Building a new luxury hotel brand is a dream come true for Petra Deuter, who began her impressive travel career with Luftansa and has gone on to do everything from own an art gallery to advising on hospitality start-ups and managing portfolios of luxury hotels for the likes of Accor, Highgate and most recently L+R Hotels, where she oversaw their portfolio of iconic luxury properties in Europe. We chat with Petra about her new role as CEO of HV Hospitality, the Malta-based investment company, her career journey, and trends she sees for the industry.
Congratulations on your new role! Your first project to create the new Comino Hotel and private villas on the secluded Comino island–it ticks so many boxes–luxurious, private, eco-friendly and sustainable. Please tell us more about the vision for the development. Thank you, it's really an exciting time and we are working with incredible partners. For those that don't know it, Comino is a Maltese island between Malta and Gozo in the Mediterranean Sea, measuring just 3.5 square kilometres, and is probably most well known for its stunning Blue Lagoon.
Our Comino project is a sustainable re-development, we are investing between €110 million and €120 million on the site of the existing Comino Hotel, but it is a completely new build where we are actually reducing the footprint by about 5,000 square meters to bring back more natural elements, making the structure lower and using renewable resources as much as possible. The design team is led by world-renowned architect Antonio Belvedere (former partner of the Renzo Piano Building Workshop) who is committed to delivering a project that blends with the natural environment.
What will the hotel and villas be like?
The new Comino Hotel will feature 70 suites with swimming pools at ground floor level and terraces in the upper floors, restaurants, and a 6,743 square meter (nearly 7,000 square feet) spa with a sprawling outdoor area as well. The 21 private villas will be managed and serviced by the Comino Hotel, each will feature three bedrooms and offer living spaces around a Mediterranean-style internal courtyard leading on to a private pool and terraces with unobstructed views of the sea. The hotel will have a private beach at San Niklaw Bay and the villas will sit alongside Santa Marija Bay which will remain open to the public.
Sounds amazing, how will guest get there?
HV Hospitality will acquire high-quality boats to ferry guests to and from the properties. We are currently investing in a workboat for the first phase of the project. In time, we will bring a small fleet together to include a service boat for hotel supplies.
Your goal for the project is 'Zero-Net-Carbon', how does that work? We aim to be ‘Zero-Net-Carbon’ by focusing on two major actions: develop a passive building and use the local forces to produce energy. As a self-sustainable, carbon-neutral, LEED platinum-certified building, the hotel is set to increase the economic benefits of tourism for the local community and aims to encourage socially- and environmentally responsible travel-buying decisions on a wider level.
When will the hotel open?
Work on demolition and construction will commence after planning permission is obtained. From this point, the project will take approximately two years to complete. We envisage the hotel will welcome its first guests in 2024 at the earliest.
What excites you most about the Comino project?
I am very inspired by this development. It will bring a totally new sustainable luxury travel experience to the Mediterranean and allows HV Hospitality to create and implement a conscious approach to natural surroundings, involving local people and the community.
Also worth noting, our Comino project respects all aspects of the Natura 2000 Management Plan, a network of nature protection areas in the European Union, made up of Special Areas of Conservation and Special Protection Areas designated under the Habitats Directive and the Birds Directive, respectively. The network includes both terrestrial and Marine Protected Areas.
Being part of such an impressive and responsible development project – one which is setting new standards in sustainable integrated luxury resorts in the Mediterranean – gives me immense personal satisfaction.
You have an interesting background, 15 years with Lufthansa and then you switched to hotels. How did you make this switch?
I had reached the most senior position I could with Lufthansa as their Managing Director for four countries overseeing 13 offices, based in Buenos Aires. At that time, 2001-2002, Argentina was going through a devaluation of its currency and the buying power for certain items was strong. Due to this, and my own personal reasons for wanting to follow my interest in art and design, I established an art gallery in Chicago with modern art and Art Deco/Art Nouveaux antiques which I purchased in South America and sold in my gallery in Chicago.
Ironically, this career shift actually brought me to the hotel business, as we helped furnish lobbies and assisted with consultations for interior design. My sales, marketing and branding skills from the airline business helped with the set-up and management of the gallery and then also helped me transition to a VP role with Accor Hotels. I had vast global experience, which Accor was seeking for their German operations at the time, so I joined them and was responsible for establishing a global sales approach within the firm.
What skills were most transferrable? How has that led you to where you are now?
Initially, language skills. I am German/American and also fluent in Spanish, being a hybrid professional, tri-lingual communicator with the ability to be a cross-cultural leader. Now I am a multi-cultural executive with 20 plus years of strategic and hands-on management background in the travel and hospitality sectors. I have worked across Europe and the Americas in executive positions representing an airline, private equity firms, hotel brands, consultancies and investors like Lufthansa Airlines, Accor Hotels and London & Regional properties / L+R Hotels. I have broad commercial, operational and luxury hotel asset-management proficiency and the ability to combine entrepreneurial vision with successful team leadership and advanced thinking.
I also offer extensive know-how and expertise in representing large and small firms on a global scale. I have been successful in start-ups and in building and restructuring firms and organisations, providing change and transition management. I feel that I am a dynamic and inspirational multi-faceted leader, with strong interpersonal skills. Tenacious, resilient and goal-oriented.
Have you taken risks to get where you are?
I have taken many risks in my life, having moved from one continent to the next on my own, with little support, sometimes not speaking the languages. I have accepted challenging professional opportunities, built a house at the age of 28, driven all across the globe. My choices have given me the most amazing life experiences and I have grown tremendously as a person. For me, a life without risk would have truly not been any life at all.
As you’ve done everything from start-ups to overseeing established properties, what trends do you see coming up in lodging and how will this shape the brand you are developing?
I see an enormous opportunity to develop an innovative luxury brand right at this time in history in Europe, comprised of boutique hotels, resorts, retreats and sanctuaries. A collection that will set new standards in our industry for the discerning traveller.
The overarching conviction I have is that hotels and hospitality, in general, have an important role to play in addressing responsible travel. In my view, we have reached a point that requires embracing sustainability, health and wellness at its core. The discerning travellers today are choosing luxury hotels and destinations that support the conservation and improvement of the planet.
As seen with HV Hospitality’s first project on Comino island we are already planning an immersive luxury getaway option in natural surroundings, where outdoor activities and relaxation in nature will be a primary focus. I imagine that similar hotels and retreats like Comino will be part of our brand portfolio moving forward. It can be an opportunity to change and improve luxury guest experiences and strengthen our competitive edge.
Has your vision been shaped by the pandemic?
The vision was in place, but the value of being outdoors has been thrust into the spotlight by the pandemic and is now appreciated more than ever before. This is an ideal time for hotel and resorts owners to leverage this demand by increasing access to and encouraging the use of open spaces and natural areas.
I believe that every touchpoint of the guest journey–from design to activities, to food and drink and spa, to the interactions with the staff and our guests–should be carefully crafted to induce a sense of awe, wellbeing, and reconnection and allow for deeper reflection. Our properties and locations will arouse interest and trigger emotion with the goals of enhancing the guest experience, increasing a sense of satisfaction and fulfilment, and promoting a sense of purpose and meaning.
What do you see happening in terms of things like booking windows, sales channels and customer tastes?
Booking windows now have become much shorter due to the pandemic and luxury travellers are seeking different experiences. They seek more space, exclusivity and privacy, away from the crowds. Additionally, they are increasingly exhibiting a preference for brands that give back to communities, brands managed by sustainable and fair businesses.
What are you most excited about in your new role?
For years, my professional desire has been to build and grow ‘my own’ conscious luxury boutique hotel and resorts brand, utilising my vast commercial and operational travel and hospitality knowledge. And having experienced the pandemic, the effect it has had on me personally as well as on our beloved hospitality industry, my vision has only been cemented in wanting to bring together outstanding professionals, stunning locations, art, culture and local communities with a new responsible luxury travel offering, creating awe-inspiring new guests experiences.
I accepted the opportunity to join the Hili Ventures group and HV Hospitality as CEO, headquartered in Malta, to fulfil my professional dream. I feel that it is a culmination of everything I have done so far in my career. My remit now is to establish and build an international-focused luxury hotel brand and grow a boutique collection, form an organisation to support the growth of the portfolio, and specifically oversee the delivery of the ongoing new build of the hotel and villas on the island of Comino.
Overall, I have been very impressed with the Hili Ventures culture, which revolves much around its people. A philosophy that I share greatly and intend to live at HV Hospitality, with a strong focus on equality, diversity and inclusion in the workplace.