LATTE chats with Julian Clark, CEO of boutique hotel company Lancemore Group, about being a customer, Netflix in hotels and the future of the Lancemore Group.
- Tell us about the Lancemore Group. How did a fire at home turn into a hospitality company?
It’s a family owned company that stared in 1986 and rose out of the ashes of my family’s home that was burnt down in a bushfire. So it’s not exactly how most businesses start. My parents grew the business over the next 20 years before retiring a decade ago. They went into regions that were not known for tourism, often with product that was new-to-market and highly innovative. In many ways it’s amazing they prospered given how entrepreneurial they were, but prosper they did. I took over a decade ago now and have managed to grow the business threefold since then, but still stayed true to our beginnings and the values that we want to stand for as a business. In today’s age of big business it’s genuinely a privilege to lead a family business that still stands for family business values.
- What was behind the decision to launch your own winery?
As much as I would like to say it was strategic, we actually bought a site with an established vineyard. Combine that with a founder with a penchant for wine and entrepreneurialism in his blood and there you have it. Financially it’s not the best decision we have made, but we are super proud of having a five-star Halliday-rated winery (Lindenderry Wines) and think it enhances our guests’ stay given we offer it in our hotels at a highly discounted price. As someone who loves wine I get so sick of seeing average wine at inflated prices in hotels. It allows Lancemore to overcome that in all lines of our business given we sell it to the hotels at cost price.
- Each of your six boutique properties offers a very different experience. What do you look for in a Lancemore destination?
We are a collection of genuine boutique hotels, not cookie-cutter hotels, so there is no one thing. However, there are a few overriding principles. All are somewhat subjective, but combined they ensure that we have the ability to deliver excellent customer satisfaction. Firstly, each hotel needs to be an “original”, a genuine boutique hotel in the sense that it is an anti-chain, anti-cookie-cutter hotel. It needs to have soul and offer more than a simple sleep experience. The destination also needs to offer something special. This could be delivered by the surrounding nature, oceans or views, the local food and beverage offering, a wellness offering or a combination of them all. But it has to be something special. On top of this, it has to be a destination that I would love to either live at or stay at repeatedly. It has to have some style about it and be a great place to immerse yourself in. To live like a local is becoming a cliché these days in the hotel business, but in essence we like to be in the best spots in Australia and New Zealand to either live and/or holiday.
- Why was Potts Point chosen for The Larmont Sydney?
I used to live around the corner and saw what was happening in the neighbourhood and saw a great fit between the type of hotels we do and what Potts Point was offering. It’s surrounded by so much of the best Sydney has to offer: high-end and casual dining, great nightlife, great shopping, a fantastic location and views as icing on the cake. It is proximate to both the city, harbour and beaches. Lastly it was a neighbourhood in transition and we saw an opportunity to both be part of that transition and reflect it. I love staying there; there is so much to do and see that is high quality and it’s constantly in flux.
- What defines The Larmont Sydney?
We set out for Larmont to embody six core attributes. Firstly, the experience of Lancemore Group’s signature genuine hospitality is at the heart of all that we do. Secondly, we want our guests to experience our generosity of spirit: lots of freebies, no nickel-and-diming, and lots of time for our guests. Thirdly, we hope that they enjoy the great design throughout the hotel. Fourthly, we have worked hard on the wellness aspect in both design and product. Last but far from least, we think our Food & Beverage offering is a highlight, from the Hyde Restaurant to our mini-bar and room service menus. Overarching all of this is that we are defined by our neighbourhood. We have tried to bring it inside the hotel, but we certainly encourage our guests to explore all that our neighbourhood has to offer.
- How would you describe the hotel’s design philosophy?
Our style changes with our conception of the hotel and what we want to achieve with that hotel but our design philosophy is constant. First of all, we aim for the hotel to make sense in its location and/or climate. Secondly, we want it to be an original. Its design won’t be the same as any other hotel, they are all genuine boutique hotels. Thirdly, it must both look great and also live well, and that’s easier said than done. Lastly, we opt for quality and things that will last; we are not a fan of the throw-out culture that sometimes exists these days.
- How important do you think technology is to the guest experience?
Exactly how much depends on the hotel, but basically, it’s very important. Wi-Fi especially; it’s like air to many of our customers. But any technology has to be intuitive; I’m not a believer of technology for technology’s sake. At Larmont Sydney we wanted people to BYO their own technology or subscriptions and live effortlessly. So we went out and purchased the fastest Wi-Fi in Sydney hotels and in every room installed a 55” Samsung Smart TV, Apple TVs and Bose Sound Touch, as well as movies on demand to name a few things. Just like at home. You can listen to your favourite music and watch Netflix or movies without any hassle at all. Just connect or log in. Couldn’t be simpler and our guests love it.
- How have you seen the travel industry change? What do you do to stay ahead of these changes?
Unquestionably it has changed, mainly in design expectations, distribution, technology and definitions of modern luxury. I try to stay ahead by asking the experts in the areas of change what they think is changing, listening to our customers, reading the industry rags and by being a customer myself. It helps that we have a cadre of people who are “typical” customers that intuitively get what our customer base wants.
- How has travel influenced the way you see the world?
Massively. One of my life’s passions is travel. But not superficial “tick the box” travel. Rather wandering the streets, eating at cafes and drinking in bars – taking the pulse of a place. Ideally with a friend who lives there. The more you travel and get out of the tourist bubble, [the more] you realise that human beings have more that unites them than separates them, regardless of their religion, race or politics. You realise that more people are generous than unkind. You learn that, if you are willing to try, you can get along with people you ostensibly have very little in common with. As an Australian you often get reminded that you were dealt a great hand in life and are automatically highly likely to be one of the world’s 1% (and higher). Its concurrently grounding, enriching and loads of fun.
- What does luxury mean to you?
A lot of different things, but most of them are based around finding your happy moment in that exact moment of time. The ability to be the exact person you want to be, in the exact place you want to be, doing exactly what you want to be doing. I think luxury used to be about products and things, and in the last decade has now added experiences to that list. I think what’s next is connection to things that make you happy. After all, luxury is all about allowing people to be happy; otherwise it’s just accumulated possessions. Products and experiences help your be happy, but for anyone lucky enough to have enough of them, they will know it is not enough. I think luxury helps take you to that next space and it usually involves connection to people and spaces.
- What’s the best coffee experience you’ve ever had?
OK, this is a horrifying statement, but I am a heathen that doesn’t drink coffee so I don’t have a decent answer to that I’m sorry.