As spring arrived in the French capital this year, Le Bristol Paris was putting the finishing touches to its beautiful inner gardens – the final stage of an extensive three-year restoration, which has seen a major refurbishment of the hotel and opening of a branded spa, on a ‘no-expense-spared’ budget of over €100m (US$129m, £85m).
It’s been a notable few years for Le Bristol, which has been part of the Oetker Collection (see p46) of hotels since 1978. In May 2011 it became the first of only a handful of Parisian properties to be awarded the new ‘palace’ status – a title defining its exclusivity, heritage, facilities and service (see SB11/3 p64). And in February, it became the only palace hotel to hold four Michelin stars (across two restaurants).
With all these accolades, Le Bristol inevitably attracts a host of ultra wealthy clients. Football star David Beckham was suitably impressed, as he took up residence in the hotel’s 300sq m, lavish Imperial Suite for six months while training for his debut at football club Paris St Germain. At a reported £14,500 per night (US$21,850, €16,950), his room bill alone will contribute several million euros to revenues.
The hotel’s CEO Didier le Calvez says that the completed refurbishments, which were overseen by hotel owner Maja Oetker and the renowned Parisian architect Pierre-Yves Rochon, “have brought about a renaissance of the hotel, which now aims to be the best in Paris”.
The new Spa Le Bristol by La Prairie forms part of this grand plan, having re-opened in October 2011 following a €4.5m (US$5.8m, £3.8m) refurbishment and enlargement, and a new partnering with Swiss brand La Prairie. Le Calvez says: “We wanted to raise Le Bristol to the highest level of excellence. That’s why we chose to work with La Prairie, which provides the greatest skincare expertise.
“The [spa] design was a perfect collaboration between Maja Oetker and Pierre-Yves Rochon. They agreed on the materials and colours, with Maja Oetker adding her feminine touch.”
While the hotel’s new rooms could be described as traditional luxury with a modern twist, the spa offers sleeker lines, with cool neutral tones, natural materials, some views over the gardens and a relaxing water wall in reception.
There are eight treatment rooms (three opening onto the flower-filled gardens) including two for couples. A main selling point is the Russian Room which includes a private hammam, and marble massage table with a Vichy shower. There’s also a fitness suite, hair salon and dedicated kids’ club. Clients can book indoor or outdoor sessions with personal trainers, while private yoga or pilates classes can be arranged in the guest rooms, and there’s also an osteopath as part of the team. The spa is spread over three floors and clients can use the hotel’s swimming pool on the sixth floor, with views over the rooftops of Paris.
The spa’s expected to become a healthy profit centre, serving a clientele made up of 60 per cent hotel guests (mostly European) and 40 per cent from the local Parisian market. With this in mind, Le Bristol hired a manager with a background in finance to see the spa through the pre-opening period and into full operation. Isabelle Gobbo worked on creating an identity for the spa, choosing suppliers, implementing an operational budget, developing a marketing plan, organising training for therapists and carrying out an analysis of competitors.
While many spa managers might have found the brief quite daunting, Gobbo feels her experience in finance at luxury hotels has proved to be a perfect grounding. She’s clocked up 23 years’ experience in various positions at exclusive Parisian hotels, including three of the palaces – the Ritz Hotel, Four Seasons George V and Shangri-La Hotel Paris. “I was really attracted by this new challenge and saw an incredible opportunity that I wanted to be part of – the challenge to make a profit and raise the spa to a lead position in Paris,” she says.
For someone who’s never worked in a spa, Gobbo appears to have got off to a flying start. In its first full year Spa le Bristol by La Prairie gained numerous trade and consumer accolades. Most recently, it’s received two titles at the 2013 World Luxury Spa Awards and US Conde Nast Traveler magazine also listed it among the top 35 new spas in the world.
Under her watchful guidance, it seems likely that the Oetker Collection will continue to recoup investment at a good pace. Gobbo says: “A major part of my job is to drive significant revenue to the hotel and above all make the spa profitable, just like any other selling point.”
While Gobbo is clearly a numbers person, she also exudes a natural passion for wellness that she says stems from her childhood. “I’ve always been very attracted to the world of wellness. I grew up in Brittany where we would collect algae along the seaside, dry it at home, and my father would use the crushed algae in soaps that acted like natural scrubs. We were used to living and eating with organic products from the sea and land… so I came from a wellness background without really knowing it!” she says.
Brands of excellence
Gobbo says the alliance with La Prairie was formed because of the hotel’s policy of choosing brands of excellence. Alongside La Prairie, which has developed a wide range of exclusive facials for the spa, Gobbo has opted for brands with a natural approach to ingredients including The Organic Pharmacy in London, Russie Blanche which uses herbs from the Russian Plains, argan-oil based treatments from Maison de l’Argan, water-based treatments from Les Thermes Marins de Saint Malo in Brittany, and make-up from By Terry.
Completing the spa offer in mid 2013 will be some exclusive treatments from Aromatherapy Associates. Gobbo says she was attracted to the prescriptive nature of the UK brand and in particular its approach to balancing the body and mind thanks to the properties of the natural essential oils.
In future, she plans to introduce a ‘mindfulness massage’ treatment, inspired by various techniques of meditation “for those people who find themselves on a massage table unable to shut off their brain chatter”.
The spa now uses SpaBooker software with sales and marketing, yield and retail functions. This is in the process of being implemented across all other hotels in the Oetker Collection, so each site will soon be able to share important information about common guests such as preferences for treatments, pains or allergies, etc.
The best-selling signature treatment is Le Bristol Signature – an 80-minute, €235 (US$303, £201) four-handed massage using various techniques performed with warm argan oil and hot towels.
Two of the spa’s therapists are Russian and can deliver an authentic Russian wellness experience. To emulate a typical Russian banya (communal steambath facility) they use dried birch twigs soaked in hot water with essential oils of Siberian pine to lightly beat the body and invigorate it, with vodka frictions to warm and purify the skin.
Gobbo says six “very profitable” signature packages have also been developed, including the four-hour Midnight in Paris package, named after the 2011 Woody Allen film which was shot extensively at Le Bristol. The offers tend to be popular with the local market and purchased as gift certificates for personal events like birthdays and weddings, with prices ranging from €330-750 (US$425-966, £282-641).
“It generates consistent revenue for our spa and most of the guests return and book a second and third time after a wonderful experience first time round,” adds Gobbo.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Gobbo would not be drawn on the types of treatments a certain Mr Beckham or his visiting wife have enjoyed on their visits to the spa.
She continues: “Paris is the most romantic city in the world, and the experiences take place in our spa suites with private terraces and garden; at the end we offer champagne with canapés or petit-fours from our pastry chef Laurent Jeannin or, a vodka cocktail with caviar with our From Russian with Love package.”
The spa has an extensive marketing plan, employing everything from social media to word-of-mouth at nearby exclusive fashion boutiques. When hotel guests arrive, receptionists give details about the spa and en route to their room guests are taken through the spa reception. Hotel rooms have the full spa menu, and flyers in the bathroom.
“The target is to increase the capture of hotel guests. We also plan to offer attractive prices during the slower days from Monday to Thursday, to boost reservations and occupancy in the mornings,” says Gobbo.
Using SpaBooker, special offers are posted on Facebook and the main hotel website, they’re also cross-promoted via La Prairie’s email list and Facebook page. To help drive hotel occupancy, there are several packages which include room, breakfast and spa offers, while the hotel works with various luxury concierge services around the capital to draw new guests.
Gobbo has also made sure all the boutique managers in the hotel’s street – the exclusive Rue du Faubourg St Honoré in the fashionable 8th arrondissement – have been invited to the spa to sample its wares. These managers, who represent major brands like Dior and Chanel, can potentially refer a steady stream of wealthy clients to the hotel.
Spa recruitment is mainly done through a specialist hiring website for luxury establishments, and therapists have to meet even more exacting standards to be in line with Le Bristol’s status as a palace hotel.
In term of staff costs, Gobbo runs a tight ship, with a staggered rota pattern that ensures guests’ needs can be met while minimising staff downtime. “Our hotel guests may only be with us for a few days so it’s important that we consistently try to meet their first choice in terms of time and type of treatment, or at least within a couple of hours of their request,” she says.
She admits that from her roles in finance, she’s tough negotiator and “enjoys haggling” when it comes to buying in spa products and services; and the spa works hard on its retail sales, which currently stand at 25 per cent of revenues. These receive an additional boost from the fact that the spa is the exclusive stockist of Organic Pharmacy products in Paris and so customers visit especially to buy them. Therapists are trained well in giving advice on all skincare products and at-home routines to what Gobbo describes as “an extremely demanding” local clientele.
Beyond Le Bristol, other Oetker Collection expansion plans continue apace – and it’s clear that wellness remains high on the agenda. Palais Namaskar in Morocco, the collection’s first hotel in Africa, which opened in April 2012, is currently developing a spa with classic French perfume brand Guerlain. And just announced in April this year are plans for a new spa at the Brenners Park Hotel in Baden-Baden, Germany. Full details are currently under wraps, but it will be a major standalone facility fitting of its location in one of the iconic European wellness resorts.