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Interview with Atef Mankarios, Trevi Luxury Hospitality Group

Atef Mankarios has a long career that led him to C.E.O positions in private and public companies, as well as managing a joint venture with a prominent multi billion dollar opportunity fund. He was responsible for building a luxury management companies in the business, as well as for developing a preeminent portfolio of iconic properties. Projects include The Lanesborough in London, Bel Air in Los Angeles, Las Ventanas in Los Cabos, Mexico, Caneel Bay, La Samanna and Little Dix Bay, as well as developments in Indonesia, Japan, Italy, Monaco, the Middle East and Panama. In January of 2004, Mr. Mankarios stepped down as President and Chief Executive Officer of St. Regis Hotels & Resorts and formed The Trevi Luxury Hospitality Group to provide highly specialized management and advisory services for the luxury hospitality industry.

What is behind the Trevi Luxury Hospitality Group?

After leading luxury hotel companies for more than 25 years, such as Rosewood and St. Regis, I started my own consultancy company, but soon I was contacted by investors to assist in managing hotels. Therefore, I created that separate entity, Trevi Luxury Hospitality Group, named after the famous historic fountain in Rome. The name came to me when staying in Rome a few years ago, enjoying the history, architecture, elegance of this eternal city. This name reflects my interest for extraordinary, beautiful things that are timeless and enduring. It applies to hotels, too, and especially, the attention to details on which I built my career and really makes a big difference when you manage a luxury property.

What is now the scope of the activity?

I am still personally involved on the consulting side, but Trevi is only engaged in management of hotels. We started two years ago with The Setai, Miami Beach located in the heart of South Beach, Miami, and from that first experience and demonstration of our expertise, we are now working with a couple of owners to extend that activity. The philosophy behind our management concept is an extension of what my team (who is still with me, since 1985) and I have being practicing, for all these years in the luxury sector. It is to take personal responsibility for the well-being of our guests. It may seem basic and simple, but achieving it requires, as I said earlier, an extraordinary focus on details and a great passion for excellence. That is why our training programs for the operating teams are focused on that understanding and on the relevant attitude.

How do you translate practically that philosophy into standards?

The key here is personalizing our service to the guests’ expectations and needs. Therefore, we do not translate our service into standards of operations, because we recognize that each guest is different, unique, and we teach our team to customize their services provided, based on each guest’s needs, not standardize it.

You are now managing individual hotels after building your career with branded properties, do you apply to them the lessons you learned at that time?

Yes and no. Actually, I never believed in the feasibility of big brands to deliver a product that was more individualized and based on creating a personal experience for each guest. However, I did learn what not to do! And that is what is relevant now to our management philosophy as applied to individual properties. When managing Rosewood Hotels, we developed each property with a separate identity, separate name and separate personality and style. I believed it was and still is the best way to build value in individual assets. I could not do the same at St. Regis, and that was one of the reasons for my departure from such a large hotel group. You should remember that the best hotels in the world started in Europe and are still independent – non-branded.

When it comes to distribution, don’t you think that hotel groups can balance the power of online distributors?

Actually, the Internet has made it easier for independent hotels to control their distribution worldwide through wider access to more distribution channels. You do not have to compete against online distributors, but instead you work with them when they need your inventory, and you control your rate and pricing structure. The Setai, Miami Beach has the highest average rate and RevPAR on Miami Beach, and we are not compromising it. We also work with a strong partner, The Leading Hotels of the World. We can rely on their marketing services and network of sales offices throughout the world. 

What is the next step for the Trevi Luxury Hospitality Group, if you have no intention to develop a brand?

I would like to develop a collection of individual hotels, each of them developing its own identity and personality. I have no interest in repeating the same formula. Creativity is the driving force behind success. During his time of success, Ian Schrager set the example of such a collection, based on style and personality. My vision is the development of such a group of independent hotels, managed by implementing the basic standards of excellence that we have demonstrated at The Setai, while allowing each hotel’s operating team to add their own standards based on their location and culture. This way, we can experience the best of both worlds.

Does your vision apply to the world or would you rather concentrate in the United States?

During the last three years, the luxury market grew rapidly in the United States. The market we serve in Miami is literally exploding, both on the real estate side and the hotel side. Just after the financial crisis, major hotel developments stopped because of the lack of financing. Nowadays, the funding is available and the supply has not grown that much. Thus, there is a big building opportunity now to meet the growing demand. Honestly, I don’t want to spread our activity worldwide. We have promising contacts with owners in other areas of the United States; and I would like to go to Europe hopefully, as well, but that’s the limit. As long as a market can sustain a strong average rate, we can effectively develop the business and create a gap with the local competition. 

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