We’re huge fans of LHW. This prestigious luxury hospitality organization represents the world’s finest hotels, resorts and spas. Founded in 1928 with 38 initial member properties, LHW now boasts over 375 members with more than 60,000 rooms in 75 countries.

As rooted in the world of luxury as he is that of travel, Hatem Chatter has been heading the Middle East team for Leading Hotels of the World as their Regional Director since 2008.

Who better to gauge the current temperature of the travel market from, and to learn more about the brand and their role within the sector?

What makes LHW unique within the luxury travel sector?

Established by influential and forward-thinking European hoteliers, Leading Hotels has an eight-decade-long commitment to providing remarkable, authentic travel experiences. The member group is a collection of uncommon luxury hotels that are rooted in the locations in which they are found, with members embodying the very essence of their destination. Through varied styles of architecture and distinct cultural experiences enhanced by passionate people, the LHW collection is perfect for the curious traveler looking for their next discovery. The company selects only hotels that meet its high standards for quality and distinctiveness, resulting in a curated portfolio of hotels united not by what makes them the same, but the details that make them different.

Thus, when making reservations with a member property through LHW, you are guaranteed quality. We are unique in terms of creating experiences you will have, the service you will receive and the elements you will discover. We don’t believe in one-size fits all; each holiday is customized for the individual customer.

Aside from this, we have the Leaders Club program, which is the company’s exclusive two-tiered guest loyalty program.  The program provides its members with personalized service and exclusive travel benefits such as special rates, upgrades, airport transfers and much more to enhance their stays at any Leading Hotel around the world.  It is extremely easy to become a member of the Leader’s Club. All you have to do is simply register on our website, www.lhw.com.

What are the criteria for selection to the LHW portfolio of properties?

In addition to the quality assessment – comprising approximately 800 criteria ranging from basic things like size of the rooms, lighting, lobby layout, spa etc. to minute details relating to service such as promptness, concierge service quality, room service effectiveness etc. – LHW places great weight on guest satisfaction scores that hotels receive. Of course our members are required to meet our company’s standards of excellence, but the guest’s perception and experience ultimately determine how successful a property is in delivering quality to its – and our – customers. If the guest is not happy, a high quality inspection score really is immaterial.

How has the definition of ‘luxury’ changed during your time with LHW?

Guests are increasingly seeking more immersive experiences than before – so they are looking to hotels to provide that immediate sense of place and culture. Rather than seeking a hotel that provides a familiar environment – such as you would find uniformly across a large international brand – our luxury travelers seek to discover the unique and unfamiliar in a destination. Luxury is becoming less about the material aspects of travel and more about the experiential. In our survey, 81% of respondents said creating memories is most important when traveling, so luxury lies in those memories and shared moments.

What do you see are the current trends within the travel sector?

Holidays that are out of comfort zones are becoming popular; tending to be longer and much more adventurous, although luxury and comfort always remains crucial. Many have started to travel to more than one destination, for example on a visit to Paris they will also visit Cannes to experience the unexpected.

For the Middle East, Europe has always been a popular destination, but is becoming ever more so as they are becoming much more lenient with visa rules for GCC residents, encouraging more Middle East residents to travel to new destinations and go on an adventure.

Which of the latest additions to the portfolio have excited you the most?

For me personally, The Knickerbocker (below) in NYC is a very exciting addition to the LHW group; due to its prime location and engaging history. The original owner was a traveler on-board the Titanic when it went down, after which the hotel was closed for many years and has only recently re-opened. The hotel is exquisitely designed and manages to maintain a level of exclusivity even though it is right in the middle of the chaos of Times Square. One has only to close the windows to feel a complete sense of calm descend and feel the madness of the Square being left behind.

When travelling yourself, where do you prefer to head for, and why?

One of my most preferred destinations is South Africa, specifically Johannesburg. The thing that pulls me back to SA is the opportunity it provides to really connect with nature. It allows you to escape the urban life of steel and cars and experience the wilderness in a way that sometimes even money can’t buy. It is a hidden gem, one that many travelers from the Middle East are yet to discover. Many of them prefer the comfort of Europe, with the neatly kept pastures and far-off mountains being their idea of connecting with nature. Imagine how much more exciting it would be to step out of your Zulu chalet at the Shambala Game Reserve (below), wander down to the lake, and discover an elephant drinking water from it, standing right next to you.

Zulu chalet