Last week, big news dropped...some of the world’s most influential hospitality leaders have joined the board of St. Justine Hotels and Residences, a NEW ultra-luxury brand that will redefine luxury hospitality. It might not surprise you that the main man behind this new venture is none other than the influential Dr. Jeffrey O, who has been leading the International Institute of Hospitality for the last two years, and prior to that has held leadership operational roles for various high-end hotels.
Dr. Jeffrey O has brought together a legendary board that is equally male and female, including Horst Schulze, the co-founder and former president of the Ritz Carlton Hotel Company, Filip Boyen, former CEO of Forbes Travel Guide, Leticia Proctor, Executive Vice President at Donohoe Hospitality Services, Andrea Belfanti, CEO International Society of Hospitality Consultants (ISHC), and Frances Kiradjian, Founder of the Boutique Lifestyle Leaders Association (BLLA).
We caught up with Dr. Jeffrey O and the ladies of the Board: Leticia, Frances, and Andrea to get the scoop on St. Justine Hotels and Residences and when we can expect the first property!
Before we get into the team, how long have you been working on the St. Justine brand and how did the general idea come about?
St. Justine has been in the making for nearly three years. Regarding the genesis of the brand, there really wasn't a Eureka moment. I have traveled extensively within and outside the US. I have been fortunate to stay at some impressive hotel properties during my trips. During my travels, I noticed service gaps in some luxury hospitality properties. I noticed that many properties that are ostensibly luxury or ultra-luxury do not consistently deliver on the service promise. While the amenities and facilities at some of these properties were undoubtedly of 5-star quality, the service delivery fell short. Ultimately, service excellence is the great differentiator. Our mission at St. Justine Hotels and Residences is to reimagine and redefine the luxury hospitality experience. Service excellence is not just our mission; it is our obsession.
Have you already raised money to acquire properties? Give us the growth plan, do you eventually see St. Justine becoming a public company?
We have some investors, but we will be raising additional capital. The plan is to develop both the Residences and Hotels contemporaneously, with the first tranche of St. Justine Residences opening later this year or early next year. The initial Residences will be smaller properties. These will not be new construction but conversions of existing assets.
By 2023, we expect to start work on developing the larger Residences which will feature between 100 to 250 units. The target is to have 14 Residences open by the end of 2023 and the first St. Justine Hotel open by January 2024. We are looking at a few markets for the flagship St. Justine Hotel. The Fort Lauderdale/Miami area is of particular interest. We plan to franchise the St. Justine brand to luxury hotel developers within and outside the United States who meet St. Justine's high standards. We will deploy various ownership structures to grow the St. Justine Residences and St. Justine Hotel brands. These structures may include management/license only structures, joint ventures, wholly-owned properties, minority investments, and other structures.
St. Justine is a massive undertaking that ultimately will involve billions of dollars in capitalization to establish a durable global footprint. We fully expect that the company will go public at some point in the future, but we are not in a hurry.
Love that your board is 50/50 men and women, was that intentional?
What do you think the female perspective brings to the creation of St. Justine?
The female perspective will bring insight and foresight to the brand. It will bring innovation to the brand and balance to our decision-making.
Truly your board is LEGENDARY, having decades of experience with the biggest names in luxury hotels, was tapping into more seasoned executives also an intentional decision?
You are correct. St. Justine's board members are some of the most respected leaders in global hospitality. You won't find a more accomplished board anywhere in the world of hospitality. These are truly remarkable, highly accomplished, yet humble individuals who have given so much of their time to the industry that we all love so much. Let's face it, a brand is defined by the name or names behind the brand. No surprise then that St. Justine has garnered such brand equity since it was announced.
There is lots of talk about how technology is already reshaping what luxury means, will tech be a big part of the St. Justine experience?
I often say that technology is like a moving train; you can stand in front of it, or you can get inside it. St. Justine Hotels and Residences will be a tech-forward brand. Although service excellence will foreground the St. Justine experience, technology will be an integral part of that experience. But we will never put technology ahead of people. Our focus will always be on enhancing personalization and customization, and not on diluting the guest experience. Our hotels will feature extraordinary spaces run by extraordinary people. Ultimately, great people will make a hotel great. Great technology will never make a hotel great.
Who do you see as the key customers for St. Justine and what will you do differently than what is already on offer in the luxury space?
Our key customers will be discerning travelers seeking the sublime. We are targeting the ultra-luxury segment. Luxury travelers who want authentic experiences, elevated service, and world-beating locations. But we do not care to create hotels just for rich people; rather, we want to create hotels that are rich in people who care.
What will differentiate St. Justine from other brands in the space will be the execution of luxury service. We are willing to go the distance. We are willing to venture where other brands have not dared to go. Our focus on service will be obsessive. We will conduct rigorous quality checks to ensure that service execution is consistent and exceeds our guests’ expectations.
Is this your first experience being on a board that is 50/50? What excites you about that?
Leticia: Yes, this is my first balanced board! I’m excited because I believe this team of hospitality titans will provide a thoughtful, 360 degree perspective for both male and female travelers. Based on current trends, not only do women travel differently than men, but they also have different needs. The dynamics of this board will avoid a myopic approach to ultra-luxury travel for St. Justine Hotels & Residences.
Frances: It actually is not the first time, as I have been including women on the BLLA boards and on the stages of all of our conferences since I launched the association in 2009. I am very excited about being invited to the St. Justine Board of Directors, as you honestly do not see enough of this in hospitality. Although, I do believe awareness is rising quickly and people like Dr. Jeffrey O. understand the great benefits of having a diverse Board to drive the brand forward.
Andrea: This is the first time I’ve been on a board that is 50/50 but, like BLLA, ISHC has had a 50/50 board for several years so I’ve seen first-hand the benefit that varying perspectives can have on strategic decisions. It is exciting to see what is in store for a company that is being so intentional and thoughtful about representation from the start!
If you have been on boards before, why do you think the representation of women is important for BoDs?
Frances: I have long been a voice to push the strategy of women on boards. I penned an article on the topic in Forbes article in May 2018, and I believe if we continue to bring the subject forward, it will gain significant momentum. Being quiet about these issues doesn’t do any good for anyone.
Leticia: With the current heightened sense of awareness for diversity, equity, and inclusion, a board of directors that includes women will break gender stereotypes, bolster equal representation, and expand perspectives. In addition to IQ, in my opinion, women have strong emotional quotients (EQ) which is paramount when developing brands, amenities, and services. I also believe women Board of Directors act as role models which naturally creates a pipeline for other talented and qualified women to pursue senior leadership roles as well as envision themselves in the boardroom too. The end result is a ripple effect that will ultimately change boardroom dynamics and provide a holistic approach for non-profit and for-profit boards going forward.
Frances: Agree Leticia, having the female and diverse viewpoint on a Board has so many benefits, they really cannot be ignored. In our industry, the female perspective is even more important as research shows women are the primary decision-makers on family travel. I remember about 15 years ago, one of the female CEOs from Travel Industry Executive Women’s Network (TIEWN) was asked to speak in Saudia Arabia (the first woman ever invited on the subject) as their Tourism sector was trying to understand how to have their destination in the mix for families.
What advice would you give women looking to get into advisory roles for companies? How do you even start?
Leticia: My advice is to first identify a cause, organization, or industry that fuels your passion. From there, participate in a mentorship program with respected leaders to gain additional insight, network to cultivate relationships and lastly, consider board governance training to increase board protocol awareness. This will provide a foundation to ensure your board appointment is both impactful and fulfilling.
Frances: I am here for anyone having difficulty navigating Board participation. I have been on many boards and the majority of the time (before BLLA), I was the only woman. I was extremely proud of that, but I won’t say it wasn’t difficult. Now there are more networks for women in hospitality, such as TIEWN, which we created way back in 2008 and now has 13,000 women globally. I agree with Leticia, join a networking organization where you can find mentors and connect with other high-profile female executives.
Andrea: Don’t be shy about it! Add “open to board opportunities” to your LinkedIn profile, ask the people in your networks if they know of any opportunities, and get experience on volunteer boards with causes that you care about. It’s also important to make sure you have a well-written bio and a professional headshot on your social media pages.