Hotel Crillon casts high-end lure

PARIS -- In a city packed with four- and five-star properties, it's difficult for a luxury hotel to stand out based on perks and amenities alone.

So the Hotel Crillon here -- while investing $21 million in infrastructure upgrades and guest-room renovations -- also is devising unusual guest programs and packages to lure more high-end guests.

"We've noticed that most of our customers on the high end have all the material comforts at home -- marble baths, gold fixtures -- and what's considered 'luxury' more and more is the human-relations aspect of travel," said Philippe Krenzer, general manager at the Crillon, a Concorde Hotels property.

"Travel to Paris is supposed to be nice, but we want our guests to say 'Wow, this is really great,' when they start to interact with Parisian people."

To that end, the hotel hired a four-person guest-relations staff, known as the "Crillon Angels"; instituted new pet-stay and child-care programs, and became the new home to L'Ecole des Fleurs, the famed Parisian floral-arrange-ment academy.

"This is about addressing what the guest needs and providing those with kids and pets what they need to really enjoy their stays," said Krenzer. "We're reinventing the hotel by really listening to our clients."

Angels, pets, kids

At the Crillon, traditional concierges handle restaurant and theater reservations, while the team of "angels" works to plan Paris stays to perfection.

"They sit down over a cup of coffee with guests to determine what they want to do," said Krenzer. "Then they can personally take you to, say, the Cartier shop around the corner to meet the manager."

Meanwhile, with the pet-stay program, guests "don't have to hide their dogs, as is the case at many hotels," he said.

Instead, pets -- which stay free -- get souvenir collars and name tags, dog-specific menus and welcome mats and place cards in their owners' rooms.

The hotel also is making an effort to project a more child-friendly image.

"There's a preconceived idea that the Crillon's not for kids, but we want to tell parents they can bring their children and, once they're here, we'll help entertain them," said Krenzer.

To back that claim, the Crillon provides special bath products, gifts and beds for children and infants, and arranges on-site and citywide activities for its tiniest guests.

The on-site L'Ecole des Fleurs in January began offering 24 flower-arranging courses, for groups of up to 10 students.

Guests can choose from 90-minute "Discovery" classes led by apprentices (priced at about $107) or two-hour "Master" classes ($267 to $321) taught by six leading florists, including Christian Tortu, the renowned Parisian floral stylist and artistic director of the school.

"It's a great way to get to do something lasting that you can bring back home," Tortu said.

The hotel created a package that includes one night in a deluxe room, breakfast for two, taxes and fees, and a one-hour flower-arranging class, for about $674, double; additional nights, with breakfast, cost $641 each.

The same plan is available with junior suite accommodations for about $995, double; extra nights run around $962 each.

Room to grow

The Hotel Crillon -- a member of the Leading Hotels of the World and the Virtuoso consortium -- is updating its aging physical plant, as well.

Guest-room renovations that began two years ago soon will wrap up, with the final 75 rooms completed by May.

The hotel is modernizing all plumbing and electrical systems in its 245-year-old structure and lending a lighter touch to its trademark 18th century decor.

New room innovations include seven-foot beds in half the 147 guest quarters.

All the effort adds up to a drive to increase bookings this year in an uncertain travel climate; although business reservations from the U.S. are fine, leisure is slow, said Krenzer.

"January and February were better than expected, better than in 2002," he added. "But for March and April, we're suffering from world tensions."

That's a problem, as U.S. visitors account for up to 40% of the Crillon's leisure clientele.

The Hotel Crillon, which pays travel agents 10% commission, hopes retailers can help.

"Agents are critical to us," said Krenzer. "We try to maintain good relations with all agents because in the leisure segment, we're totally reliant on them."

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