Industry Icons: Filip Boyen

Filip BoyenThis week’s spotlight shines on Filip Boyen, a hospitality industry veteran with 35 years of experience. In July 2015 he was appointed CEO of Small Luxury Hotels Of The World.

Prior to SLH he served as Chief Operating Officer & Senior Vice President for Belmond (formerly Orient Express), a position held for 6 years. Having spent 18 years with Belmond, Boyen rose through the ranks starting from being a GM in Bora Bora and Peru through to a number of high level operations positions.

He began his career as Commis & Chef de Partie in Belgium, before taking on his first GM position in Moscow providing him with a thorough understanding of the hospitality sector from a grass roots level.

In June of this year he was announced as the recipient of The European Hospitality Awards 2016 Lifetime Achievement Award.

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What inspired you to enter the industry?

I developed a love for cooking from a very young age, which was inspired by my mother and grandmother. Both of them were incredibly good cooks who encouraged me to train as a chef, so my very first role in the hospitality industry was Commis & Chef de Partie. This then led to an opportunity in F&B management and that’s where I found my calling.

What do you consider your strengths?

This industry is all about people and luckily that’s definitely where my strengths lie. I enjoy engaging with people from all walks of life and believe I have a great way with them. There’s also nothing I enjoy more than a challenge and getting things done, so this too is a great strength.

What advice would you offer to those entering the hotel industry?

Humility and respect for others is key in this industry, so I encourage people not to think anyone is below them or anything is above their station. It’s important to learn the basics and to have a true understanding of the rank and file within your team, in order to achieve successful outcomes.

What is your management philosophy/style?

For me the evidence of great leadership is seen in what we get others to do with our influence. So, my management style is to inspire my teams to get up each morning with an excitement to achieve something meaningful each day. I adopt a consultative approach, consistently seeking feedback from my staff about how we can do things better, more collaboratively and more efficiently. As they feel invested in the brand and its direction and goals, the commitment to achieve and surpass expectations is present from the outset. Most importantly, I show appreciation along the way and also don’t take myself too seriously. It’s a fun industry that we work in so it’s important we enjoy it.

What are the biggest issues facing the tourism industry in 2016?

The uncertainty leading up to and following Brexit together with US elections and ongoing terrorist attacks has led to a dampened confidence in the market and a decrease in travel globally. Naturally this is a concern for us and the travel industry as a whole but we remain positive that the dust will settle.

Additionally, competition is fiercer than ever before as there are many more players in the mix, owing to OTAs and the likes of Airbnb, but with the hotels and experiences we offer, I think this gives us an even better opportunity to set ourselves apart from the rest.

What do you believe is the role that OTAs play in the future of the industry and their control over customer relationships?

OTAs have carved out their own space within this industry and they are here to stay. They provide visibility for hotels and they certainly pay a great role for the price sensitive consumer who is simply after the lowest rates. However, their focus is on price not on quality and this is where we differ. SLH guests are different, they are independently minded and they come to SLH because of what we offer – small, independently owned, character-filled and charming hotels all with a sense of locale.

We have over 425,000 club members who all want added value as opposed to the cheapest hotel rate. Our relationship with them is incredibly important hence why we’ve undergone a very thorough customer research exercise to fully understand their evolving needs and as a result of this we’ll be refreshing our loyalty programme in months to come with great new features.

What is the role that small hotels play in the market?

SLH remains a major player in the boutique hotel sector, particularly in today’s landscape where there is general fatigue with globalization, mass production and uniformity which is driving guests to seek more authenticity and emotional connections with their travels. Our guests at SLH have always sought a more bespoke luxury hence why they come to us. They want an antidote to the globalized marketplace, that’s why we are now increasingly seeing a number of the super-brands entering the ‘independent space’ by purchasing or creating smaller, niche brands as a response to the market. Something SLH has been doing for 26 years.

How can small hotels get noticed? i.e. What are the unique selling points small hotels offer customers that global brands cannot?

Small hotels can get noticed by joining SLH! SLH exists to champion small and independent luxury boutique hotels by providing them with a platform and solution that enables them to compete in a global market against international players. We’re more than merely a marketing platform, and also offer the following to our member hotels:

  • Access to the Club of SLH with over 425,000 members
  • Tailormade sales, marketing and PR that connect the right hotels and destinations to relevant customers
  • GDS access – LX for luxury (over 20 years old)
  • Travel trade communications to data base of over 25,000 luxury agents
  • Opportunity to participate in sales roadshows and showcases around the world, as well as exhibit with SLH at major luxury trade shows
  • PR outreach via our global PR network across 14 countries
  • Inclusion on 10 Social Media channels including two in China
  • Bookings through and multi-lingual SLH voice agents

In terms of unique selling points, the small hotels within our collection all have a sense of place. They really embrace the locality with a flair that is true to the way of life in that destination which is where they differ greatly from the uniform standards of the big global chains.

Without the economies of scale possessed by global brands, how do small hotels ensure they return a profit to shareholders?

On their own, small hotels do struggle to compete with global brands and that’s why they join SLH because we can offer them a platform to compete on a global scale (as cited above) and return a profit. We work hard to drive higher ADR for them so they don’t have to be reliant on OTAs, we also promote their suite business, we build corporate and incentive business and develop loyalty through our active and engaged club members.

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