Luxury hotels boss Filip Boyen talks travel, his top destinations and the hospitality industry
Filip Boyen has worked in hospitality for 30 years, starting out as a commis chef, and for groups including Orient Express Hotels and Belmond. He is chief executive of Small Luxury Hotels of the World
How did you go from chef to hotel executive?
I was the black sheep in my family. I left school at 18 and my brothers and sisters all went to university but I got a job as a commis chef. I worked in the kitchen for 10 years, starting at the bottom and moving around various Michelin-starred restaurants and hotels in Belgium, France and England. I even did a stint with Robuchon but eventually went into management. The great thing about working for hotels is that people pay for your travel. If you like people and love learning about different cultures and ways of life, it’s the perfect job.
How has the industry changed in the past 30 years?
The meaning of luxury is so different. When I worked in Bora Bora 20 years ago our top “luxury” experience was a private picnic on a deserted island and swimming with stingrays. Fast forward 10 years, and people want to be more connected with a destination. They want to learn about the local way of life, meet locals, see how they think and live. Staying in a hotel is only one part of the experience.
What are luxury travellers looking for today?
First of all formality is dead. Luxury travel has also become predictable and people are fed up with this. They want to be surprised – they want a journey that is unique, has character and is personal. Food has also become a core part of travel. The big problem is that so many hoteliers are worried that people are going outside of the hotel to find this.
What’s the criteria for becoming a hotel under the SLH Group?
It’s getting harder to be a part of our network and even harder to stay in it. Quality is credibility – people expect it, demand it and deserve it. Our hotels should have great hardware but the service needs to be greater. We have between 900 and 1,000 applications a year, and we take between three to four new hotels. The process to become a member is about six months. We have 526 hotels in 82 countries but there are so many territories we haven’t explored, such as China.
What has been your most memorable hotel experience?
I recently stayed at The Quin, a boutique hotel in New York. I gave them my laundry the night before I checked out and then completely forgot about it. It was only when I checked into the next hotel that I remembered but by then it was too late to cross town. I went into my room, opened the wardrobe and found my laundry already hanging! The hotel had done the work for me and found out where my next destination was. That’s incredible service. Other hotels that surprise me with their service are Chateau Eza in France and Villa Belrose in Saint Tropez.
How are travellers in Asia changing?
The markets for individual travel in China and India is increasing – they are demanding a very high level. Experience-based travel is also becoming more important. In the old days we had to offer things they are comfortable with – Chinese food, for example. Now they want to discover what local destinations can bring.
What are your top travel destinations?
I worked in Peru for seven years and it has anything every traveller can imagine – history, culture, incredible service and fantastic products. More than that it has a sense of adventure. I’m also crazy about Cape Town – on a recent visit I went paragliding and also swam in the wild with baby seals. It was amazing.
What is the future of luxury travel?
We are going back to simplicity, originality and creating experiences that mean something to people. If clients come back, they need to feel enriched. A traveller wants to learn something that stays with them forever. It’s not about making it too complicated, it’s about making it better.