The brand builder

Thomas Edelkamp was at home in corporate hospitality for decades, spending many years in management roles at Accor. So to many in the industry, his move to the Europe-based Romantik Hotels was an abrupt switch. But for the 54-year-old, it was going full circle.

text: Silke Becker  //  photography: Cornelis Gollhardt

Ihad a fantastic time at Accor, but you get to a stage where you're ready to move on from a company,” says Thomas Edelkamp. The marketing specialist had achieved all his goals with the French chain and needed new, exciting challenges and projects. As consistent and straightforward as he is, after more than 15 years, he pulled the ripcord and gave up a secure management role with a corresponding salary at an age when many are already planning their retirement. “For me it seemed entirely logical and it felt like the right thing to do.” he says, despite the fact it wasn’t initially clear to him how to proceed. “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.”

And it turns out, he was right. Soon after, at a trade fair in Munich, Edelkamp learned that changes were being made at senior management level at Romantik. “I joked that the board should call me, maybe.” But the joke soon became serious and Thomas Edelkamp has been chairman of the board of Romantik Hotels & Restaurants AG since January 2015. It wasn't hard to convince them. His success in launching the multi-brand operation at Accor, marketing the Sofitel, Novotel and Mercure brands as well as integrating the Dorint hotels spoke for itself.

His efforts during preparations for the 2006 football world cup in Germany had made a lasting impression on many people. During “A time to make friends” – the tournament’s slogan – Thomas Edelkamp worked hard in the background to ensure that there were sufficient beds for athletes, coaches and fans. “That was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, there was such a great atmosphere,” enthuses Edelkamp.

Back to his roots

By joining Romantik, the 54-year-old has returned to his roots. The foundations for his international career were laid at the Parkhotel Wehrle in the Black Forest, which was a Romantik hotel at the time, where he completed his training as a hotel manager. “To begin with, I wanted to manage a five-star hotel in Hong Kong.” But the reality of this soon hit. “For me, that was driven too day-by-day.”

Nevertheless, he remained faithful to the hospitality industry; initially he worked in London after completing his studies, in hotels such as the Ramada and Le Meridien. He then moved to Choice (previously Quality) Hotels and in Oslo, he helped to develop Choice Hotels Scandinavia as Marketing Director. “Back then I really understood brand thinking.” Until, “completely out of the blue,” a call came from Accor, with the offer to bring the marketing of the various Accor brands together “which I thought sounded really exciting”.

Love in Norwegian

In the personal sphere, Thomas Edelkamp, who speaks fluent Norwegian, also found his lucky charm in Oslo: Gry, a mother of two teenage daughters and owner of a flower shop. At that point in time, Edelkamp didn’t want to marry, since the “disaster” of his first marriage had proved more than enough. But he risked it nonetheless. “It was the best decision of my life.” Even today, Thomas and Gry speak Norwegian in their daily lives, their language of love.

Since Oslo, Thomas Edelkamp has been convinced that strong branding represents the future of the hospitality industry. “The brand is a seal of quality and gives the customer the reassurance they need.” And it also means extra guests. “If someone has a good experience with a certain brand, they will of course try out other hotels under the same umbrella.” Last but not least, for Edelkamp, brands are a strong means of getting good people on board, “the main problem of the future”.

Giving Romantik a new lease of life

Establishing or repositioning brands and thereby bringing different interests, wishes and objectives under one roof is what Edelkamp wants to do now. In other words, exactly what he did for the previous Group. “Romantik is one of the few cooperatives which has been able to build a strong brand, even if that's been pushed into the background a little in recent years,” he says. To bring new lustre to the company, founded in 1972, he has spent a great deal of money in recent months on a European “communication offensive”. This includes a newly-designed, mobile-optimised website, which aims to provide the guest with travel inspiration and individually targeted offers. Romantik also places adverts online. “We wanted to open up the Romantik brand to guests who don’t know about us yet.”

Recently, Edelkamp announced a collaboration with French hotel chain Châteaux & Hôtels Collection – not to be confused with Relais & Châteaux Hotels – bringing some 300 additional hotels into the portfolio. Of course, he continues to extend the range of Romantik hotels in Germany and Europe, of which there are currently over 200, and he has set himself a target of 100 new hotels by 2020. He is particularly inclined towards exceptional hotels with a special ambiance, for example the Hotel Wasserturm in Cologne, a new member, whose historical water tower building is skilfully shown off to its best with a modern design and exudes a real romantic feeling, even in such a hectic city. Edelkamp’s objective? To have a Romantik Hotels presence in cities and not just in holiday regions. “Romantik. The byword for high-calibre, regionally anchored, personally managed hotels with excellent cuisine, that tell stories and inspire the guest, offering truly special experiences.”

“I would never sell something that the customer isn’t happy with.”

No question about it, Thomas Edelkamp has done it. He’s a prime example of the careers that are possible in the hospitality industry if you have ambition and work hard. He sees himself as focused and disciplined, as someone who isn’t in the limelight, but instead just gets on with the job at hand. His real strengths? A phenomenal memory – and “I’m great at selling”.

The down-to-earth chairman of the board is no chatterbox who would even sell a refrigerator to an Eskimo. He’s successful, precisely because he is so matter-of-fact, pragmatic and rock solid. “I would never sell something that the customer isn’t happy with.” This is, of course, partly because customers should want to come back again, but it is also due to the demands he places on himself. “I often ask myself whether the decisions that I make are really the right ones and whether I will still be able to stand by them tomorrow.”

It isn’t for nothing that, if he could come back again, he would go into politics to campaign for greater equality. However, Edelkamp is personally more than satisfied with what he has achieved with his life. “I’m doing well, I have a lovely wife, I’m doing what I enjoy and I’m able to afford myself some luxuries. If everything just stays that way, then that’s great.”

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