Q&A with Co-Founders of the Louis T Collection

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The Louis T Collection was inspired by the life and times of Louis T. Leonowens.
The Louis T Collection was inspired by the life and times of Louis T. Leonowens.

Recommend’s Editor, Paloma Villaverde de Rico, recently had a chance to get the scoop on the Louis T Collection, a new personality-driven hospitality and building solutions company, which was inspired by the life and times of Louis T. Leonowens. Louis T is one of the most revered foreigners in the history of Thailand, and if the name doesn’t ring a bell, his mother’s name, Anna Leonowens of “The King and I,” may sound a bit more familiar. The company launched in January, so Recommend took some time to chat with Adam Simkins of the Louis T Collection & The Getz Group, principal and director of interior solution, and Grant Healy, CEO of the Louis T Collection, both of which come with much experience of working for the Hyatt brand.

Paloma Villaverde de Rico (PVR): What does the Louis T Collection embody?  

Adam Simkins (AS): Louis T stands for Louis T. Leonowens, one of the most interesting and revered foreigners in South East Asia’s history. He was an adventurer who lived life to the fullest during his time. He travelled significantly from Asia to Europe, in the U.S. and Australia, and also spent a large portion of his life in Thailand. First as a child, when his mother was the governess to King Mongkut’s children, and later in life as a Siamese royal military captain, a private timber trading magnate and a hotelier. At one stage he even owned the Oriental Bangkok. Even though he was foreign he had a strong connection to the region.

The Mantra Samui Resort.
The Mantra Samui Resort.

PVR: When is the new Thai hotel set to open under the Louis T flag? Why Thailand as the destination for the first property? 

Grant Healy (GH): At the moment we are working on the stylizing plans for Mantra Samui. We’re working with local designers and in partnership with our technical services team and creative director. We are looking to have all the permits approved in the coming months and expect to have everything completed by early 2016.

AS: Given our namesake’s connection to Thailand, it seemed only fitting that our first location be where Louis made a name for himself. Our family owns Louis T Leonowens (Thailand) Limited, which Louis incorporated back in 1905. Through Louis and his company, we have more than a century of experience in the region. We hope that his story, and our new hotel, will continue to spark many new tales for decades to come.

Adam Simkins of the Louis T Collection & The Getz Group, principal and director of interior solution.
Adam Simkins of the Louis T Collection & The Getz Group, principal and director of interior solution.

PVR: What can travelers expect from this property and how will the Louis T philosophy play into it? 

AS: Because Louis was a grand character out of the golden age of hospitality; we’ll be borrowing all sorts of references for inspiration. We will pull a consistent thread through each of our properties but, in some instances, this thread may not necessarily be immediately apparent in a physical sense. We believe, just like Louis, that each property has its own story to tell and we want to help enhance that story, whilst still allowing a hotel to retain the individuality that attracted us to it in the first place.

For example, consider Louis’s connection to wood. He was a pioneer in Thailand’s teak industry, at a time when logging timber was akin to a gold rush. One of the things Louis and his wife used to do was etch the name and date of each guest’s visit to one of the pillars in their home. They would do this instead of having that guest sign a guest book, which was common to the time. We plan to incorporate this, in some form, into our hotels.

GH: We want to give our guests a place that is comfortable, effortless and engaging at the same time. A place where a hotel stay will turn into a memory. We want to bring the best of the location to our guests, let them see, taste, and touch the heart and soul of the place. Ultimately, we want our guests to feel what true hospitality is about: that is the culture of home, creating profound moments filled with simple everyday beauty, the spirit of discovery, and the adventure of travel.

PVR: What makes the Louis T Collection unique and how will it differentiate itself from other brands?

GH: We started building the brand with a deep appreciation for Louis’s charismatic life and we try to encapsulate that in our hotels. Our guiding philosophy is that a hotel can be more than just a place to stay. It can and should be a gateway into the surrounding environment. Travel is about exploring and experiencing a location, from its cuisine and scenery, to its people and the community. Our hotels add to that collective story through their distinctive nature.

We believe in the spirit of the independent hotel and want to stay true to that uncommon experience that many travelers are seeking today. The standards that many brands have created and adhere to are necessary to ensure quality, but we offer what is beyond “standards.”

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Grant Healy, CEO of the Louis T Collection.

PVR: Why is it so important in today’s hotel landscape to create a brand that evokes the independent spirit? 

GH: So much of anyone’s holiday abroad is consumed by time in their accommodation. It used to be, 20 or 30 years ago, that people turned to the big brand name chains as a guarantor of comfort, safety and convenience. But the comfort-safety-convenience equation has been solved across a whole class of hotels. And so people want more from all that time on property. They want to have spent time in a hotel that’s just as distinctive as the destination they’ve visited.

AS: Every big international hotel chain follows a brand standard playbook, governing colors, design, music and so many other aspects of the guest experience. And while the adherence to those standards makes for a really smooth stay, the possibility of adventure that is intrinsic to the property itself, or that could be intrinsic to the property itself, is stifled. Every Louis T property has solved the equation Grant references above, but we’ve not eradicated the possibility of adventure that comes from staying in a one-of-a-kind place.

PVR: Which demographic is Louis T going after?  

GH: We see our demographic as being wide. The millennial will enjoy a Louis T experience as much as a more mature and quieter person like myself. And geographically, we see strong intra-Asia Pacific trends—China in particular. China is already becoming the largest outbound market in the world.

AS:  We see expatriates throughout the Asian region travelling for both business and leisure. We see them looking for a home away from home. We also see the Asian FIT (Frequent Individual Traveler), who is adventurous, innovative, and looking to meet new people and make new friends, and looking to step out of the global chain environment.

PVR: How many hotels does the company hope to have in the next five years and will they be mostly in Asia? If not, what regions?

AS: At the moment we have opportunities in Myanmar, Japan, China, Sri Lanka, Hong Kong, Australia, Maldives, and New Zealand. As we grow the number of properties under our brand, we’ll strategically look at putting collections together country by country.

PVR: What types of hotels/properties will the Louis T Collection include in the future?  

GH: Small independent hotels with fewer than 150 rooms would be a good fit for our collection. We’re interested in hotels that stand out for their name and history, for their distinct design, or for their special location. In short, hotels that can offer something unique to guests.

From a business perspective, we want to work with hotels who want to retain their individuality, but that also see the benefits of being part of a collection. By receiving our help they can bring their product and business to the next level of success.

For more information, visit louistcollection.com.