What’s in a Name?

28th February 2007 (Last Updated February 28th, 2007 18:30)

When a company is rebranded, it usually means plenty of changes ahead. But the Dorchester Group’s recent repositioning will not change its key values of comfort, charm, elegance and service, explains global development director Ricci Obertelli.

What’s in a Name?

On 10 November 2006, one of the world’s pre-eminent small luxury hotel
groups rebranded as the Dorchester Collection and suddenly, a decade after its
creation, the Dorchester Group was no more. There was never any fear that a
loyal army of affluent jetsetters would be picketing Park Lane and Place de la
Concorde, as on the surface little had changed: the company has kept its five
landmark hotels in London, Paris, Milan and Beverley Hills; long-established
management and service teams have stayed put; and a promise was made that this
rebranding exercise would not compromise the characteristics of each
location.

The Dorchester Collection announced its arrival in style. Artistic
collaborations with fashion designers Basso & Brooke, milliner Stephen
Jones and six of the world’s top photographers were all commissioned to
give their take on the Collection and a stream of press releases, promotions
and parties conveyed a sense of celebration, self-assurance and pride in ten
well-spent years at the top.

But the fanfare signified more than an extended tenth birthday party. “This
has all been part of a greater shift in focus,” explains the Dorchester
Collection’s global development director Ricci Obertelli. “The new name
is more befitting of our portfolio, but our strategic goals have also been
undergoing a significant shift. The timing was right, but this is about
evolution, not revolution.”

EXPANDING THE COLLECTION

“The new name is more befitting of our portfolio, but our strategic goals have also been undergoing a significant shift.”

This shift in focus prompted the company to announce growth plans that will
include third-party management agreements as well as traditional acquisitions.
This is a marked departure from company philosophy, but Obertelli sees it as
central in strengthening the name of the brand.

“There is a lot of focus on getting the distribution right,” he says. “A
loyal customer base already exists and we hope both to be able to welcome them
to new destinations and build on their existing number.”

With responsibility for orchestrating the expansion of the Dorchester
Collection, this is a challenge for which Obertelli demonstrates plenty of
enthusiasm. The genial Italian has worked in his current role since 2004, is a
former Dorchester general manager and was appointed group director of
operations in 1997.

Over 25 years with the company and almost 20 years on the board have
instilled in him a strong passion for and belief in the values of the
Collection. When it is suggested that expansion of such an exclusive brand
might undermine that exclusivity, Obertelli rebuffs the notion with all the
charm, vigour and determination that has seen him collect such accolades as
Independent Hotelier of the World during an illustrious career.

“We want to expand, but it will not be at any cost,” he says. “Yes,
we’re in the market, but will only buy a property if it matches up to our
particular requirements. The city, the product and the price must be right.
Such opportunities do not arise very often and development has to be
opportunity-driven. But when the right opportunity does arise I believe
we’ll be ready.”

So where and when can we expect to see the next piece in the Dorchester
Collection? “Our profile is already extremely high in Europe,” says Obertelli,
“but North America is certainly somewhere that we are studying very closely.
Our mission is to develop an impeccable collection of the world’s best
hotels, be that in the US, Europe or Asia. It is important to have targets but
also to not to be restricted by them. You must take into account the fact that
we are only a small group − we could be talking about adding one property
to our portfolio a year, but it will be entirely dependent on
circumstances.”

DIVERSIFYING THE PORTFOLIO

In achieving these goals, Obertelli does not reject the idea of a slight
change in the types of enterprise that the Collection may come to manage. “We
cannot afford to be static,” he says. “If the opportunity arose to manage a
resort, for example, we would certainly consider it. So long as a property fits
the particular Dorchester criteria and can enhance the brand, it would be
foolish to dismiss any possibility out of hand.”

Another proviso, according to Obertelli, is that any potential purchase must
have “the uniqueness” that will attract the company’s existing customer
base. It is this base that Obertelli returns to time and again, displaying a
zeal that dissuades any cynicism about such reference being mere corporate
tokenism.

“When we sat down to consider the way forward, they played a key role in
mapping out our direction in what was a very hands-on approach,” he says. “They
were the experts that we needed to sit down with and it goes without saying
that such dialogue remains an ongoing process.”

These guests will not be left behind. “We have a wonderful springboard for
growth,” Obertelli enthuses. “60% of our guests are loyal to the brand –
a tremendous following – and a great number of these are third-generation
clients. This gives us both a great history and an emotional attachment to
them. We know that they’ll visit us in Milan, London, Paris and Beverly
Hills, and the company is already well established in these gateway cities. If
or when our remit goes beyond existing locations, it becomes a question of
convincing these guests to follow us. This has to be achieved by retaining our
individuality and ethos.”

SHARED THEMES AND VALUES

Following extensive dialogue with its client base, the Dorchester Collection
has come to define what sets its individual components apart, as well as the
shared themes that underpin its operation. The Dorchester has been described by
guests as “quintessentially British”, The Beverly Hills Hotel as
“Hollywood’s Country Cottages”, Milan’s Hotel Principe Di Savoia as
“graceful – with a 1930s elegance”, while the company’s two
Parisian offerings, Le Meurice and Hotel Plaza Athenee, are considered
“elegant, distinctive and intimate” and “classical French blended with
contemporary hip”, respectively.

Fundamental to developing and maintaining these values are the hotels’
general managers. “To create the types of experience we specialise in,” says
Obertelli, “the general manager has to be an integral part in both defining and
orchestrating the various elements that make it so − the role must come
with a certain level of autonomy.”

“The Dorchester Collection has come to define what sets its individual components apart, as well as the shared themes that underpin its operation.”

One could argue that the individual hotels offered by the Collection are
more famous than the sum of their parts, but Obertelli is keen to stress the
themes that underpin them all.

“We asked our guests what most set our brand
apart,” he tells me. “Their response was ‘a sense of prestige’ and ‘feeling at
home’.

“Everything we do has to be underpinned by these values, offering
comfort, charm, elegance and service. Our clients are looking for modernity and
design and this means that the development of our existing portfolio is also an
ongoing process. In terms of design, one has to look ten years ahead without
falling into the trap of faddishness.”

It will be fascinating to see how the Dorchester Collection matures between
now and its tenth birthday party. For now, the name may have changed, but the
values that have long defined the brand seem more deeply entrenched than ever.