The Future of Luxury Hospitality, According to the CEO of AccorHotels’ Raffles and Fairmont Brands

Omer Acar, the CEO Raffles and Fairmont, shares his vision behind the recent growth of both luxury hotel brands and talks about what great hospitality truly means. (Spoiler alert: It’s all about people.)

The Grand Staircase at Raffles London at The OWO features stone railings and a red carpet and is illuminated by a large chandelier.

The Grand Staircase at Raffles London at The OWO

Courtesy of Raffles London at The OWO

The birthplace of the British Secret Service. John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s “bed-in for peace” site in Montreal. The New York City hotel that hosted Truman Capote’s Black and White Ball. The Raffles and Fairmont hotel brands embody untold amounts of history. Now, they’re turning a page and poising themselves to become leaders in the future of luxury hospitality, too.

Driving it all is Omer Acar, the New York City–based CEO of AccorHotels’ Raffles and Fairmont luxury hotel brands. Under his watch last fall, the Raffles London at the OWO made its much-anticipated debut, which Acar calls a once-in-a-generation opportunity. And he’s right: The hotel is located in the history-filled Old War Offices of Winston Churchill, where the British Secret Service was established. Acar also oversaw the arrival of Raffles’ first property in North America (hello, Raffles Boston) while directing the next chapter for Fairmont Hotels & Resorts, whose collection of properties around the world is growing at a steady clip (read Afar’s recent review of Cape Town’s iconic Cape Grace hotel, which became a Fairmont hotel after a major renovation and rebranding in May 2024.) The momentum has only just started: Prominent projects in the pipeline this year range from Fairmont Breakers Long Beach to Raffles Jaipur.

Afar caught up with Acar amid his travels to hear more about the growth of Raffles and Fairmont into influential global luxury brands and asked him to define what luxury hospitality should look like in the years to come.

This interview has been edited for space and clarity.

Omer Acar is the CEO of AccorHotels' Fairmont and Raffles hotel brands.

Omer Acar is the CEO of AccorHotels’ Fairmont and Raffles hotel brands.

Courtesy of AccorHotels

Where are you now, and where are you traveling next?

I’m currently in Vancouver and touring some of our West Coast Fairmont properties. Next up I’m headed to Doha to visit our Raffles and Fairmont hotels there. Together the two hotels make up the Katara Towers, an architecturally striking building that forms a scimitar sword, which was inspired by the country’s emblem. It has completely redefined the city’s skyline. I’m always happy to return to Doha after having spent so much time there in my previous role with Katara Hospitality.

What are the essential ingredients that make a hospitality experience truly luxurious?

These days when you stay at a luxurious hotel, you know you’re going to get things like inspirational design, delicious food, and a large bathroom—hopefully with amazing water pressure in the shower. So the true difference now lies in the service culture and hotel talent. Raffles, for example, pioneered butler service with the debut of Raffles Singapore in 1887, and we’ve been leading the way when it comes to intuitive care ever since. Our butler service is not transactional; it’s emotional. We will continue to lean into this as a core pillar of the Raffles brand and are also highly focused on developing the right talent to deliver this curated service because our teams are what make a hotel memorable.

Our colleagues are also the secret behind Fairmont Gold, Fairmont’s signature hotel-within-a-hotel experience [available at 15 hotels in Canada]. The private lounge fluctuates between boardroom and living room, depending on the purpose of your travels. The service from the dedicated team is highly personal, from knowing a regular’s preferred breakfast tea and even their preferred brewing time without needing to say a word, to bringing out a stack of board games for the kids, unprompted.

For me, however, the true measure of luxury does not happen when things go as expected, but when an unfortunate incident is turned into a moment of joy. When an airline loses your luggage and our butlers are able to produce a beautiful suit for your business meeting, or the weather ruins a beach day so instead our hotel arranges for an exclusive cultural excursion—that is when I’m convinced I’m experiencing luxury at its finest.

The Long Bar Terrace at Raffles Boston is an open-air space with views of the city's skyscrapers.

The Long Bar Terrace at Raffles Boston

Brandon Barré Photography/Raffles Boston

AccorHotels CEO Sébastien Bazin has talked about brands curating guest experiences beyond the confines of hotels. How is that happening at Raffles and Fairmont?

Travelers today want one-of-a-kind experiences. Sure, they want to post a photo of themselves at the top of the Grand Staircase at Raffles London at The OWO or next to one of the famed tea towers at the iconic Palm Court in The Plaza, A Fairmont Managed Hotel, but they also want to get out in a destination and have an experience they couldn’t get if they stayed somewhere else.

For both Raffles and Fairmont, we are curating destination-specific moments and experiences through a lens that is distinct to each brand. For example, guests choose Raffles because of its deep connection to and appreciation of arts and culture. Raffles Istanbul offers a fantastic package called the Three Faces of Istanbul, which was specifically created to take guests off the beaten path and allow them to see the city’s artistic and cultural scene.

With Fairmont, travelers will often choose the brand for the grand landscapes that surround many of our hotels, and we make it possible to explore and enjoy these natural wonders in a unique way. For instance, Fairmont Banff Springs has an accredited forest therapy guide who takes guests on private guided forest bathing sessions, offering the chance to interact with the forest in a meaningful, healing way. Only with Fairmont Mayakoba can you experience the stunning sounds of a symphony deep underground in a cenote turned concert hall.

Tell me about the growth of Raffles in your own words. How did it morph from a single iconic hotel in Singapore to a global luxury brand?

Raffles is one of hospitality’s most storied brands, and Raffles Singapore is undisputedly one of the world’s most notable hotels. When I joined the Raffles in March of 2023, I saw four areas of real opportunity: drive global awareness, create stronger and seamless connections between our hotels, thoughtfully grow our portfolio in the right destinations, and continue training and developing our talented colleagues to help achieve these goals.

In just a year’s time, we’ve built a more comprehensive global brand team structure. We’ve opened properties in London, Boston, Doha, and Bahrain. This year we’re slated to open in Jaipur, Sentosa, and Jeddah. We’ve established New York as the global headquarters for Raffles, rolled out new positioning, and are on the cusp of launching a new brand campaign. We’re just getting started, really.

This rendering of the Writers Bar at Raffles Jaipur shows the space's scalloped arches and chandeliers.

A rendering of the Writers Bar at the Raffles Jaipur, opening July 2024

Courtesy of Raffles Jaipur

How would you define the Raffles traveler in your own words? What kind of traveler pairs well with Raffles, and whom is Raffles not for?

Raffles is for travelers who wish to be inspired and who are seeking highly personalized, authentic experiences. Our guests love exploration but don’t want to sacrifice indulgence. They are motivated by a sense of timeless elegance but have a modern and innovative spirit and are cultural pioneers. They feel very much at ease in every environment, including very glamorous ones. A stay at Raffles is a complete experience, so we are not for travelers looking for a place to just drop their bags. Additionally, each one of our hotels is its own unique, distinct stay. So if you want to have the same predictable experience regardless of whether you’re in Boston or Bahrain, then Raffles is not for you.

Fairmont is in the middle of a metamorphosis. Where is the luxury hotel brand headed?

Fairmont is a place where history-defining moments happen: the signing of the United Nations Charter in San Francisco, John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s “bed-in for peace” in Montreal, Truman Capote’s Black and White Ball in New York City. Playing such a significant role both historically and culturally creates great opportunity, but it also brings with it a tremendous amount of responsibility. Carrying Fairmont forward requires a delicate dance with the past, present, and future.

The scimitar sword–shaped exterior of Fairmont Doha

Fairmont Doha opened in 2022.

Courtesy of Fairmont Doha

Hotels like Fairmont Doha are an excellent example of this. Fairmont Doha joins a portfolio rich with historic, landmark properties, as a new build. Yet the striking design, redefining the city’s skyline, a breathtaking lobby dominated by the world’s tallest chandelier, groundbreaking luxury offerings such as Pillar Wellbeing, and thoughtful touches and amenities throughout the complex represent so much of what makes Fairmont great and what can be expected of Fairmont properties worldwide. Heritage properties such as The Plaza in New York and The Savoy in London can stand side by side with modern marvels like Fairmont Pacific Rim in Vancouver, because the heart of the brand is in the experience and in our people, and we will continue to strengthen this.

Moving into 2024, we will continue to solidify the unique position Fairmont holds within the luxury travel space. We’ll keep welcoming our incredible community of loyal guests worldwide, and we will connect new travelers to the brand through new campaigns, partnerships, and ambassadors. We will continue to grow, thoughtfully and deliberately, introducing Fairmont into new destinations worldwide, with highly anticipated openings such as Cape Grace, A Fairmont Managed Hotel; Fairmont La Hacienda, Costa del Sol, Spain; Fairmont Breakers Long Beach, California; and Fairmont Golden Prague.

Cape Grace, A Fairmont Managed Hotel, sits on Cape Town's charming waterfront and has a red exterior.

Cape Grace, A Fairmont Managed Hotel, sits on Cape Town’s charming waterfront.

Courtesy of Cape Grace, A Fairmont Managed Hotel

What lessons did you learn about hospitality from your time in such prominent roles as general manager of Ritz Paris and regional managing director for Katara Hospitality (owners of the Plaza Hotel in New York and the Peninsula Paris)?

The most important thing I have learned is that as a leader in hospitality, you must invest in your teams and talent. Our hotel teams are the heart of the experience. They are the face of the brand to our guests, and they are the ones responsible for bringing it to life every moment of every day. I really believe in empowering and motivating our teams, because if they are happy and inspired, then that passion is going to be felt by our guests.

Being a general manager gave me a chance to learn every aspect of the business; if you want to be in hospitality, it’s the best education you can get. Of course, when I moved to Katara Hospitality, I had a chance to be on the other side of the table, managing assets from the ownership, development, and investment side. All of this has given me a complete view of the business of hospitality. I will always be a hotelier at heart, and even today there is nothing that brings me greater satisfaction than hearing about an exceptional experience a guest had at one of our hotels.

I want to get to know you as a traveler. What is one gripe or pet peeve about travel that you wish someone would solve?

Seamless air travel without waiting! There is so much wasted time built into the airport experience and flying these days. Some say that time is the greatest luxury, but I really think it’s time well spent that is priceless.

What do you think will be the next big travel trend?

Three-hundred-and-sixty-degree travel experiences. In hospitality, luxury brands are going to be looking for ways to be with a guest throughout their entire journey, from the minute they leave their home and arrive at their hotel, to when they return home.

Jennifer Flowers is an award-winning journalist and the senior deputy editor of Afar.
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