Dorint's back!

Dorint? What was that? It's more than 15 years since the former favourite of business travellers and conference guests disappeared, firstly under the umbrella of Accor and then completely – despite attempts to revive it. But suddenly something is happening again, and there's even talk of expansion. What's it all about, Jörg T. Böckeler?

interview: Sven Anke Pedersen  //  photography: Dominik Asbach

Mr Böckeler, it was announced in November 2017 that you were to take over as COO at Dorint Hotels & Resorts from January. Just a few weeks previously, the company had declared its restructuring phase complete and had announced Karl-Heinz Pawlizki as its new CEO. Shortly afterwards, "Neue Dorint" again became Dorint GmbH, and Mr Böckeler, Area General Manager for Intercontinental Sydney, became the co-CEO. Why on earth did you quit down under? Do you really believe that Dorint has a genuine chance of survival this time?
(Hearty laughter) For me, the appointment is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. There's a great deal of solidarity between our owner Dirk Iserlohe, our Supervisory Board Chairman Martin Smura, my co-CEO Karl-Heinz Pawlizki and me. We need to be highly enterprising, and that generates enormous momentum. It's a unique challenge if you're coming from a matrix-driven company, as I am now from IHG PCL.

Exactly 10 years ago, in summer 2008, I interviewed the CEO at that time, Elke Schade. The previous year, the company, which had been renamed Neue Dorint, had taken back 41 hotels from Accor, and Schade was talking about the "Phoenix" project: following a thorough reorganisation, repositioning and modernisation, Dorint was expected to regain its old strength very quickly.

When was that? 2008? The financial crash happened soon afterwards and then everything went downhill. But after Elke Schade came the generation that really restructured Dorint, Dirk Iserlohe and co.

True. Dirk Iserlohe said only recently that the new umbrella company, Honestis AG, now has sufficient capital to bring Dorint GmbH back to the sunny side, including expansion, following a complete restructuring. But it looks like old mistakes are being repeated: even though the venture into the luxury hotel market under Alfred Weis definitely contributed to the downfall of Dorint Hotels, which was established in the three- and four-star segment, now they want to do "luxury" again. Seriously?

The Supervisory Board and management together drew up the Dorint strategy for 2020, which includes a balanced growth strategy. This strategy takes in our corporate culture, at the heart of which are our employees, our guests and their satisfaction and the economic situation, as well as the associated satisfaction of our shareholders. Our goal is clear: 50 hotels are to be opened or signed in 2018. For our 60th anniversary in 2019, it will be 60 hotels. Our visionary goal is to increase our portfolio to 80 hotels by 2020. This is to be achieved through brand diversification and strategic growth. We will press ahead with strategic growth under the umbrella brand Dorint with precisely those business hotels and resorts that fit with our core brand: four stars, full service. We will decide which hotels fit into this based on the location and the size of the hotels.

Which locations are you focusing on?

We select locations based on economic momentum, good accessibility, i.e. infrastructure, and an attractiveness that will enable us to reach conference guests during the week and families and individual travellers at weekends. In short, these locations are economic hubs with a high leisure value. At the same time, the business model behind it all has to be right, as well as the conditions for a lease. With this strategy, we hope to become the leading full-service provider among conference hotels in Germany by 2020.

There's not much time left until then. How are you going to make yourselves stand out from other conference providers?

We focus on speed and individuality in agreements, state-of-the-art conference technology and reliable execution with no unwanted surprises. We've also developed a digital "white label" solution with a partner company to simplify bookings, which is up to date and geared towards today's bookers. We're also happy to introduce local nuances into our hotels.

Let's go back to your growth strategy.

There's one exception to our focus on economic centres: we acknowledge that we may also operate resorts, i.e. hotels where guests can enjoy a high recreational value, stay for seven to fourteen days and enjoy the spa, the food and the region.

Like at Söl’ring Hof on the North Sea island of Sylt?

Yes, that's a magnificent example of a great resort with a unique cuisine. But wait for it! We also want to expand within franchise and management agreements. The Dorint brand is very attractive to hotel owners, particularly in the conference segment. We're offering them a franchise partnership, which means we're allowing them to use the Dorint brand as part of a licence agreement.

What exactly will that look like?

We're offering hotel owners an operational framework with the Dorint standards that define our brand, and we'll take over the marketing, i.e. everything from distribution via revenue management to targeted campaign marketing. In addition, our owners are able to request completely individual modules; we offer technical and planning services and provide support with human resources and accounting. And naturally we analyse the owner's business model for them and are by their side with advice and support.

Without any OTAs?

Not alone, no. However, there's currently a veritable Sodom and Gomorrah situation with brands, which is why Dorint.com is so strong. And that brings me to our planned brand diversification. We want to establish a brand that will also let us obtain five stars. To do this, we're planning the Hommage Luxury Collection: an umbrella brand for hotels with real personality, hotels that tell their own story. We want to conserve and further promote these kinds of hotels with personality in future, and Hommage is the umbrella brand for this.

How will the hotels be booked? Through Hommage.com?

Yes, we will create a separate website for these hotels and will use the Hommage Luxury Collection for the merged group. Some of the hotels I've referred to are members of both Selektion Deutscher Luxushotels and the Leading Hotels of the World. This is particularly relevant to the US market. We are planning to go live at the ILTM (International Luxury Travel Market) in Cannes in December. At the same time, however, we firstly want to prepare for our 60th anniversary in 2019. We're planning something big! Mr Böckeler, thank you for talking to us.

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