By John O’Ceallaigh
Because of the pandemic, The Set Hotels is no more. Comprising Hotel Café Royal in London, the Lutetia in Paris, the Conservatorium in Amsterdam and Mamilla in Jerusalem, the ultra-luxury group’s properties entered 2020 as part of the Leading Hotels of the World portfolio. But then international travel collapsed and the company’s owners became dissatisfied with the service and support they received from LHW during that commercially devastating period. They decided they could do better independently. Long story short: The Set Hotels has now become The Set Collection, “a leading-edge” hotel-representation company. Previously CEO of La Reserve hotels and managing director of Michelin Guides, Jean-Luc Naret has been enlisted as the collection’s executive director. He has big plans.
Jean-Luc told me about them in a corner suite at Hotel Café Royal, with Piccadilly Circus’s mammoth billboard almost within touching distance of one window and the Houses of Parliament visible at the bottom of St James’s from another. By his own acknowledgement the hotel has more work to do when it comes to luring in Londoners – and a major new culinary endeavour to be revealed in April should go some way towards addressing that – but for visitors to the city the hotel’s stellar location is a key selling point.
One side of the building curls up Regent Street and Mayfair is next door, Soho is steps away (though any marketing material you see is unlikely to mention its proximity to Leicester Square, just out of sight around one corner). It’s so obviously a no-expense-spared kind of place too, with suites’ massive bathrooms clad head to foot in Italian marble and crammed with Diptyque goodies; a showstopper 350kg (modern) Murano glass chandelier cascading down the floors to the belly of the lobby; and the fancier of its two afternoon teas served in the gilded flamboyance of the Oscar Wilde Lounge, one of the prettiest, glitziest places in the city in which to experience this near-compulsory tourist treat.
Jean-Luc was a regular guest at the hotel before joining the company last autumn (“I’ve stayed in almost every room and suite” he told me), and in many ways it’s an archetype of what The Set Collection is aiming to represent.
Officially The Set Collection is “a carefully curated luxury-hotel collection, comprising some of the world’s most exceptional, likeminded, independent hotels and resorts worldwide”. Alongside incorporating the original Set Hotels properties, it now includes the four Asian properties that make up The House Collective (The Upper House in Hong Kong, The Temple house in Chengdu, The Middle House in Shanghai and The Opposite House in Beijing). It should number 20 to 30 properties by the end of 2022 and will feature about 120 to 150 properties within about two years’ time.
For Jean-Luc and his team, one source of frustration with their previous representation company was that there was “no harmony or synergy between [the hotels that made up] the collection” with some properties perhaps having 200 rooms and others 500, and a number of competing properties within the collection all occupying one location. At The Set Collection, there will only ever be one property in every destination (so The Upper House will indefinitely be the Collection’s Hong Kong flagship, the Lutetia will be its sole recommendation in Paris) and those hotels will never be part of major hotel groups such as Four Seasons. According to Jean-Luc, individual addresses “will share the same values in terms of art, design, food, and that they’re all part of the local fabric” but they won’t all be ultra-modern city properties. One forthcoming announcement is likely to be for a particularly lavish castaway beach resort in French Polynesia. Other destinations on the cards include the Maldives, Seychelles and Mauritius.
That tight curation that comes from being the only Collection property in its market is likely to be one of the enterprise’s selling points, alongside relatively competitive joining rates and the ability to customise what membership actually looks like. “We have add-ons, like our loyalty programme Set by Invitation,” says Jean-Luc, “we’re flexible. It’s not just about putting our name on the door. In fact, there won’t be any name on the door. We’re letting owners continue to run the hotel as they wish; we’re just helping them through this collaboration. Together we’re better.”
LUTE is a luxury-travel consultant and content agency that works with hotel groups, tour operators, tourist boards, airlines and more. You can learn more about LUTE here. For frequent luxury-travel updates, follow LUTE and LUTE founder John O’Ceallaigh on Instagram.