With the recent acquisitions of Belmond by LVMH and of Six Senses by IHG (InterContinental Hotel Group), what is left to “grab” in the ultra-luxury hospitality market?
What makes the LVMH purchase of Belmond exceptional and may lead to “copycats” before we know it? Simply that LVMH is before anything else a “luxury conglomerate” with an extremely limited (and rather recent) commitment to hospitality. As its initials indicate, Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy (including Céline, Pommery, Veuve Cliquot, Marc Jacobs, Fresh, Nicholas Kirkwood, Guerlain, TAG Heuer, Bvlgari) was born of a major merger in the luxury industry in 1987. Its chairman and major stockholder Bernard Arnault, the richest man in Europe (Russia not included) is also a Bordeaux wine aficionado and the owner of 1st growth St. Emilion Chateau Cheval Blanc. And the one and only Chateau Yquem (He recently sold both wineries to LVMH, after initially owning them personally with other wealthy friends.) Why would they buy a luxury hotel product? Think of it like this: every guest room and every public space becomes an area where the other brands of the group can be marketed: wine, Champagne, Cognac, perfume, linens, leather goods, fabrics and fashion, sportswear, watches… there is no end to it. A trunk show for Bvlgari? Absolutely. A vertical of Chateau Yquem in a LVMH hotel property: for sure. And a catchy name for the division: why not Cheval Blanc. And imagine the co-branding initiatives: the sky is the limit.
LVMH is not the only collector of luxury brands: Le Groupe Richemont, while keeping a very low profile in Geneva, owns A. Lange & Söhne, Azzedine Alaïa, Baume & Mercier, Cartier, Chloé, Dunhill, IWC Schaffhausen, Giampiero Bodino, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Lancel, Montblanc, Officine Panerai, Piaget, Peter Millar, Purdey, Roger Dubuis, Vacheron Constantin, and Van Cleef & Arpels. They are not involved with hospitality, but could obviously be tempted, for the right deal.
Kering, formerly known as Groupe Gucci, belongs to the father and son Pinault family (the son’s wife is none other than Salma Hayek. Ever wondered why she is always dressed so nicely?) includes the brands Gucci, Balenciaga, Alexander McQueen, Brioni, Boucheron, Pomellato, DoDo, Ulysse Nardin, Girard-Perregaux, Saint Laurent, Qeelin, Bottega Veneta. Based upon the extreme competitiveness between the Arnault and Pinault families, one ought to expect Kering to pick a portfolio of prestige hotels soon.
My list of potential acquisitions is not exhaustive, but I came up (in alphabetical order) with:
Unique and legendary, and the stomping ground of Amanjunkies, Adrian Zecha’s company has gone global, with 33 properties in 21 countries. Initially focused on remote resort locations, Aman is now setting its future on urban sites (including, like Six Senses, New York City). Aman is of the size that can acquire a smaller brand or be acquired by a larger brand. Its owner, a Russian oligarch, tends to shoot from the hip in terms of investments: private football teams and mega yachts which do compete with Aman in his priorities. In other words, it could go either way.
Nine prestigious hotels located in England, California, France, and Italy belong to the Brunei Investment Agency, representing Hassanal Bolkiah, the Sultan of Brunei. Training and constant capital investment are the rules of the group. The Collection could acquire no more than one hotel at a time, as it did the Hotel Eden in Rome several years ago. The motivation to sell seems to be missing.
Groupe Michel Reybier
Who has heard of Michel Reybier? A high-net-worth individual who made his fortune in pork products (Cochonou was the brand) in France before moving to Switzerland. A very opportunistic investment in a rundown but incredibly well-located Chinese-owned hotel near Geneva “La Réserve” brought him to hospitality. It took years to turn La Réserve into one of the finest hotels in Europe, including an award-winning Chinese restaurant and a state-of-the-art spa. Not unlike Bernard Arnault, Reybier is a wine aficionado who purchased the prestigious Chateau Cos d’Estournel in Bordeaux (Saint Estéphe) prior to adding to it the extremely rare Tokaj Hetszolo from Hungary and the Michel Reybier Champagne. Arthur’s Cellar, his wine distribution company, is specialized in the best vintages of top Bordeaux wines. A wise man, well aware of the aging of the world’s wealthy population, he invested heavily in anti-aging clinics in Switzerland, a rather high-return investment. La Réserve, in the meantime, has grown to a group of 9 luxury hotels. In addition to Geneva, there are two in Paris, one outside St. Tropez, and countless projects at various stages of development. Last but not least, Reybier grew by acquiring two small family owned prestigious Swiss hotel groups, bringing his total portfolio to nine hotels. His are the closest to what Six Senses is bringing with its urban destinations: prime locations in top cities, low room count and top-of-the line spa product. The group could successfully acquire a smaller one, just as it could easily be gobbled up by a bigger fish.
Les Hotels Baverez
All located in Paris, the hotels Baverez include the Régina, the Majestic and the Raphael. A pure definition of the term “low hanging fruit” they have been operating family-style for generations with very limited influence from modern management techniques. Due to their locations, the real estate value alone is colossal. The purchaser ought to invest a minimum of $200 million to bring them on par with the Four Seasons George V, the Plaza-Athénée, the Ritz Paris, the Crillon, Le Meurice, and La Réserve.
Maybourne Hotel Group
Qatari owns the group, after buying 64% of the stock from the Barclay Brothers (owners of the Ritz London). Qatari do not sell: they buy.
The immensely wealthy Oetker German family is no newcomer to luxury hospitality. They make their acquisition in 1923 by buying Brenner’s Park in Baden Baden, followed by the Hotel du Cap Eden Roc, Le Bristol, Chateau St. Martin and Spa, The Lanesborough, Palacio Tangara, Jumby Bay, Eden-Rock St. Barths and L’Apogée Courchevel. Hospitality is but a small fraction of the family’s extensive holdings in food manufacturing, beer making and many other fields. The Collection’s expansion will likely be via management contracts, although “impulse purchases” cannot be ruled out.
With 15 properties (including several in various stages of pre-opening) One&Only separates its inventory into 3 categories: Beach Resorts, Urban Resorts and Nature Resorts. They are incredibly successful at raising and maintaining very high rates. In terms of location, they can be found where Aman has properties, where Oetker has properties (Caribbean) and where Belmond/LVMH has properties. Even where Michel Reybier has projects.
Only large international players could have the appetite and means to swallow One&Only:
Jumeirah? Why not, One&Only is big in Dubai.
Four Seasons? The two brands could complement each other to perfection. Four Seasons to go mostly Urban, One&Only to go strictly Resorts.
IHG/Six Senses? Some One&Only resort properties could (selectively) be converted into Six Senses, while others could be rebranded InterContinental.
Marriott/Starwood/St. Regis? The commitment to luxury may be lacking.
Now, who is hungry and ready for this type of product?
Les Hotels Baverez: Qatari, for, in their mind, they will never own enough top real estate in Paris. And they could combine synergies with Maybourne.
Dorchester Collection: not likely since they would end up cannibalizing from their two existing Paris hotels.
Aman: I could see Kering doing it, in order to get a head start in hospitality, vis a vis LVMH.
Richemont: too specialized in high added value luxury retail that I do not foresee risking a hospitality venture.
Michel Reybier: has deep pockets, but not that deep.
Accor: they have a deep-rooted allergy to top-luxury, and I do not think the numbers at Aman would work for them: with an average size of under 35 rooms, there is no labor costs to be trimmed without imploding the product.
That leaves a number of large players out there, who could need an ultra luxury division:
Mandarin Oriental: Yes. One&Only could be the ideal match.
Kempinski: warum nicht?
Shangri-La: they have never expressed interest in the Western World (other than London & Paris).
Hyatt: who knows how Hyatt feels, since their acquisition of Miraval?
Jin Jiang: The big white hope, they could buy anybody at any time, but what for?
Four Seasons: grab Aman as a second brand and grow it as such? Or do the same with One&Only. Or, better yet: both?
Marriott/Starwood/Ritz-Carlton: bigger fish to fry.
Carlson Rezidor: highly unlikely.
Melia: por que no?
If I was a betting man, my money would be on Michel Reybier buying Les Hotels Baverez.