Raffles is leveraging parent company Accor’s far-reaching development expertise to move into new geographies with both new-builds and iconic conversions.
LONDON—The Raffles Hotels & Resorts brand, now owned by Accor, is swiftly growing and set to become a global phenomenon, according to executives.
The brand was incorporated into Accor when the French hotel firm bought FRHI Holdings Limited for $2.9 billion on 12 July 2016, a deal that also included the Fairmont and Swissôtel brands.
The brand has by far outgrown its Singapore roots, she said, but not the flavor and soul of its original hotel there, which was built as a Colonial-era stopover in 1887 and is due to reopen next month following an 18-month renovation.
“Most people do not think of Raffles Singapore as Singapore but as Raffles, the brand. We aim to take the spirit of Raffles Singapore and take it out to the world,” Ho said, adding that she knows of no brand where staff names are as mentioned as much in reviews as those at Raffles. She has been with the brand for about 15 years.
The brand currently has 14 opened properties and a pipeline of assets in Boston, Jeddah, London and Udaipur, India.
Behind the brand’s march across the world are its owners, Ho said.
“Our owners are different from institutional investors, owners such as the London-based Hinduja family that is behind the London hotel,” she said.
The completion of the 125-room Raffles London is anticipated in the fourth quarter of 2021 or early 2022 in the Old War Office, where former Prime Minister Winston Churchill worked during World War II.
“It is unfair to say these hotels are trophy assets for these owners. They go well beyond the money,” Ho said.
Another of the brand’s iconic hotels is the 106-room Raffles Europejski Warsaw, which opened in the Polish capital in June 2018 and is the brand’s third property in Europe. The Art Deco building dating to 1857 is considered one of the city’s architectural jewels. It was built as the Hotel Europejski but suffered during the city’s German and Russian occupations and has seen stints as the headquarters of the military and the ministry of transport.
The hotel has, in its way, come back to Accor. It was reopened as a hotel by Polish firm Orbis in the early 1960s, but the original family owners sued to regain the property, and were successful. Accor has a majority ownership in Orbis and last month agreed to take over Orbis’ services businesses for 1.2 billion Polish zlotys ($316.5 million) and sell off its real estate assets.
Ho said the Warsaw hotel is a celebration of Poland’s music, food and art, and the owners want the hotel to reflect what it means to be Polish.
Not all of Raffles’ assets will be in grande dame buildings. Raffles Shenzhen, which opened in May, is in a new-build, 72-story skyscraper, while Raffles Maldives Meradhoo will comprise 21 beach villas and 16 overwater.
Raffles Dubai, which opened more than a decade ago, was the brand’s first new-build.
New-build projects in the brand’s pipeline include the 55-room Raffles Jeddah and the 147-room Raffles Boston Back Bay Hotels & Residences, which was announced in May 2018 as the brand’s first American property.
A little more than 20 years ago, Raffles only had that original Singapore property, Ho said. By the end of this year, the brand will have 14 properties open, including the reopened Raffles Singapore. That number is expected to grow to 17 by the end of the 2020, and 21 by early 2022.
Ho said a dedicated Raffles development team working with the larger Accor development team has worked wonders for the brand.
“Accor’s involvement in terms of development is its access to owners, and of course the brand appeals to developers. We affectionately call (Raffles) the shining star on the Christmas tree,” she said. “Even in China, where there are no historic buildings (suitable for hotels), we have never had to turn down so many requests as we have with Raffles.”
Ho said Raffles can afford to be selective as Accor has another 30 or so brands for developers to choose or be offered.
“The challenge is to know what (guest) segment you do not want to go for,” she said.
All deals are management contracts.
Now, Ho and her team are looking at markets such as Tokyo and New York City, where key money is not ruled out.
“We do not want to overpay the premium. We have shareholders to answer to,” she said.