Filip Boyen, the CEO of Small Luxury Hotels of the World (SLH) is from Belgium and brings with him a lifetime of experience in the hospitality industry. For those not familiar, SLH operates as the sales and marketing arm for over 500 small luxury independent hotels around the world. Filip’s last position before joining the SLH was at Belmont as the Chief Operating Officer & Senior Vice President, a hotel group that owns 46 iconic hotels, East & Oriental Express and other luxurious travel properties. He started his career with humble beginnings, as Commis & Chef de Partie in Belgium before moving into hotel management where he worked at hotels over the world from Moscow to Chile, to Tahiti before taking up the CEO post at SLH.
We caught up with Filip when he was in Hong Kong at the Lanson Place Hotel, a member of the Small Luxury Hotel Group to talk shop and glen some travel insights from an industry insider and a very well- seasoned traveller.
Where do you live and what do you love about your city?
I live in London where the headquarters of SLH is based. London is one of the most international and buoyant city in the world. Every thing happens in London, especially in hospitality and culture. I am a foodie and the food scene in London is amazing, we have cuisine from all over the world and we have the theater and art galleries so there’s plenty to do here or nothing at all as I have my home base here if I feel like being quiet.
The Small Luxury Hotel is a collection of independently minded boutique hotels. How did it start and what do the new owners want to achieve in the near future?
SLH was started by the previous owner with 75 hotels and then it grew to over 500+ hotels today. The purpose of SLH is to represent small boutique hotels. We give them the platform to a global distribution network of travel agencies in the world and build their individual hotel brands through marketing and PR. The new owners with me on board since 2015 have brought in new energy to the SLH group and we driven to connect independently minded hotels with independently minded travellers.
What are the important qualities you look for when selecting hotels for SLH?
We look at location, character of hotel, vision of owner, experience of owner and general manager of the hotel. By location, I mean the hotel should be a place that our client wants to get to. By character, the hotel should have their own distinct character, personality. We like owners to have a long-term view for the hotel and we look at the experience of the owner and the General Manager of the hotel as this impacts the overall experience, service you will experience at the hotel.
What’s important for boutique hotels today is that they provide service in a way that help the new independent traveller to have a great experience and provide a taste of the local destination through the hotel and the way it treats its guests.
Most expensive hotel and cheapest hotel in the SLH Group
The average size of a hotel in the SLH group is 48 rooms however the size of the hotel ranges from a 2 villa hotel to a 200 rooms hotel in New York. Our average hotel room is US380 per night. The most expensive hotel is Pikaia Lodge in the Galapagos island, Ecuador with average room rate of 3062USD a night and the cheapest is the International Design Hotel in Lisbon hotel at US100 a night, which in my opinion is tremendously underpriced.
Tell us about your new loyalty program
The loyalty program is called Invited. We offer 3 tiers to our loyalty program across different levels of privileges. For the first level, Invited – we offer early check-in, complimentary wifi and breakfast. For the Indulge level with the clients that stay the most nights with the SLH, we offer a complimentary experience that is a surprise to them. It could be anything from what personally interest them, for example, an exclusive ticket to a show that’s difficult to get in to an extravagant helicopter ride around the city arranged by us as a surprise to them!
Describe your morning routine
I am up between 5-5.30am anywhere in the world I happen to be. I check emails straight away and listen to the news both on CNN and BBC to catch up on what the new US president is up to and depending on which country I’m at, Fox Chanel.
I take 2 double expressos in the morning and no breakfast. I am usually at the office at 8am and I am copied on all guest complaints that comes through the SLH booking platform which I read so we know how to deal with them between the hotel and the guests. Then I send a personalised birthday message to all the General Managers in the group. Then I work on my social media, I check all the tweets from the hotels in the group . In the afternoon, I have internal meetings with our team and then external meetings with partners.
Best advise you ever got?
My ex boss in Belmont, Jean Paul Foerster said, the bigger your title get on your business card, the more humble you become. Don’t take yourself too seriously.
Your top 3 most underrated place to visit and what to do there?
Myanmar – Take a hot air balloon flight over Bagan during sunrise at 5.30am where you rise with the sun to look over the ancient city of Bagan from a bird’s eye view.
Peru– Fly in to Lima a world city in South America and then take a 50 minutes ride to Cusco close to Machu Picchu where you go back in time to meet the indigenous Inca people. You will see the big contrast between the ancient world and modern western world of Lima as it is these contrasts that gives Cusco its rare beauty. You can also take a boat trip on the Amazon river and swim with the pink dolphins.
The Greek Islands of Santorini and Mikonos – For the spectacular view, the sea, the friendly people and the delicious Greek food. Greece really is great value for money now.
When you are in Paris, London and Hong Kong, what do you do and places you visit?
Paris – When I am in Paris, I alway order the Plateau de Fruits de Mer (the seafood platter) and a plate of escargot at any of the city’s wonderful bistros. At Montmartre, visit the antique markets and stores where you can find menus of old restaurants from the 18 century. It is very interesting to me as a former chef to see what the wealthy households during that time serve when they hold dinner parties for guests. Some of the dinner parties serve up to 24 courses for dinner!
London – As my home is in London, I spend time with my kids when I’m home, I play golf with my son on the weekend and see my daughter who is 21 and I catch up with my friends. A place to visit is the Fumoir Bar at Claridge’s. The Fumoir bar is the quintessential hidden gem if you have a small group of friends. They have a great cocktail and food pairing menu where they serve little dishes to match a different cocktails that’s served up by a flamboyant Italian barman.
Hong Kong – I always have dim sum when I come to Hong Kong for the chicken feet, duck tongue at Fu Sing Shark Fin Seafood Restaurant, 1/F, 68 Yee Woo Street. Check out also the Bo Lo Dan (peanut butter toast) at First Ln, Tai Hang Hong Kong, a 10 minutes walk from our member hotel Lanson Place.
What would make travelling better?
At the airport, if I travel Business or First Class, it would be nice for my luggage to come out first so I don’t to have to wait.
At hotels, if they could put the amenities like shampoo and shower gel in the shower instead of by the sink when i need it so I don’t have to get out of the shower when I need it. Most importantly if hotels will have better internet connection and pay for bandwidth for fast connection, it will make for a better experience.
At restaurants, waiters who know when to offer service, that is when you need it and not keep interrupting your conversation.