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Haute Couture Hotels by Claudia Bette-Wenngatz | 15th December, 2013 | Offices

The Oetker Collection comprises an inspiring array of luxury hotels, the stunning “Masterpiece Hotels” – of which there are seven, to date. Claudia Bette-Wenngatz spoke to CEO Frank Marrenbach about the company’s history, evolution and expansion.

A pearl necklace as a logo for a group of hotels? An unconventional, but deliberate choice. “Pearls represent the coming together of individuality, beauty and quality,” explains Frank Marrenbach, CEO of the Oetker Collection. “The individual pearls join together to form a thread connecting the establishments of the Oetker Collection in harmony with Nature.” Marrenbach and I sit together in the impressive winter garden of the Brenners Park-Hotel in Baden-Baden, the first of the “pearls” to be acquired by the Oetker family in 1941. This gem, whose purchase was based on a personal preference, was never actually planned as the first link in the chain. Nevertheless, even back then, the family business, whose turnover was about 11 billion euros in 2012, already showed great flair for shrewd investments.

This has remained true to this day. Brenners Park-Hotel & Spa in Baden-Baden with its concept of “exclusive urbanity in the countryside” is just as successful as the other three hotels owned by the Oetker group. The Hôtel du Cap-Eden-Roc in Cap d’Antibes was spotted by Rudolf-August Oetker from a boat in 1969. A year later when the building came on the market, he purchased it by telex from his ranch in Argentina, without ever having looked at it more closely. Today, the 117 rooms and suites, and two private villas, are both a hideaway and high-class hangout. There are hardly any big names who have not resided here, especially during the Cannes Film Festival.

The clientele at the Le Bristol in the heart of Paris is equally eminent. The stylish urban oasis features an inner courtyard, a formal garden and a three-star restaurant headed by chef Eric Frechon, and was acquired by the Oetker group in 1978. Since the latest multimillion-euro investment and its extension by 29 rooms and suites, it is today among the most beautiful boutique hotels in the city.

The Château Saint-Martin & Spa, added to the Oetker portfolio in 1994, is furnished in a tasteful and elegant, yet historically respectful fashion. It scores highly with its 14-hectare park, the two-star gourmet kitchen headed by Yannick Franques, a wine cellar in the rock below it, and its wedding chapel. “Each of these establishments is different, but they all share the Oetker Collection DNA: a close rapport with the guests; classic, as well as contemporary, but not minimalist, design; a destination which offers a great range of experiences; and a commitment to offer the highest quality hospitality around the clock. We only select locations which inspire us and set the human spirit free; locations where cordiality and harmony are second nature.”

Frank Marrenbach explains this with an enthusiasm that clearly shows his passion for first-class customer service, something he also expects from the roughly 2,000 employees. “In the group as a whole, the hotel business only features under ‘miscellaneous.’ I was a bit irritated by that, but it is quite evident that we cannot compete with the high turnover divisions such as food, breweries and shipping. I do, however, have the ambition to create a lasting, visible presence for the Oetker Collection within the group.”

The strategy being implemented since 2008 is crucial in this endeavor: the company not only operates its own establishments, but also manages hotels owned by other businesses. “But this does not mean that we have turned away from the idea of ownership. Running and owning a property means that you are totally in charge, and that has undeniable advantages,” concedes Frank Marrenbach. “But we do want to expand. To us, this means that by 2020 we will have – not 50, but maybe 15 hotels. Our luxury model of hospitality and our concept of individuality do not sit well with having a huge property portfolio. We know and understand the needs of owners as well as those of managers, and have the appropriate know-how, which is why we are such attractive partners for investors.” It is because of this that the Palais Namaskar was added to the Collection in April 2012. The French owners had selected the operator of their favorite establishment, the Cap-Eden-Roc, to take over the management  – with great success. The Palais Namaskar, a Moroccan palace just outside Marrakesh, won numerous awards even in the first year following the change of management.

But it is not just the furnishings, the ambience and the quality of service, which are of utmost importance to Oetker hotels. It is also those magical moments which make a place exceptional: your favorite tea served in the afternoon while you relax in a hammock with a sea view. Chilled champagne, ready to be sipped while enjoying the sunset on the roof terrace, which overlooks the Atlas Mountains. Or putting up the little wooden “occupied” sign on one of seven beaches on an island to guarantee complete privacy, and then ordering a picnic for you and your sweetheart with a walkie-talkie….

The latter is offered to guests on Fregate Island Private in the Seychelles, one of the world’s most beautiful private islands, which became part of the “Masterpiece Collection” in July 2013. Frank Marrenbach is especially proud of this latest “pearl”: a nature reserve with 16 pool villas, boasting native flora and fauna, including giant tortoises: “You get a real Robinson Crusoe feeling here, which nowadays is only possible in very few places in the world.”

The Collection’s counterweight to this tropical paradise is the L’Apogée Courchevel, located in what must be the most exclusive ski resort in the French Alps. At its grand opening on December 11th, 2013, Oetker guests will not only find a first-class hotel with 53 chalet-style rooms and suites and a penthouse at 1,850 meters in the Jardin Alpin, but also many familiar faces. “The synergy with our hotels in the South of France is perfect. We close these establishments in the fall, so that 60 percent of our employees, among them many key staff, such as the hotel manager and the chef de cuisine will decant to Courchevel until the spring,” explains Frank Marrenbach and goes on to enthuse: “Our guests will have access to the most beautiful slopes via a private ski lift. After their descent, they can enjoy a cup of hot chocolate on the patio and savor the stunning view of the mountains, and in the evening maybe have a fondue. All this in the ambience created by world-renowned architects India Mahdavi and Joseph Dirand, using natural materials and fabrics in warm earth colors.”

Kindling emotions while looking clear-headedly into the future – this is the aim of the Oetker Collection.

IssueGG Magazine 01/14
Photographyby Oetker Collection