The Ones to Watch in 2014

George Sell By George Sell
Uploaded 06 January 2014

Chip Conley, head of global hospitality, Airbnb, US
The ultimate poacher turned gamekeeper? Chip Conley, the founder of Joie de Vivre Hotels (now part of Commune Hotels and Resorts), has joined "the world's largest community hospitality company" as head of global hospitality. Seen by many as the biggest threat to the hotel sector to have emerged from the online revolution, Airbnb allows homeowners the opportunity to rent out their properties to the site's users online. Despite some controversies and debates over its legality in some territories, its numbers are staggering. It already has 500,000 listings across 192 countries and has catered to nine million guests since its launch in 2008. Conley's role is to help hosts with listings "to improve experiences for travellers and be better hosts". He is launching an online training programme, with webinars designed to teach hosts to create better experiences. He is also overseeing the launch of an Airbnb Hospitality Innovation Lab based in Dublin, which will test new services and features.

Chris Corbin and Jeremy King, Rex Restaurant Associates, UK
Two of the UK's best known and successful restaurateurs, Corbin and King have been responsible for iconic London eateries such as The Ivy, Le Caprice and The Wolseley. Following a similar trajectory to Nobu Matsuhisa, who is bringing the Nobu Hotel brand to London, Corbin and King are set to open their first property, The Beaumont, in the summer of 2014. Located in London's Mayfair, they aim to create "a truly independent, distinctive hotel based on the classic values of a golden age of personalised hospitality". With a Listed Grade II Art Deco exterior, the public spaces, suites and rooms of The Beaumont are "informed by the pioneering taste of 1920s Manhattan". The 73-room Beaumont will feature a restaurant, an American bar, a resident's lounge and bar, a gym, Turkish baths and spa.

Mike Depatie, CEO, Kimpton Hotels and Resort, US
As Kimpton's expansion continues at a relentless pace, the main challenge facing CEO Mike Depatie in 2014 will be keeping the personal touch and guest experience the company's customers treasure, while growing in to an operation with more than 60 hotels. While adding properties in traditional strongholds as Florida and Arizona, entering new US regions such as Milwaukee and venue expanding to the Caribbean (a Grand Cayman property is scheduled for 2016), the company is making use of the $200 million war chest it raised in early 2013 to buy new properties. It is also selling off hotels, while continuing to manage them, to the likes of Inland American and Pebblebrook Hotel Trust. Neat new touches such as introducing own-brand bicycles for guests' use point to Depatie's awareness of staying close to the core consumer, and 2014 will see considerable further growth while attempting to keep this relationship flourishing.

Debrah Dhugga, GM, Dukes St James London, UK
More of the same will likely be at the top of Debrah Dhugga's wishes for 2014. The GM of Dukes St James London has overseen an award-laden 12 months which has seen the property garner gongs from the likes of the AA, the World Travel Awards and Condé Nast Traveller. Trading astutely on its very British image, Dukes has become a favourite with overseas guests looking for an authentic London experience, and prides itself of serving "the best martinis in the world". Globetrotting Dhugga is also a founding member of the Leading Ladies of London, an organisation made up of female general managers of five-star hotels whose mission is to bring more women leaders into the hotel industry.

Paul Fischmann, CEO, 8hotels Australia
The Australian boutique hotel operator 8hotels has been a pretty hip and forward thinking operation since its foundation. It now has properties in Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra, Brisbane, Perth, Hepburn Springs, Thredbo, Fiji, Bali and Paris. Some are wholly owned hotels, some are leasehold and they also provide third party management to property owners. But it was in 2013 that the company really hit the headlines with the launch of the 1888 Hotel in Sydney's Pyrmont neighbourhood. The 1888 has become known as "the world's first Instagram hotel" thanks to an initiative where it offered a free night's stay to Instagram users with more than 10,000 followers. It also offers free nights to those who take pictures tagged with the hotel's handle that it thinks are good enough and has even installed a "selfie space" in the lobby where guests can take shots of themselves in a frame, again tagged with #1888Hotel. The media coverage of all this was incredible, perhaps bordering on the viral, and CEO Paul Fischmann know has a wonderful platform to promote his brand globally in 2014.

Tim Flodin, GM Andaz Liverpool St, UK/ Arnaud de Saint-Exupéry, GM, Andaz Tokyo, Japan
A changing of the guard at the Andaz in London where former GM Arnaud de Saint-Exupéry has moved to pastures new at the Andaz Tokyo, which opens this year. He was the launch GM for the London property and has done a stellar job of transitioning the property from a new upstart on the scene to a respected but dynamic player on the London scene, equally at home catering to the demanding leisure traveller and the conference market. Replacing him is Tim Flodin, a Hyatt veteran who has been with the company since 1984, and was most recently GM at the Hyatt Regency Birmingham. Saint-Exupéry will be a tough act to follow but Hyatt clearly thinks Flodin is a safe pair of hands.

Adrian Gardiner, chairman, The Mantis Collection, South Africa
With properties in 19 countries, the Mantis Collection boasts one of the most eclectic and fascinating portfolios, both in terms of location and hotel types. It offers luxury hotels, eco lodges, and river cruises and in locations as diverse as Botswana, the Galapagos Island and Oman. Chairman and founder Adrian Gardiner is a dedicated conservationist, and this is reflected in the company's locations and business practices. It has also led to the company being named The World's Leading Conservation Company and winning a prestigious Terra Nova Award. Never afraid of heading off the beaten path, 2014 sees Mantis developing a hotel on the island of St Helena, where it will be the first hotel operator on a stunning but brand new tourist destination which opens its international airport in 2016.

GM (yet to be appointed), Heckfield Place, UK
The anticipation surrounding the UK's most high profile boutique hotel opening in recent years is reaching fever pitch as Heckfield Place's opening has been delayed again and again. The 60-room Hampshire country house, near Hook, is owned by private investment company Morningside, and was originally scheduled to open in April 2012. Latest estimates point to late 2014, but given recent history, don't hold your breath. The hotel will have a restaurant run by former Michelin starred chef Skye Gyngell, but as of early 2013 it doesn't have a general manager. Former GM of the May Fair Hotel and Skibo Castle, Charles Oak did hold the position but left and hasn't yet been replaced. His replacement will be taking on one of the most scrutinised roles in the industry and will certainly be one to watch.

Girish Jhunjhnuwala, founder, Ovolo Hotels, Hong Kong
A busy and award-filled 2013 has set up Hong Kong-based hotel and serviced apartment operator Ovolo for an eventful 2014. The company was voted Best Luxury Hotel Brand in Hong Kong at the 2013 World Luxury Hotel Awards and the Ovolo 2 Arbuthnot Road property in Hong Kong won a City Explorer prize at the World Boutique Hotel Awards. After two Hong Kong openings and a move into Australia, with a Melbourne property, in 2013, this year founder and CEO Girish Jhunjhnuwala will be looking to capitalise on the extensive media coverage the brand has garnered. This is partly due to a memorable ad campaign - "Ovolo loves the F-word" - and partly to innovative initiatives such as offering Hong Kong guests citywide free wifi coverage. We await this progressive and refreshing company's next move with interest.

Nick Jones, founder, Soho House Group, UK
Nick Jones' multi-national empire of members' clubs, restaurants and hotels is set to focus on where it all started next year, with the development of a new hotel at the former Midland Bank headquarters at 27-35 Poultry in the City of London. The building's vaults featured in the 1964 James Bond film Goldfinger. The sequence in which it Bond villain Oddjob is killed by Sean Connery's Bond was filmed there. It is being converted  in to a 255-room hotel with restaurants, bars, spa and gym facilities and a swimming pool. Jones has also reportedly been linked with developing a hotel at the former BBC Television Centre in west London.

Anchalika Kijkanakorn, managing director, Akaryn Hospitality Management Services (AHMS), Thailand
Not content with growing her AHMS business and its brands - Aleenta, Akaryn, akyra and Green Pearls - Anchalika Kijkanakorn is also on a mission to promote Thailand as a tourist destination, while promoting their welfare of Thai nationals working in the hospitality industry. Her efforts to date resulted in been voted Thailand's Quality Person of the Year 2013. The award is organised by the Foundation of Science and Technology Council of Thailand (FSTT) to "recognise individuals who succeed personally and professionally whilst dedicating themselves to the benefit of Thai society and the country in various fields". Over the next couple of years AHMS is set to open new properties in Chang Mai and Cambodia, and as if all that weren't enough, Kijkanakorn is also the first female chairman of Small Luxury Hotels of the World.

Banu Kirmaz, general manager, Edition Istanbul, Turkey
Banu Kirmaz has followed a rather unusual path to become general manager of Marriott's first Edition hotel, in Istanbul. After spending the first 10 years of her career in banking, Kirmaz joined The Ritz-Carlton, Istanbul, in 2003 as director of finance. She worked her way up to become area director of finance for The Ritz-Carlton before becoming part of the initial team at The Istanbul Edition. After three years as director of finance and human resources at the property, she was promoted to GM and now will use 2014 to put her stamp on the hotel, which has 77 rooms and one suite, all designed by Ian Schrager to resemble jewel boxes.

Robert Nadler, CEO, Nadler Hotels, UK
When a serial entrepreneur enters the hotel industry after successful stints in several other sectors, you would expect them to approach things a little differently. And that's exactly what Robert Nadler has done. Since rebranding his Base2Stay properties as Nadler Hotels and launching the Nadler Soho to great acclaim, he has been a refreshing and entertaining presence in the capital's hotel scene, regularly appearing on panels at industry events and conferences. And putting his name above the door of his properties has not been done flippantly - Nadler takes it seriously, even down to personally managing the new property's TripAdvisor account and responding to reviews himself. The Soho property has made quite a splash, and Nadler has at least one more central London property in the pipeline, which will continue his brand's ethos of offering "four-star rooms, with five-star service, at three-star prices".

Christopher Nassetta, chief executive, Hilton Hotels and Resorts, US
Perhaps an unlikely choice for the Boutique Hotel News Ones to watch list, but 2014 looks like it might be the year when Hilton finally launches its lifestyle brand and crosses swords with the likes of Marriott's Edition and Starwood's W flags. Hilton began plans to launch a lifestyle brand, called Denizen, five years ago and was in discussions with developers in Abu Dhabi, London, Mumbai and New York. But in 2009 it was sued by Starwood which alleged that Hilton was using stolen confidential documents to develop Denizen. Hilton settled with Starwood under the terms of an agreement that prevented it from entering the lifestyle segment for two years, a period expired in January 2013. There has been little but rumour since then, but in December 2013, Nassetta revealed that Hilton was "working on" plans for a boutique or lifestyle brand.

Loh Lik Peng, founder, Unlisted Collection, Singapore
Loh Lik Peng became a hotelier after becoming disaffected with his previous career as a corporate lawyer in Singapore, at the heart of the 1997 Asian debt crisis. "I spent my days winding down businesses and seeing fortunes destroyed-it was very demoralising," says Peng, who has gone on to form The Unlisted Collection, a hip, low-key operation with distinctive and individual properties in Singapore, London and Shanghai. This year, Unlisted Collection is focusing on the development of its first Australian property, a 60-room hotel in Central Park, Sydney. It will feature a spectacular rooftop bar and swimming pool, two signature restaurants fronting Kensington Street and a dedicated dessert restaurant. Unlisted Collection has retained Tonkin Zulaikha Greer Architects to design and document the $20 million refurbishment of two heritage buildings which will be retained and joined by a contemporary steel and glass building, making a spectacular naturally lit hotel foyer.

Chris Penn, GM, Ace Hotel London, UK
When an iconic US brand makes its debut in the UK, it is always going to be in the spotlight, and the Ace Hotel in Shoreditch is no exception, especially in the light of the tragic passing of Ace founder Alex Calderwood at the property in November. General manager Chris Penn is not the kind of character to let media attention stand in his way as he strives to ensure the Ace becomes known as much for its hospitality as for its cool factor. Formerly GM at Flemings in Mayfair, Penn - a media-savvy and friendly operator - has some serious competition in what is currently London's trendiest neighbourhood but he will certainly not shirk the challenge.

Jason Pomeranc, founder, Sixty Hotels, US
Following Hyatt heir John Pritzker's taking sole control of Commune Hotels and Resort (a merger of Joie de Vivre Hotels and Thompson Hotels) the Pomeranc brothers, led by Jason, laid low for a few months before announcing the launch of their new brand Sixty Hotels. The brand takes its name from the Pomeranc's debut property, 60 Thompson, which opened in SoHo, NYC, in September 2001. The brand launch of Sixty Hotels will include 60 Thompson, Thompson Lower East Side, 6 Columbus and Thompson Beverly Hills, each of which will be flagged as Sixty Hotels this month. Pomeranc says: "Sixty Hotels will be a more mature, sophisticated brand with a heightened sense of 'residential' living while retaining the in-the-know, iconography-inspired stylish pulse guests expect from our brands. While we always will look back to the elements of culture that have enduring appeal in this hotel category, we do not want to get stuck in nostalgia. Consider the Sixty Hotels brand an evolution to the next level of what excites us - and in turn savvy travelers."

Nadathur Raghavan, CEO, Silverneedle Hospitality Group, Singapore
Singapore-based hotel management company Silverneedle Hospitality Group is set on a serious course of expansion. Founder and CEO Nadathur Raghavan is aiming to have 100 boutique properties under management over the next five years, across Asia. The company has six brands: SilverNeedle Collection (Boutique hotels), NEXT, Chifley, Country Comfort, Australis and Sundowner. SilverNeedle says the Philippines, Thailand and Indonesia are among the markets that represent the biggest business opportunities for the company, and it is also looking at China and Mynanmar. SilverNeedle has offices in Singapore, Bangalore, Sydney and Bangkok. Australia is its biggest market with 60 properties under management.

Philippe Requin, CEO, Grace Hotels, Greece
One of the more eclectic hotel portfolios in the sector, Grace Hotels has been very active over the last 12 months and looks set to have a very busy 2014. Recent acquisitions have included intriguing properties in New England, Marrakech, Argentina and the Swiss ski resort of St Moritz. Grace now has properties across five continents, and CEO Phillipe Requin, formerly the general manager of the InterContinental Aphrodite Hills Resort Hotel in Cyprus, is doing a sterling job in selecting properties which fit the company's ethos, promising "elegance, simplicity and supreme service". Its latest project is La Dolfina Grace, a collaboration with polo brand La Dolfina which will create a new hotel, serviced villas and apartments complex, comprising up to 80 keys. The hotel will feature a spa and gym, restaurant, cocktail and cigar bar, and outdoor pool. Set to open in 2016, it will be adjacent to the famous La Dolfina Polo Club and will form part of the club's exclusive 465 hectare residential estate in Cañuelas, in the southern province of Buenos Aires. The estate is the vision of Adolfo Cambiaso, generally regarded as the greatest polo player ever to play the sport.

Steve Wilson, CEO, 21C Museum Hotels US
At the helm of one the US's more intriguing - and fast growing - boutique hotel groups, Wilson and his co-founder Laura Lee Brown have devised a really interesting fusion of art and hospitality. Far from paying lip service to the concept of using art in hotels, the 21C properties are a genuine fusion of museum and hotel, and each features regularly changing exhibitions, mainly of up-and-coming artists from the area local to each hotel. Wilson is genuinely passionate about contemporary art and jokes that his tastes are so cutting edge, when an artist dies they are out of the collection. From it's first property in Louisville, Kentucky, the 21c brand is growing rapidly. It currently has properties open in Cincinnati and Bentonville, Arkansas. 2014 and 2015 are shaping up to be exciting years, with projects in the pipeline in Oklahoma City, Kansas City, Durham (North Carolina) and Lexington (Kentucky).

To read 2013's Ones to Watch feature, click here.

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