How does Ralf Ohletz stay ahead of his competition?
One travels, of course, and one sees things, but I think I come from a culture where we never benchmarked our hotels. I worked for GHM [General Hotel Management] for 20 years — I was part of the brand DNA, if you wish — and with Adrian Zecha, who was one of the founders of Regent Hotels, for 25. We opened a hotel called The Setai, Miami Beach. The reputation is expensive; it’s unique; it’s special. We were a small company out of Asia, and I remember very distinctly being in a meeting with the developer and the bank. The bank asked me, “What do you know about America?” I worked at Four Seasons New York, but really, I didn’t know much about America. I said, “Why do you ask me this question? My customer is a customer who can pay. He can be from South America, from Germany, from anywhere. Why do I have to know the American market? I built a product for a customer that seeks this kind of difference.”
We were very particular when we built The Setai. We were next to Shore Club, farther down from The Ritz-Carlton, South Beach and a bit farther from Delano, which were all famous hotels. What made this hotel financially was the condominium building attached to it — the condominiums sold for double the price at that time than the Four Seasons or The Ritz-Carlton, not only because of the location, but simply because it was a very unique concept.
When you looked at the market, we didn’t want to benchmark ourselves. Miami is a very weak Art Deco destination, but there’s nothing else because America is brand new. If anything, you’ll recognize that it was the ’20s and ’30s when they built all these great hotels. We said, “Well, we cannot change what you have in Miami. We want to preserve it, but we want to do better.” We looked at what Art Deco buildings are in New York, Shanghai and Paris. Being an Asian company, we wanted to bring a little Asian flair in there. The building was new, but we brought old bricks from buildings that had fallen down in Shanghai. The new building not only had a story, but it had a very distinct design advantage because most hotels are quite cold when you go in there. The moment you step into that hotel, you feel it’s different.