Nigel Bolding is based in Dubai as the founder and chief executive of luxury hotel listings site the Chic Collection. He talks to Janet Harmer about the rise of the boutique hotel
What is the background to the birth of the Chic Collection?
I had been running a luxury travel publication business, based in Singapore, since 1998. Initially we focused on producing books for iconic hotels around the world, such as Raffles in Singapore and George V in Paris. We then brought out Mexico Chic in 2000, which became the first of the Chic Collection of books – we eventually published 38.
The books appeared after the launch of Hip Hotels and alongside Mr & Mrs Smith – a time when there was a growing demand for small, independent hotels. When publishing took a hit during the recession, we decided to turn what we had into a bespoke travel business with a global marketing and booking platform.
How did the business get off the ground?
We needed investment and this was provided in a 50:50 joint partnership by Ducto, the parent company of JA Resorts & Hotels.
Ducto is based in Dubai and that is why I moved there last April. We also have offices in London and Johannesburg.
What can hotels expect when they join the Chic Collection?
The entry-level fee is $7,500 (£5,070), which enables hotels to appear on the website and receive global PR and social media support. For an additional cost they can add services such as representation at exhibitions and press trips to key markets.
What are the growth plans?
We have 120 hotels worldwide, including nine in the UK. We expect to have 250 hotels by the end of the year, with 25 in the UK over the next two years. Our UK hotels include the Beaumont, Dukes, Sheffield and the Arch – these are all in London, but we are looking for more hotels outside of the capital to join us.
Is there a need for another hotel representation company?
We believe we offer something different by not just providing a listing of hotels, but by building a story around each hotel and focusing on great content and images on the website. We don’t select hotels by ticking a criteria checklist; rather, we are guided by our tagline, “feeling not a formula”. Independent travellers come to us as they see the Chic Collection as a seal of approval and to cut through the information overload.
Are all the hotels independent?
No, we have some brands like Andaz from Hyatt, which is quite funky, and Edition, the new lifestyle brand from Marriot International, which wants to be seen as separate from the mothership.
What do you enjoy about living and working in Dubai?
It’s an incredibly convenient place to be if you travel frequently, and the climate is fabulous for eight months of the year. The key is to live as close to one’s office and the beach as possible, but for me the best thing is the sporting and musical events – from golf and tennis to Sting and Elvis Costello performing live.
What do you most dislike?
I am a keen cyclist, but it’s too dangerous to even think about going on the roads – luckily, there is a purpose-built cycling track.
How much time do you spend away from Dubai?
At least 50% of my time is spent travelling. Many of the member and prospective hotels are in Europe and Asia, so Dubai is perfectly well-positioned.
Having been a long-time observer of hotels internationally, how has the sector developed?
Thirty years or so ago, the hotels in Asia were generally much better than their European equivalent, but to a degree the properties in Europe have now caught up.
There weren’t any chic hotels at all in the 1980s, and then Ian Schrager came along and introduced the boutique hotel. All the action was in the bars and lobbies, but the bedrooms were bloody hopeless.
It took time – probably not until the late 1990s or 2000 – that a small, chic hotel actually became somewhere that worked as well as being a characterful and enjoyable place to stay.
2003-14-present Chief executive and co-owner, Chic Collection
1998-2003 Owner of luxury travel publishing company
1990-1997 Managing director – Asia Pacific, Euromoney Institutional Investor, London, Hong Kong and Tokyo
1983-1988 Regional advertising director, Far Eastern Economic Review, Hong Kong
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