In 2007, Sofitel surveyed its family of 204 hotels, found many of them lacking in quality of the expected guest experience, and set out to better identify the chain and reposition the Sofitel brand. Et voila! Five years later, Sofitel presents itself as the only French luxury hospitality brand with a presence on five continents, now representing 120 hotels and resorts in almost 40 countries.
“It was time to bring the company to the next luxury level,” Pierre-Louis Renou, general manager of Sofitel Washington DC Lafayette Square, says, “and in the last five years we moved rapidly and creatively to trim the number of hotels, keeping those in just the right destinations, with just the right locations and occupying the proper buildings.” By downsizing the number of hotels and upscaling with extensive refurbishments, “Sofitel can now send a clear message of guaranteed top quality at every single hotel address,” he adds.
Closely involved in the “new Sofitel” approach, Renou says that plans for the immediate future include Sofitel expanding to 150 properties by 2015. This year alone the Sofitel Luxury brand has been bursting out all over, most recently with its first hotel in India now open in Mumbai, and a second New Zealand luxury property just opened on Viaduct Harbor in Auckland. Come December, Sofitel will debut in the capital of Uruguay with the Sofitel Montevideo Casino Carrasco & Spa, overlooking the Rio de la Plata estuary.
Renou seems particularly delighted with the part of the Sofitel “master plan” that created three new Sofitel labels:
• Sofitel Luxury—the label that applies to the majority of properties—focuses on delivering the genuine experience of French elegance, combined with the best of local culture, whether the hotel has an urban locale such as Paris, New York or Shanghai, or is set in exotic landscapes in Morocco, Egypt, or Thailand. Part of the new approach finds Sofitel executives working more closely with well-known architects and designers—from Jean Nouvel to Christian Lacroix—and luxury French brands such as Hermes and l’Occitaine.
• Sofitel Legend—the company’s treasured properties occupying historic sites and buildings. They’re distinguished by rich interiors and surroundings, top-ranked chefs in charge of fine dining restaurants, iconic spas and exceptional suites. The French-colonial style Hotel Metropole in Hanoi was the first to debut as a “Legend” (2009), followed by the historic and beautifully renovated Sofitel Legend The Grand Amsterdam and the Sofitel Legend Old Cataract Aswan, occupying a Victorian-style palace along the Nile River in upper Egypt. Sofitel Santa Clara, built within a 17th century convent in Cartagena, Colombia, becomes a Legend property this year, and other Sofitel hotels preparing to join this group include the Palais Jamai in Fez, the Winter Palace in Luxor, and the Hua Hin Resort in Thailand.
• Sofitel So is the design-centric, boutique vision of Sofitel, starring chic, contemporary hotels. Architect Lek Bunnag and Kenzo Tadaka, a noted fashion designer from Japan, worked on the Sofitel So Mauritius, a 92-suite and -villa resort on the south coast of the island and the first hotel in the “So” group, while the Sofitel So Bangkok, designed by award-winning architect Smith Obayawat, is linked to elegance by Christian Lacroix. And although Sofitel So Singapore will not open until July 2013, the property is already making waves since it received the prestigious Green Mark Platinum Award for its championing of green technology when it turned an 85-year-old, neo-classical landmark into a luxurious and hip hotel.
Renou is also pleased that the U.S. travel community has been so receptive to Sofitel’s new look, designed to woo the savvy, luxury-minded traveler. “Many of the most enthusiastic comments of all to Sofitel’s more upscale direction come from the members of our Travel Agent Advisory Board here in the U.S.,” he says. “Sofitel has always had excellent loyalty from the many travel agent consortiums we work with, and members of the travel agent community welcome our strict policy of paying commissions immediately.” Agents have access to all things Sofitel on the site’s “travel agents” link, with information on the Sofitel Travel Agent Rates program, STAR, offering exclusive rates at Sofitel hotels, answers to frequently asked questions, and commission information.
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This year, Sofitel’s nine North American hotels (New York, Washington, D.C., Chicago, LA, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Miami, Minneapolis and Montreal) added a wellness gastronomy program, the French-inspired De-Light menus, designed to provide gastronomic adventures in healthy eating. And this fall, chefs will offer guests a series of De-Light cooking demonstrations.
You need go no further than Pierre-Louis Renou’s own domain, Sofitel Washington DC Lafayette Square, located a block from the White House, to catch on quickly to the hotel chain’s trademark of sharing its French roots: reception greets guests with “bonjour”; cheese and wine selection are taken seriously; French-press coffee and tea are served daily; and Ici Urban Bistro offers a contemporary twist on French bistro cuisine. This is Sofitel’s l’art de vivre—the art of living well.