Luxury, experience and human touch: the outlook for the Capella Hotel Group

Interview with Nicholas Clayton, CEO of the brand that brought Pierre Gagnaire to Shanghai and Mauro Colagreco to Bangkok

A River Suite at Capella Bangkok, luxury hotel t

A River Suite at Capella Bangkok, luxury hotel that also includes restaurant Côte with Argentinian Mauro Colagreco

Pierre Gagnaire and Mauro Colagreco arrive in Shanghai and Bangkok, in establishments that belong to the Capella Hotel Group. They respectively bring the elegance of three-starred cuisine from the Ville Lumière to China and the flavours of the current best restaurant in the world, Mirazur, from Menton to Thailand. The redemption of the famous hotel brand from Singapore, nominated “2nd Best Hotel Brand in the World at the Travel + Leisure World’s Best Awards 2020”, includes serving excellent food, but the restart is more of a return to the origins, focusing on the creation of authentic cultural experiences for the guests, combining the elegant design of Bill Bensley, with the highest standards of tailor-made, attentive and discreet service.

And there are new projects too, starting from a new property in Vietnam, Capella Hanoi, strategically opened in the lively Hoan Kiem District. Plus there will be new openings in the coming years, in the Maldives, in Sydney and Chiang Mai, but also the desire to open in Italy.

We discuss the future of the group and of the luxury hospitality segment in Asia with Nicholas Matthew Clayton, CEO at Capella Hotel Group, in the family since 2015, after a remarkable career that had him involved in the strategic development of groups like Ritz CarltonMandarin Oriental and Four Seasons, and then as CEO of the Jumeirah Group and president of the Viceroy Hotel Group.

Mr. Clayton, the last year has been very complex for the hospitality industry. How do you see the future of hôtellerie?
It's very clear that the leisure travel segment will be the first to restart, while for business tourism and MICE we'll need to wait for 2022 and beyond to see a significant improvement. Given the imminent return of tourists who can spend, luxury hotels will surely be the most sought for in the coming months, followed by urban properties that can offer adequate services to satisfy the needs of a changed market. Now, as ever, in the choice of holiday destination, travellers will be eager to increase the standards of the location, preferring suites, villas and rooms with larger private spaces, capable of giving a general feeling of security.

The facade of Capella Hanoi, Vietnam

The facade of Capella Hanoi, Vietnam

Nicholas Matthew Clayton, CEO at Capella Hotel Group

Nicholas Matthew Clayton, CEO at Capella Hotel Group

What will be the new balance between luxury, experience and human touch for which the brand is famous?
At Capella Hotel Group we remain focused on the positioning of our brand to reach the right balance between luxury experience and human touch. Our guests continue to give value to the tailor-made experience they can enjoy in our hotels. Craftmanship is crucial in looking after the small details, which can radically change the level of satisfaction of the stay. The genuine link with the local culture, which in our hotels is made of heritage and genius loci, experience and emotion and thus memory is equally important. We cannot see a conflict with offering an extraordinary service, consistent with our positioning while keeping the spaces safe for our guests. Luxury is about offering the highest standard of tailor-made service for our guests. We must be careful hosts, offering a personalised service even before the guests will find the need to request it. At Capella Sanya and Capella Singapore, our team has already planned for parents being more careful of the wellbeing and safety of their children because of the pandemic and has therefore updated the Little Stars programme, with an offer of experiences that is more suited for families.

What safety protocols have you adopted?
Many. Starting from flexible bookings and cancellations, as well as better prevention policies, consistent with the recommendations of the WHO and the CSC, such as the enhanced attention to the hygiene of shared spaces. Room cleaning will also be intensified after check-out, and our spaces have been reorganised to ensure adequate social distancing. To support our collaborators in creating the same experiential service despite these limitations, we constantly study activities with daily training and dedicated platforms. The hotels and resorts of our portfolio have increased their protocols of corporate safety, so they are in line with local needs. Our colleagues at Capella Shanghai had created a WeChat group to facilitate traceability and updating different situations because the app sent an immediate notification if a colleague entered an orange or red area in Shanghai. They also used the chat to record temperature checks twice a day, and to offer a clear communication line with general managers.

You work with Pierre Gagnaire in Shangai and Mauro Colagreco at Capella Bangkok.
We're extremely satisfied with our chef collaborations in Shanghai and Bangkok; both Pierre Gagnaire and Mauro Colagreco are experienced professionals who invest a lot of time and personal energies to guarantee the success of our collaborations. With Capella Shanghai and Capella Bangkok, our current attention is dedicated to the domestic public, so offering exceptional culinary experiences has allowed us to further differentiate the positioning of our hotels in each one of these markets, which are notoriously very competitive. The pandemic has certainly forced us to make many changes in our daily life but, I think that fine dining is still a top priority for our guests. Guided by executive chef Romain Chapel, Le Comptoir de Pierre Gagnaire presents bon vivants an exceptional French culinary experience in a truly unique setting, while Mauro Colagreco's Côte is a corner of Mirazur, the three-starred restaurant in Menton, as well as the current Best restaurant in the World, pairing the gourmand cuisine of the Riviera with the inspirations offered by the view on the river Chao Phraya.

A detail of Capella Shanghai, China

A detail of Capella Shanghai, China

Restaurant Le Comptoir de Pierre Gagnaire, Capella Shanghai

Restaurant Le Comptoir de Pierre Gagnaire, Capella Shanghai

You have a new property in Hanoi, Vietnam. Why this destination?
Guests at Capella love to celebrate life and try to experiment and discover every destination they visit as much as possible. Among these, Hanoi, the Vietnamese capital, with its rich cultural heritage is surely the perfect urban destination for a new adventure. Located in the Hoan Kiem District, in the lively historical centre of town, Capella Hanoi is surrounded by shops selling local crafts, monuments from the French era, small restaurants offering typical cuisine and bars. It therefore allows guests to be fully immersed in the local culture. The firm of young American architects of Bill Bensley, who is also the author of Capella Ubud, Bali, worked on this project. The inspiration comes from the Hanoi Opera House and the general design is a celebration of opera in its roaring years. Each one of the 47 rooms and suites has a unique style, presenting opera pieces. Guests are surprised to find themselves immersed in a mix of memorabilia, photographs, scenes and lively artistic portraits with geometric prints from the Twenties, and modernist details.

According to the most authoritative polls, Italy will be a hot destination in the coming years. Are you planning to open in Italy as well?
Italy is a priority in our plans of international expansion, as the country continues to be one of the most popular destinations in the world. Italy has all the elements that rich leisure travellers look for these days, like culture, history, fashion, art and, of course cuisine of the highest standards. Specific destinations that the Capella Hotel Group is interested in are firstly the historical centres of Rome, Florence and Milan for new hotels, while for resorts we aim mostly for the Tuscan countryside and the Amalfi Coast.


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Elisabetta Canoro

Professional journalist, consultant at Identità Golose, deputy editor at The CUBE Magazine and contributor at AD Architectural Digest italia and Panorama. Author of Guides and books edited by WhiteStar and Marco Polo

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