Paul Kerr

Chief executive officer, Small Luxury Hotels of the World

Paul Kerr, chief executive officer, Small Luxury Hotels of the World

London-based Small Luxury Hotels of the World (SLH) is all about helping small, independently owned luxury hotels by providing economies of scale similar to those achieved by the large international hotel chains, while allowing them to maintain their individuality and independence.

Founded in 1991, this true British success story has since become a global business that has triumphed despite challenging economic times.

With a presence in more than 70 countries, the firm has a portfolio exceeding 520 hotels including eight in Japan that showcase the country’s scenery, beauty and nature.

What is so special about SLH?

Small hotels and big experiences are very important to our firm.

An average SLH hotel has 50 rooms. That has been so since the firm was established. It allows us to offer the highest levels of personalised service.

Many other hotel brands have an average of 200 rooms at each property, so they cannot match our high level of service.

In addition, our hotels are completely independent; we provide independent hotels for the independent customer.

We have a very diverse portfolio; one-third of our hotels are located in the city centre, one-third are resorts and the remainder are country houses.

In the current tough economic climate, and as a luxury brand, how has SLH coped?

We have seen continued growth since the first quarter of 2012, including a 60% increase in new Club members compared with this time last year.

Thus far this year, 43 new properties have joined the brand and our reservations for 2012 have increased by 7%.

What are the biggest challenges facing the global travel industry?

Given the current economic downturn, the luxury hospitality business is faced with numerous challenges globally.

This also means that the industry is very competitive, and constant innovation is key to attracting more business.

What do overseas travellers love most about Japan?

Japan offers a combination of modernity and traditional culture.

Visitors can linger in the gardens and temples of Kyoto and Nara, travel by the high-tech shinkansen (bullet train), or stay in a traditional ryokan (inn) for the ultimate in Japanese luxury.

From the skyscrapers and technical gadgets to be found in Tokyo, to the serenity of sacred shrines and the soaring beauty of Mt Fuji, Japan is an experience like no other.

What can Japan do to attract more overseas visitors?

The country needs to promote the fact that luxury can also be found outside Tokyo, where beautiful scenery and special experiences exist.

What are your plans for SLH in Japan and the rest of Asia?

Thus far, 43 new properties have joined the SLH Group this year. Ten of these are in the Asia-Pacific region, including three new properties in Japan. That brings our portfolio in Japan to eight hotels.

The latest additions include L’Hôtel du Lac on Lake Biwa, Shiga Prefecture; the Unzen Kanko Hotel in Nagasaki; and the Sankara Hotel & Spa in Yakushima, Kagoshima.
In particular, Tokyo will be one of our key focuses in terms of future development.

Canaves Oia Hotel in Santorini, Greece

Which destinations are popular for members of the SLH Group and global travellers?

SLH has a truly global portfolio that attracts a worldwide, well-travelled customer base.

The firm’s top five customer-source markets in 2011 were the US, the UK, Germany, Australia and Canada. Brazil and Singapore showed the strongest growth.

SLH has seen particularly buoyant growth in China, Latin America and Scandinavia over the past 12 months, and we are excited about the potential of South America.

We already have a few hotels in Argentina and Brazil, and have recently secured new hotels in the Galapagos Islands, the Republic of Ecuador and Puerto Rico.

Our most exciting news is the launch of our first hotel in Israel, The Efendi Hotel.

What do you see as being the next major trend in luxury travel?

Customers are always looking for convenient or less time-consuming means to search for holidays and make bookings. We have previously tried to make this process easier for our customers through numerous methods.

One of our latest offerings includes a specially designed iPhone and iPad application, as well as an android app.

This new software will allow users to browse SLH’s impressive hotel collection while on the move, and can be downloaded free.

Currently, the SLH website (SLH.com) receives over 9,000 visits every week from iPad users and 4,000 visits per week from iPhone users. Thus far, the website has received over 2mn views this year, a 27% increase from last year, and reservations through the site are up 28% compared with this time last year.

Social media has also been an important area of growth for SLH in 2012. We have over 13,000 twitter followers and more than 52,000 Facebook fans.

On a small private island in the Indian Ocean is Baros Maldives, an SLH boutique hotel.