Linked by Luxury

Relais & Chateaux provides the stamp of luxury to its five hundred-strong member hotels.
But more than that, this unique association provides booking, communications and branding

Relais & Chateaux provides the stamp of luxury to its five hundred-strong member hotels. But more than that, this unique association provides booking, communications and branding support

Relais & Châteaux brings luxury service and branding to the many independent hotels across the world that pursue the highest standards, but need external support and back-up. This association conveys its own sense of style to customers of these hotels through its prestige branding which its members enjoy and identify with. On the other hand, Relais & Châteaux also furnishes the hotels with technological and marketing support that, as independents, they lack.

Relais & Châteaux is infused with standards as powerful as those of its members, and these range from high profile establishments like Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons to the smaller and lower profile Chewton Glen (see box opposite).

Relais & Châteaux in fact originated not in England, but in France, back in 1954. And according to Nicola Liddiard, UK & Ireland director of Relais & Châteaux affiliates in the UK, a French sensibility informs all the association’s members, whether in England, Austria, India, South Africa or Canada. Still today 140 Relais & Châteaux members – or a third of the total – are located in France.

The binding concept is what they call l’art de vivre, or “the art of living”, and what Nicola describes as “a real camaraderie amongst members”. What that means in practice becomes clearer when you hear what qualities the association expects of member establishments and potential members.

International brand with family feeling
The “British and Irish delegation” of Relais & Châteaux consists of 35 outstanding member hotels and restaurants, including such idylls as Marlfield House and Chewton Glen. It is part of a stable of more than 500 establishments spread over 61 countries on five continents. Some are remote castles pressed into service as hotels; others are iconic city centre establishments.

Variety and individuality are key to the Relais & Châteaux philosophy. Calling it a “chain” sounds somewhat brusque. Nicola Liddiard prefers to think of the association as a fellowship, a bond of affection between staff and guests who return time and again to relive pleasant experiences. As Nicola says of the hoteliers: “It is their livelihood, their family business. So when people come and stay, it is almost like inviting them into their home.” Take, for instance, Farlham Hall in Cumbria, run by the entire Quinion family – Barry the head chef, his wife Lynn and sister Helen in charge of the front desk. Guests get to know them personally, which makes them quite distinct from larger, arguably more corporate international hotel chains.

Joining the club
Relais & Châteaux definitely seems to have alighted upon a formula that works. Essentially, it is based on what Relais calls “the five Cs” – courtesy, calm, character, charm and cuisine. Out of this concept Relais & Châteaux has spawned the exclusive “Club 5C” for seasoned visitors to Relais & Châteaux outlets. To the five Cs one might add another: consistency. As Nicola explains, hotels are inspected once every three years and advised about possible paths to improvement. When reviewing existing members or scouting out potential new hotelier members, seven or eight inspectors travel incognito, usually as couples, and report on the whole experience, and how it fits Relais & Châteaux’s stringent quality charter. These club members number 154,000 across the world – an exclusive body, perhaps, but by no means snobbish.

Luxury is not a word Relais & Châteaux like to use. Relais & Châteaux prefer to think of the Relais stress being on “software” – the experience, unexpected details, discreet yet caring staff service – rather than the “hardware” of glitz and labels; even though Relais & Châteaux does gently promote affiliated quality brands, such as American Express and Hennessy. “Real luxury should be an intent – we want to take you beyond your expectations, and leave you with a powerful memory.” Admirably the organisation is strictly nonprofit making: all moneys are ploughed back into the collective for the betterment of all.

Central to the Relais ethos is food and the love of food. No surprise that it includes such a magnet for the culinary curious as Raymond Blanc’s Manoir aux Quat’Saisons – a Chamber member in its own right. Other top chefs associated with Relais include Heston Blumental and Michel Roux.

The Relais concept of fine cuisine, encapsulated in the concept of “The Soul of the Innkeeper”, also lives on strongly north of the border. One fine example of the association’s pedigree is Glenapp Castle, the highest ranking hotel in Scotland, nestling in the natural beauty of Ayrshire and Galloway. Just this year it was one of only three places to win three Michelin stars, following its award of AA 4 Rosettes.

The Relais concept originated in 1954, when Marcel and Nelly Tilloy turned their “La Cardinale”, an estate in the Rhône Valley, into the fulcrum of eight related hotels along the road between Paris and the French Riviera. All eight shared a passion for fine cuisine and creating a route du bonheur. The idea was that a visitor could visit each establishment in turn, while leisurely travelling down to the Mediterranean.

Nicola believes the total number of hotels will remain stable at approximately 500 worldwide. These days it appears that much future growth lies in Asia, as China and her neighbours are defying the global economic slowdown, and newly wealthy entrepreneurs have developed a taste for relaxing pleasures that Relais & Châteaux has to offer. In 2011 their 680-page guidebook, for instance, comes out in Chinese translation. And as borders dissolve, Relais notes that many Chinese are holidaying in Relais spas, hotels and nature resorts on Canada’s west coast.

Nicola says that clients are amazed by the new networks of clients they gain when they join the circle. Yet in the end, the key ingredient is that intangible feeling – “the people in a place, the taste of the land, the desire to return to relive a special experience”. NK

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<img1202|left>Un article issu de INFO Magazine,
November/December 2011
une publication de la Chambre de commerce et d’industrie française en Grande Bretagne

Hannah Meloul-Medioni
Corporate Communications Executive
Tel : +44 207 092 66 48
Site : - @ : [>]


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