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Malmaison Hotels, the chic agitator

After a brief period within the group Rezidor SAS and the real estate group MWB, the chain Malmaison changed its strategy to shift away from the simple boutique hotel concept to embrace the sophisticated provocation of a clientele that can appreciate the difference.

In 2004, sexy and provocative posters abounded in Belfast’s streets and airport, and the same images graced the pages of local airlines. A young, refined and sensual woman wearing a mask invites: “I’m the best night you’ll ever have”. This original campaign announced the opening of the brand’s new property in Ireland, its eighth to be exact. For Malmaison it does not represent just one more hotel, but a symbol of its new strategy, the standard bearer of the chain’s renewal after ten years of existence. It uses this voluntarily provocative communication to help renew its avant-garde and glamour image that has grown a bit tarnished over ??time. “In recent years, we have felt that the brand’s essence had faded,” explains Mme Roz Colthart, the brand’s marketing director. In fact, Malmaison Hotels had lost its personality on the “lifestyle” market. It was time to emphasise once again the “cool” aspect. “For us, cool means innovative and eccentric,” resumes Mrs Roz Colthart. This also corresponded to a new phase in the chain’s life. It definitively joined the London real estate group Marylebone Warwick Balfour, which in 2002 bought 50% of the shares owned by Rezidor SAS, which had another view of its potential development.While it is obvious that the two lifestyle brands will keep their specific identities, there are many possibilities for partnerships and these are expected to multiply in the future. As far as concerns Malmaison, three new properties – in addition to Belfast- will open soon in Reading and Liverpool, but above all in Oxford this month. Advertising for the latter shows a woman’s hand handcuffed to a leather chair with the caption “This time we’re taking no prisoners”. Malmaison has not finished playing on its image as a chic and shocking agitator with its oh-so-British spirit.The brand, which takes its name from the luxurious château where Napoleon and Josephine first lived, decided to reposition itself firmly as a 100% lifestyle alternative to the major brands. To such an extent that it invented the term “Mal-life” to sum up the experience of a stay in one of the Malmaison properties; it is a conception of the hotel as a way of life in and of itself, chosen deliberately because it is off the beaten track. Edinburgh, Glasgow, Newcastle , Manchester, Leeds, Belfast, Birmingham and London: within Malmaison, each hotel distinguishes itself by a unique architecture, a ferocious will to stand out in design and the choice of harmonious colours. Cleverly arranged lighting, “power showers”, a discotheque for DVDs on loan (all rooms have DVD players), quality wines and “naughty nibbles”, but also “vroom” room-service, a state-of-the-art gym and private dining rooms... Everything is done to create an intimate, chic and terribly trendy environment.The most recent property, located in Belfast, is located in the heart of the shopping neighbourhood in a historic building with an original interior with cast iron columns and hardwood floors. The façade with its sculpted stone decor offers an impressive image of a building loaded with history. Sublime classicism and bold high tech style blend together fluidly. The group would like to be up to par with the promise it makes to its clients: hotels that dare to be different.The choices made for decorating and creating a certain atmosphere are often original, in order to live up to its no less original target. This consists of business clientele aged 30 to 40, of course, but also more unconventional categories such as guests from the music industry, which is quite dynamic in England (personnel from recording houses, groups on tour...), with which Malmaison wants to renew ties. Such a po- pulation generally doesn’t adapt well to routine and their needs are sometimes more exotic than average. Niche marketing? This is the strategy at hand.Moreover, even in terms of Corporate Social Responsibility, the chain manages to play in a key that is equally in tune with the times, but this time at the service of a noble cause. It has created a compilation called “Sound Affects Malmaison” that includes the best of Afro-funk, remixed by the no less prestigious DJs House and Electro... All proceeds are distributed to five youth-related charities in Africa.Music also holds the place of honour in the “Jazz On The Quay” partnership, which this year was between the hotel Malmaison Edinburgh and the gin brand Bombay Sapphire (it was with Cointreau last year) during the jazz festival held in the city. A large Kabaret tent set up in front of the hotel hosted renowned jazzmen for ten days. The outcome: major media attention and an OR of 92% in 2005 throughout the event. It was such a success that Malmaison would now like to transpose the operation to its properties in Newcastle and Oxford.One thing is certain, Malmaison has just begun a new chapter in its history. Among the brand’s new initiatives, each hotel offers high-speed Internet connections, accessible to all via cable in rooms and Wi-Fi in its bars and brasseries. The latter public spaces constitute the heart of each property as meeting places that open onto the outside world. These places for exchanges are intended to be faithful to the spirit of the first Malmaison hotel, which began as a brasserie with a few rooms for those diners who preferred to stay overnight after dinner. It is thus logical that the emphasis was placed on the quality of food – it is prepared by award-winning chefs – and the space’s character that is simultaneously relaxing and surprising. The bars and brasseries are authentic “loss leaders” for the hotels because they were designed to become trendy places, local destinations for the night time rendez-vous, rather than simply places where one-time clients may enjoy a drink. The brand’s highlight: the Jewel Bar of the Malmaison Newcastle has proclaimed itself the most fashionable and innovative experience in the city with its sexy, cosy design that is all chrome and leather and its unrivalled view of the River Tyne.In Newcastle as at the Birmingham and Manchester, “Le Petit Spa” is available. These centres for treatments using essential oils and therapeutic plant extracts are right for healing the body and freeing the mind.Malmaison’s repositioning seems pertinent. In one year, the occupancy rate rose by 6.5 points and the average daily rate went up 6.50 euros which leaves room to augur solid seduction potential for the concept, which would appear to be perfectly in keeping with the times. Such news is heartening for the parent company MWB that had a record fiscal year that closed last June 30. This diversi- fied group in the hotel and distribution industry increased its gross profits by 52% to over 37 million euros. The turnover of the chain Malmaison grew by 15% at constant perimeter for the fiscal year and nearly 20% (to 60 million euros) with the arrival of the Belfast property at the end of 2004. For the first time the average daily rate for the chain rose above 100 pounds sterling, more than 150 euros, in parallel with an average OR that reached 78% on the year. The eight properties currently operating will include an additional unit in Oxford by the end of the year.MWB also took over the boutique hotel chain Hotel du Vin, and owns the walls of two Marriott International hotels, Park Lane et West India Quay, and of the Radisson SAS in Glasgow. The small chain Hotel du Vin, bought in October 2004 for 100 million euros, posts an increase by 3%, at comparable perimeter, of its results on nine months, for nearly 30 million euros. This group of seven charming properties, specialising in converted historic buildings, such as the recent hotel opened at Henley, posts an average daily rate of 170 euros for an annual occupancy rate of 82%. The synergy between the two hotel brands owned by MWB has allowed this division to regain a net profitability that it had lost in the previous years.

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