Senior Vice President at Belmond, LVMH
Robert has over 30 years of experience in the hospitality industry and has ran hotels across all segments on all continents globally. He is the current Senior Vice President at Belmond, a LVMH-owned hospitality group, where he runs the European hotel portfolio which includes hotels across Italy, Portugal, and the UK. Robert started his career at ITT Sheraton where he spent 13 years before moving to Starwood Hotels, part of the Marriott Group, where he ran hotels across Italy. He spent 20 years running the Luxury Collection of European hotels at Starwood before joining Belmond in 2018. Read more
Robert, can you provide a short introduction to your background, please?
I’m Robert Koren and I’m Sydney born, raised and educated. I miss it incredibly, especially when you are living in Europe and it’s winter time and it’s wonderful and summer down there. I learnt, at an early age, in the land down under, as the son of migrant European parents, it was a place that could offer me unbelievable opportunities. I grew up with this spirit of strong determination, passion and drive, to want to achieve.
I also knew that I had this strong desire to travel internationally and live and experience the world. In high school I said, where am I going to end up and how am I going to plan and work on a career that’s going to give me international experience? So I chose economics and it had accounting and marketing and a bit of law and it gave me a 360-degree view of running a business. After working in different industries – three or four at the time – I landed a job in the early 80s in ITT Sheraton and that’s where it all started, thanks to being born in the lucky country and getting the opportunity to start in a great big multinational, like ITT was at the time.
From there, I worked in a number of different places in Australia and then moved into China, Thailand, countries in Europe, the US and then, eventually, here I am, living in Rome, Italy, many, many years later.
What are your responsibilities, today, at Belmond?
Today, after a 30 plus year career and living, as I mentioned, in a lot of other countries, I’m actually Senior Vice President for Operations, for Europe and Africa, where the group has the majority of its portfolio and with the goal of also developing and expanding the portfolio with new resort destinations. As some listeners may know, Belmond was taken over by LVMH; it was acquired in April of last year. We are now part of this unbelievable fashion, stellar, luxury group, which has, in its portfolio, not only Belmond, but also Cheval Blanc and the Bulgari hotel and jewelry division, so we’re part of a bigger group, which is very high-end luxury.
How do you think Belmond being part of a large fashion group, like LVMH, has impacted the philosophy of the brand?
Actually, it’s interesting. When you look at the fact that Belmond is part of a fashion group and you see how fashion has evolved, you can also see many similarities with hospitality. If you go back into the 90s, fashion was very much linked to logos and everybody had to wear something with a really big logo plastered across their t-shirts or along the side of their glasses. I’m not saying that that was bad; it was a trend. It still exists today, in many fashion brands, but it’s much more subtle in its evolution. You don’t want to be what we would define as, all over the place, with big giant billboard logos. You want to be subtle; you want to be understated and that is what is also evolving in the Italian fashion industry.
The origins of Belmond go back to the Orient Express, where in 2014, there was a name change. It’s all about journeys; it’s all about experiences. How it’s evolved as a group, especially in the last 18 months to two years, is that it’s very much inciteful, understated and focusing on developing unique and memorable experiences. It’s not as commercial as how fashion and retail was in the late 90s or in the earlier part of this century.
How have you seen customers and their preferences change, given we’ve seen this shift from the logos on the shirts to a more understated experience in luxury?
We’ve seen it shift incredibly in probably the last five years, where the value of the brand is certainly very, very important. People are prepared to pay for the brand and the experience, but they are also prepared to pay for something that differentiates itself, that isn’t common. We use it a lot in the group. The way Belmond was built up, over the years, the hotels had to be in very particular destinations, as far from the madding crowd as you wish. But if you wanted to be in the crowd, you could have access to the crowd. You were close, but far. When you checked in, you checked in to disconnect. There would always be beautiful gardens, landscaping, pools and the opportunity to disconnect. If you wanted to reconnect and go and see the iconic destinations and the architecture, you could.