Navigating the Crisis | An interview with Franck Arnold, The Savoy’s new Managing Director and Regional Vice President

Franck Arnold has 30 years in the hospitality industry and brings a wealth of experience from working for well-known luxury brands and independent hotels in North America and Europe. He joined The Savoy in September 2020 with a clear vision to navigate the hotel through the global pandemic, remaining true to its heritage as a the home of luxurious innovation in the UK. In today’s Walpole interview, Franck discusses his first few weeks at the helm of the hotel and shares his thoughts on the future of hospitality ‘post-pandemic’ – as well as what guests can expect from a visit to The Savoy in this new ‘Tier 2’ lockdown London.

Franck previously worked for the InterContinental Hotel group, The Four Seasons Chicago and the Jefferson hotel in Washington, DC. He was General Manager of The Balmoral, a five-star iconic Rocco Forte Hotel for five years and in 2016, took on the role of General Manager at The Ritz-Carlton, Toronto, where he was awarded the Forbes Five-Star every year.

You joined The Savoy during a global pandemic – what has the situation taught you about leadership?

I think the same principles apply in the good times and in the more challenging times; but they become even more important when navigating a crisis. You need to make decisions with less time and less information with more pressure from all stakeholders, and a greater impact on all involved. Ours is a conservative industry, but now more than ever we need to become very agile, to adapt and re-invent how we conduct our business.

I believe clarity, communication and collaboration lie at the heart of the effective leadership. In an environment like the current one, where the situation is rapidly evolving, it’s absolutely key that everyone knows what is expected of them – so how I articulate roles and responsibilities is really important. I’m lucky that there’s an incredible team spirit at The Savoy, everyone wants the best for the business, for the team and for our guests, and we are genuinely collaborative in the way we work.

How has the first few weeks of reopening been for both you and your team?

Honestly, it’s been a bit of a rollercoaster!  We are living in unprecedented times and hospitality seems to be one of the sectors hardest hit by the pandemic. But at the same time it’s a really inspiring time to be arriving at The Savoy and in this particular industry, because the work we are doing now is really important, and every decision carries more weight than it might have done a year ago.  It’s also inspiring because we are challenging ourselves to respond to circumstances quickly and creatively, but in a way that is in keeping with this beautiful, historic hotel that is an integral part of the fabric of British history.

What would you like guests to know about when considering a visit to the hotel?

The most important thing for our guests to know is that a visit to The Savoy is all about pleasure and enjoyment. Whatever circumstances we are living through, our focus is on delivering a luxurious experience for all our guests, whether they come in for just one cocktail or for a stay in one of our beautiful suites.  The Savoy is a friendly, welcoming place; the architecture and interiors are stunning, but the atmosphere is warm. The other thing I should stress is that we are following the most rigorous processes to ensure the well-being of our guests and team, but these are executed subtly and never at the expense of the fun and luxury that can be had at The Savoy.

What challenges and opportunities do you see for The Savoy as we enter the Covid ‘recovery’ period?

It’s going to be a long Covid ‘recovery period’ for luxury hospitality; we depend on international travel and it could be months, if not years, until that returns to pre-pandemic levels. So we have to think about our brand and our proposition; how can we diversify without diluting it?

The Savoy brand awareness is strong and this is obviously to our advantage, and we can and should be bold as we develop products and services for a mainly UK audience in the short to medium term. But we also need to be wary of ‘dabbling’, that is, trying too many things without developing and trialling them properly and giving them time to work.

It is also an opportunity too to discard some practices or offerings that were outdated or inefficient. I’m really looking forward to letting the team work on new ideas in the coming months and seeing their creativity flourish. We’ve already started rolling out new initiatives with great success, such as our Suite Dining Experience, and with more soon to come.

And what do you see as the future of British luxury hospitality?

In the short term the future will be tough, and operators who won’t or can’t adapt might not make it. Whilst high end consumers may continue to spend unaffected by this crisis, I fear that some of the next tier may need some time to recover the needed confidence (and maybe economic ability) to indulge in luxuries they may have enjoyed without second thought pre-Covid.

Luxury hospitality has always been about the personal and the individual, about listening, learning, creating and adapting to shifting consumer desires and needs. British and international travellers will have so much choice from so many hotels in the coming years; so now and in future being distinctive, being personal, being rooted in your community and creating unique experiences will be more important than it has ever been.

I also think the pandemic has made consumers a lot more conscious of two vitally important areas – how a hotel actively protects the environment and how it actively promotes inclusivity. There is a lot of work to be done in both areas for us and our fellow hoteliers, but I believe there is a genuine desire to effect tangible change.

How can the government help with aiding hospitality/tourism recovery?

Hospitality employs over three million people and produces 10% of our GDP. I am fearful that if the government doesn’t address our specific needs more responsively and continuously, we will face a devastated sector with long-lasting economic and social ramifications, especially in the case of small business owners.

And finally…

What does British luxury mean to you?

Many things. I am a very anglophile Frenchman, and a great fan of British luxury. There’s such a strong heritage of craftsmanship in Britain, dating back to the establishment of the guilds in the Middle Ages, and there is definitely a great respect in Britain towards beautifully created objects and experiences. But what I also like about how luxury is interpreted and delivered in Britain is that there is also a little eccentricity and individuality – and how that is cherished and fostered.  British luxury is a serious business that is an integral part of British culture – but that also knows how important fun is.

What’s your vision for The Savoy?

It’s such a tremendous privilege to be leading the team at The Savoy. This hotel defined luxury hospitality when it opened, introducing features never seen before and welcoming a new travelling audience of the most cosmopolitan, creative and boundary-pushing guests from around the globe.  So that is our heritage and one I believe we should keep in mind as we evolve and face current challenges – that The Savoy is the home of luxurious innovation in London and we need to keep innovating, whilst at the same time respecting our extraordinary history.

The other thing that I see as fundamental to our vision is our people.  We have a wonderfully diverse team, from a multitude of countries and cultures, all of whom are here to continue the Savoy legacy. A team that I hope to grow and empower further, allowing each of our colleagues to really take ownership and feel even more pride in being part of this wonderful British institution that delivers the most fantastic experiences to our guests.

What’s your favourite luxury for under £10?

A chocolate bar (milk with whole hazelnuts) from Cailler, Switzerland. The bigger the better.

www.thesavoylondon.com

If you are the leader of a Walpole member or partner and have the time to talk to Walpole – and the wider luxury sector – on how you are navigating your business through Covid-19, please contact Jenni Rayner on jenni.rayner@thewalpole.co.uk for more information.

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