When longtime Oetker Collection executive Timo Gruenert took over as CEO earlier this year, there were several key challenges facing him. Add in the Covid-19 pandemic, and it would be an understatement to say he now has his hands full.
"People tell me it's quite a time to take over," he said in a telephone interview last week from the family-owned company's headquarters in Baden-Baden, Germany. "My only kind of positive reply is, well, if this is the starting year, there is only one direction afterward."
Challenges aside, Gruenert said he is excited about what lies ahead. He says two key areas he's looking at are continuing to grow and building broader recognition for the brand itself.
Gruenert says the focus at Oetker has always been on the iconic properties -- Le Bristol in Paris; the Brenners Park Hotel & Spa in Baden-Baden; Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc in Antibes on the French Riviera; Chateau Saint-Martin & Spa in Venice; the Lanesborough in London; L'Apogeee Courchevel in the French Alps; Eden Rock - St Barths; Jumby Bay Island off Antigua; and Palacio Tangara in Sao Paulo -- over the brand.
"We have always managed to do this, but it came at a certain price," he said.
He said that because the company puts less of an emphasis on the Oetker brand, a guest could easily spend three days at Le Bristol, followed by three days at the Lanesborough, "and not know they stayed at the same brand."
"I'm not happy about that," he said. "We have to find a way as a collection to make people more aware that there is an umbrella brand with this overarching brand promise.
"We have over the past years achieved awards and reputations with the travel trade. So we are known in the market, but there is definitely work to be done with our guests," he added.
At the same time, Gruenert said that as the collection's former head of development, where he helped grow the brand from four to nine properties over the past 11 years, he will remain focused on further strengthening the brand's core elements and finding more unique properties to join the collection.
"I brought it down to kind of a formula," he said. "We operate really exceptional hotels, which we put under this term 'masterpiece.' And then I said, we've done this with a very special attitude, this attitude around family, spirit, elegance and genuine kindness."
That, he said, is the core that he would like to take and develop further, to really push the "boundaries and see if we can do this in more places. I think there is a demand."
So where might we see future Oetker Collection hotels? Gruenert said he is looking at where the company's current guests like to travel.
"We have an interesting mix of guests," he said. "About one-third are from the U.S., one-third from Europe and the rest are, frankly, from all over the world.
"We realize we should be where they go. It can be an island in Italy or Greece, New York or L.A. I'm sure if I would give you the top 10 [targets] you would not be surprised by the majority."