 rooms have been designed combining handpicked artwork, furnishings from world-renowned designers and the latest technology.

The hotel also has energy efficient solutions to reduce energy and water consumption, thus operating sustainably and profitably, while giving guests a unique hotel experience.  As a passionate environmentalist, Stordalen runs a corporate social responsibility programme across the Thief and Nordic Choice Hotels, which his wife Gunhild Stordalen is deeply involved with.  She is also the co-founder of the Stordalen Foundation which helps support initiatives related to health, the environment and climate change. 

Why is The Thief different from other art hotels?
When I was asked whether I wanted to develop a hotel on Thief Island, I knew that it needed to be different from the majority of mid-size chain hotels that already existed in Oslo.  My creative vision was not only making art the catalyst of the hotel experience, but to also create a synergy with the arts and culture lifestyle that had been cultivated on the island.  Conveniently, the hotel's next-door neighbour is the Renzo Piano designed Astrup Fearnley Museum of Contemporary Art. So it made perfect sense to become the sole sponsor of the museum, thus making The Thief possibly the only hotel in the world that has dedicated itself to contemporary art through this form of collaboration. 

The Thief also has its own art curator that assembled together a combination of art for the hotel, using works from my own own personal collection, as well as art borrowed from Astrup Fearnley Museum.  Overall, the general usage of 'hotel art' is associated with bad taste, mass production and random positioning, and this was something that we wanted to avoid at all costs.

Domestic and international demand for hotel rooms in Oslo accounted to 65% and 35% respectively in 2012.  Are you looking to attract a wider international traveller base for the Thief, or is the domestic segment your key market?
The domestic market is always the most important for us as they are our main ambassadors to attract foreign travellers. As for The Thief, we are in fact targeting 65% international guests and 35 per cent domestic. This is because The Thief is the most sophisticated hotel in Oslo in terms of technology and service offering. For example, guests can schedule when they would prefer housekeeping to clean their rooms through the hotel app.  The contemporary art that we also have exhibited from artists such as Andy Warhol, Sir Peter Blake, Richard Prince and Julian Opie are also intended to help generate interest on an international level.

The Thief cost more per room to build than any hotel in Scandinavia.  With occupancy, ADR and RevPar indicators in Oslo showing a decrease in 2012, do you think there is strong enough demand to generate and sustain profitability?
We have already proven that there is a demand. We feel that we have entered a market that had a huge appetite for such a hotel. Maybe it would have been more challenging in London for example, where these hotels are found on every street corner. But in Oslo, where the supply is saturated with standard 4-star properties, a hotel such as The Thief was much anticipated. And as a result, we are doing well.

How does The Thief optimize the mix of personal service and technology for your guests? With the advent of mobile and tablet concierge apps, what do you think are the main challenges for boutique hotels when it comes to offering the best possible service?
The main challenge when you position a hotel as high-tech is to ensure that guests know how to use the technology. At The Thief, we have also ensured that there are also low-tech elements to counterbalance the experience. For example, we decided not to install automatic curtains because we believed that guests would find that it is easier to draw the curtains manually, rather then looking for a button. A good in-room guide explaining how to use the in-room technology is also vital, in order to reduce the amount of queries from guests asking how certain things operate. There was a hotel guest who said:"If your grandmother knows how to work the technology, only then is it good enough for any guest."And I would say that he's probably right.

Bill Gates once mentioned that the world's problems had become too big for government and philanthropy and that free market capitalism will need to contribute to solving them. Do you agree on the notion of "creative capitalism", where it serves to help the world's poor as well as helping the world's rich?  Is this a concept that you try to adopt across your hotels?
My philosophy has always been that of positivity - the more people do good deeds, the better the possibilities in doing great business, and that includes the hotel industry.  Helping the poor and saving the environment are the two main issues of our time, and through the Stordalen Foundation, we supports projects, initiatives and organisations that actively work for a sustainable future, for people, animals, and the environment.

Nathalie Salas is a writer for Perfect Boutique Hotel, a website dedicated to readers who have a passion for boutique and lifestyle hotels. She is a also a freelance consultant specialising in hospitality and tourism, helping small businesses improve their marketing and branding on an international level. Nathalie is British and lives in Asolo, Italy.

Follow her on Twitter: @perfectboutique



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