5 questions with Langham’s Robert Warman

Robert Warman

In February, Langham Hotels announced that it would launch a new upscale hotel brand. According to Langham Hospitality Group’s CEO, Robert Warman, the Cordis brand will be developed through a combination of new-build and conversion projects in Asia and North America. The first hotel is expected this year, in Hong Kong, and Cordis has reportedly signed management agreements and letters of intent to open eight hotels in seven cities within the next three years, with five hotels set for China and one each in Bali, Indonesia and Colombo, Sri Lanka. Other cities targeted for Cordis hotels include London, New York, Miami, Los Angeles, Orlando, San Francisco, Dubai, Singapore and Bangkok.

1 HM: How did you come up with the idea for the new brand?

RW: Cordis is Latin for “heart,” and we feel that an important aspect of this market segment is caring and warmth. “Well-being” is how well we welcome you (whether there’s a doorman) and how well the hotel looks and feels and gives you a sense of where you are in the world. So that’s how we came up with the name Cordis, and having it be devoted to well-being …. Your heart feels good when you eat right, when you exercise, but it also feels good when people treat you right. So it encompasses all of those factors.

2 HM: Is this for the millennial demographic or a wider audience?

RW: We believe millennial customers tend to use the hotel as more of a hub of total activity, where they may work and play and socialize .... Many millennials are working for companies around the world, and are traveling on corporate business trips and are looking for a hotel that can meet their needs and have meeting space. Millennials will be in all market segments, but the hotel’s design is not going to be strictly for that. It’s somehow, to me, misleading in our industry when people say, “It’s for the millennials.” I know 27-year-olds who are staying in luxury hotels and aren’t going to stay at the hotels that are so-called designed for them. But certainly it’s not necessarily designed for them ... 50-year-olds stay in hotels that were designed for millennials. The concept of who the product is designed for isn’t necessarily always going to be the actual customer who uses it.

3 HM: How do you define wellness?

RW: Certainly, we think we should have the appropriate exercise facilities so that you can keep your body in shape. We will have food and beverage that adheres to standards of wellness. We’ll use organic foods. We’ll have light fares … but I think there’s a sense of well-being when people treat you nice. You feel good. We can create a more stress-free environment. Travel is intense. We want people to walk in and allow staff to de-stress you simply by taking care of things for you. Having nice, pleasant people there and making sure we have the right processes. Many of those things that you find in luxury hotels, but you don’t necessarily find it in the next market segments. It becomes very product-driven. We have guestrooms, we have meeting space, we have all these things, but they don’t necessarily focus themselves on making me feel good.

4 HM: What does “lifestyle brand” mean to you, and how will it apply to Cordis as it grows?

RW: I personally don’t like it, because I think every brand, every market segment is a lifestyle .... We’re trying to relook at how this new millennial likes to view hotels. It existed in Europe for many years, and in a few locations in Asia. When luxury was introduced in North America by Four Seasons and Ritz-Carlton over 30 years ago, that was an attempt at a luxury lifestyle hotel. What did that mean? It meant that it went back to over-the-top service. People were opening your doors, and there were bellmen carrying your stuff. You didn’t wait in line. And the design and interior quality of furnishings became more unique. To me, that was lifestyle. Today, when we talk about lifestyle for millennials, is really about making sure that the physical product and services are adapted to the way that age group likes to live. They tend to sit in the lobby and look at their phone and text with people and communicate and talk to somebody they don’t know as they sit in the lobby. So a lobby in a millennial hotel tends to have more seats than you would [find] in a luxury hotel.

It’s really about understanding the lifestyle of the consumer who you’re targeting, and building a product to deliver that to them. Every market segment, at some point, will look at who the consumer is and try to build a facility for that consumer. One reason we’re so excited about the Cordis brand is we think if there’s any market segment that hasn’t kept up to date with what the consumer wants and how they live, it’s been the upscale market segment. Luxury has continued to evolve and move forward, and I think there’s been a lot of effort in the last 15 to 20 years on that midscale or entry-level product that had a lot of innovation and a lot of changes to how people were living, and now there’s been a lot of focus on this millennial group and putting together hotels for how they live.

5 HM: What made you choose these cities? Will you look beyond business destinations and into resort areas?

RW: We’ll have both, but I think primarily the beginning of that market is in corporate locations. China is the fastest-growing hotel market—whether it’s inside of China or Chinese people traveling outside of the market. As their companies become more and more sophisticated, there will be more and more corporate travelers around the world. And that’s why we think gateway cities will probably be more likely in North America for the Cordis brand, while in Southeast Asia and China, we’ll probably have a bigger [presence] in the near future. We may continue to expand in more secondary markets and second-tier cities in North America once the brand is established.

From an ownership perspective, this is a brand we think is more cost-effective. The physical box, the physical hotel is driven down from luxury, and the idea of being friendly and giving good service isn’t a cost issue—it’s a mindset. The reduced cost of a physical facility from luxury does not necessarily equate to having to reduce the level of comfort and service a guest would get. So we think there’s a great business proposition to be had as well.