After Erik Perey (Luxury Attitude), Jérôme Tourbier (Les Sources de Caudalie) or Nicolas Bos (CEO of Van Cleef & Arpels), Madam Katja Henke, General Manager of The Peninsula Paris speaks about Excellence, luxury and Customer Experience with Luxurydesign.
Franck Demaury : Could you introduce us to your background?
I started my hospitality career in Switzerland, when I was 18. I embarked on a two-year apprenticeship at the Bernerhof in Gstaad, Switzerland. I had other experiences in Europe, in Switzerland, France and England, before heading to the United States, where I worked as General Manager of Blantyre, a Relais & Châteaux property in Lenox, Massachusetts. I also worked for the Four Seasons in Washington, D.C. and the Beverly Wilshire in Beverly Hills, California until I finally landed as Hotel Manager of The Peninsula Shanghai before taking over the Peninsula Bangkok as General Manager.
Franck Demaury : What have been the biggest difficulties during your career?
During my time working at The Peninsula Bangkok there was political turbulence with an extended period where the occupancy levels throughout the city were extremely low. This is a huge challenge as a General Manager. You need to ensure that the team feels safe and assured that you will not be reducing the size of the team, whilst also simultaneously ensuring that you make the most of this time. We used this period to our advantage to cross-train the team and organize team-building activities to ensure that they felt valued and that all training needs were met.
Franck Demaury : What motivated you to become a General Manager?
It is all about passion! Right when I graduated, I knew that the hospitality industry was the right path for me. If you are not passionate about what you do, you will not achieve true success. I never work as my job is my hobby and lifestyle! It requires you to give a lot of yourself but the rewards are priceless.
Franck Demaury : What are the qualities you need in your role as General Manager?
To be honest it has never been about “the title”. For me it has always been important to do what I enjoy most while contributing to the lives of those around me, guest and employees alike. I love looking after people while supporting and assisting them. The rest is simply the result of doing what I like.
Women in luxury
Franck Demaury : To get there, which were the major difficulties that you had to overcome? Is it easier as a woman in this business or more difficult? Why?
Being a woman in this industry is not a difficulty I have had to overcome. But it is hugely important to realize that as a women it is more important to “look and act” the part compared to my male colleagues. Adapting to various cultures is a challenge but has never been a major difficulty as it is a part of what I love the most about our industry.
I have had many other challenges, such as learning French since I moved to Paris!
Franck Demaury : Do you feel that the expectations are higher since you are a woman?
I do not feel that this industry is unequal depending on if you are female or male, look at our hotel group as an example almost half of the General Managers are female, this to me shows that in our group the barrier does not exist.
Franck Demaury : Which are your working methods with your team?
I try to spend as much time with the team as possible, understanding their day-to-day challenges and working methods, and trying to find solutions together.
I believe in investing time in people, meeting with my team frequently and learning from their day to day work and passion and what we’ve done to make our clients feel extra special. I can easily spend the entire day out of my office, sharing views and experiences on this wonderful industry we work in.
Franck Demaury : You travel across the world. How do you feel the statut of women at work varies in different countries and cultures?
I feel very strongly that I am extremely lucky to have been born in a country where young girls are educated, respected and treated as equals. This is not the case across the world and is an issue we cannot ignore. We all can and should make a difference and make a difference when it comes to child marriages, education and respect girls as we do boys and have equal pay across the board.
Luxury, The Peninsula et you
Franck Demaury : How would you define luxury? The excellence? The quality?
Luxury, excellence and quality is the feeling having all your needs and desires met before you even know what they are. Anticipation and discretion are at the heart of this for Peninsula Hotels. For us it is about; tradition, well served.
Franck Demaury : Can you tell us the differences between The Peninsula Paris and hotels/palace in Paris? In such a tourist town, how do you handle competition with other hotels?
It was a huge challenge for us to open this hotel in Paris, it is the first hotel of the group in Europe and so we were bringing our Asian ‘savoir-faire’ to Europe, fusing it with the Parisian culture and creating the Palace it is today. Cultural differences, from staff and clients impacted this as well as the high expectations of the brand.
Paris is one of the most competitive luxury hotel markets in the world. Room rates are some of the highest in the whole of Europe and there are new luxury hotels opening in Paris each year, just to name a few in the last few years, the Mandarin, Shangri-La; the Ritz re-opening this year, and the Crillon and Lutetia in the years to come. The challenge is creating a place for yourself in the market, and making yourself distinct from the competitors. It was important for us to keep our Peninsula heritage but also be seen as a Parisian Palace. Undertaking the restoration of this incredible building on Avenue Kléber gave us this responsibility, and we hope to have lived up to it today.
Franck Demaury : Who are your customers? What are their expectations?
Our customers come from all across the world, both business and leisure.
In today’s world people want a memorable, human experience. The most enjoyable for a client is to receive a product or service that no one else could experience – to make them feel unique.
Once we had a guest staying with us who cried when he discovered a frame with his favourite Instagram picture in his room. He had taken it in New Zealand and told one of our team members how memorable was his stay there.
We always try to exceed the expectations and surprise guests – to make their stay unique and memorable.
Franck Demaury : What are the next steps in the development of The Peninsula Paris?
The first 2 years, our main focus really was to receive the very important French recognition with the Palace Award – which we just won. The next step would be to rise the recognition of the gastronomy served in our restaurants. But we will continue our day to day work transforming the hotel into a private house for our regular and loyal guests, moving hand in hand with them and their children for the next generations of travellers.
Digital et you
Franck Demaury : Can luxury, hotel industry and digital work together and should they?
Social media is imperative for all businesses, just a few years ago it was considered to be too mainstream for luxury brands that now have to enter the game (the same as for the arrival of E-commerce for luxury goods 15 years ago!).
However, with the key opinion leaders and bloggers of today garnering millions of followers this has changed, and we are innovating alongside them.
We try to interact as much as possible with our select audience through our digital accounts.
Franck Demaury : How are the digital and the communication evolved since you started?
Our most responsive platform is Instagram where we find our clients particularly respond to the pictures which engages them creating a true bond to our brand.
Franck Demaury : Can branding be done digitally today?
Branding translates entirely into digital, it has to be part of the DNA, from the photography and way of expression.
Luxury & you
Franck Demaury : Which are the luxury moments for you?
Three words for our experience would have to be: interactive, ethereal and romantic
Franck Demaury : Which achievements are most proud of? Personally? Professionally?
As I said, The Peninsula Paris was named recently a Palace hotel, the highest award and recognition possible from the French government, I am proud of my team and my company for achieving such a high order of recognition. May we continue this way!
Discover The Peninsula Paris here