Maintaining heritage alongside the demands of modern luxury
With the luxury travel landscape becoming all the more expansive in the last few years, the expectations of luxury travellers now go far beyond plush hotel suites and silver service. So, for a hotel that has been serving up opulence for over a century, how can this new era be navigated? It’s a challenge that The Balmoral Hotel in Edinburgh has successfully traversed - with its recent win in the Condé Nast Traveller Readers’ Choice Awards proving guests agree.
Rob van Eyck is the Resident Manager at The Balmoral, responsible for all operational departments - from check-in to check-out and everything in between. Working alongside the various department heads, van Eyck ensures the guest experience is memorable and exceeds expectations. Click. spoke to him about the challenges of delivering modern luxury while maintaining a rich and iconic heritage.
Click.: How has the hotel stayed relevant while maintaining the qualities that established it as a leading luxury venue?
van Eyck: The Balmoral has honoured tradition and heritage by paying homage to the past while looking forward. Since the day the hotel opened the iconic clock has been set three minutes fast to allow the people of Edinburgh a little extra time to catch their train. It remains this way today with the exception of New Year when it’s set for the Hogmanay street party.
We’re constantly upgrading our facilities and products, and Mrs [Olga] Polizzi - Director of Design for Rocco Forte - and her team do an excellent job of making sure this stays relevant to The Balmoral, not shying away from our heritage. The hotel has seen significant investment in recent years, so when a guest walks into The Balmoral they know they’ve arrived in Edinburgh, in Scotland, but it has all the up-to-date amenities that a luxury traveller would like to see in a modern hotel.
There are constants too. Since 1902 we’ve served our afternoon tea experience in Palm Court, and guests come back every year to celebrate special occasions or take a moment with someone close to them. While we might change the menu or the approach, the classic concept is served every day.
Click.: Do you think the concept of luxury has changed over the years?
van Eyck: Today, time is luxury. We don’t have a lot of time to relax, so luxury has become a more tailor-made approach to how people can maximise their time. The luxury market is less about product and more about the experience, offering something you can’t get anywhere else in the world. People can travel wherever they want quicker than ever before, so now luxury has to be something unique that they can share with their loved ones and friends.
Click.: What is the key ingredient to creating a luxury experience for your guests?
van Eyck: Genuine, warm service. In luxury hotels today, you can’t afford to be seen as snooty. Rocco Forte is a family company and we like to see that everyone who comes to the hotel is treated like family too. When they arrive they are not seen as just a number but as part of the family with service that reflects that mindset. Luxury used to be associated with three-piece-suits and starched shirts, that was really the reputation of a five-star hotel, but that is changing and we see that our guests want that genuine approach to service rather than formalities.
Click.: How has being able to offer Michelin-starred dining contributed to the delivery of this experience?
van Eyck: We are the only hotel in Edinburgh to have a Michelin-starred restaurant and we’re extremely happy with Mark Donald, our Head Chef at Number One, who has helped us gain the star for the eighteenth year running. Luxury guests are looking for unique experiences and having a Michelin-starred restaurant in the hotel really helps create that.
We are very fortunate that the reputation and success of the restaurant have made it very popular with the local market too - both in Edinburgh and further afield in Scotland. Because The Balmoral is such an iconic landmark in the city, we want to be there for locals as much as our guests.
Click.: How will the relationship between luxury and heritage continue to evolve?
van Eyck: The hotel has been here since 1902 and when it opened it was mainly aimed at British guests, but today most of our guests are from overseas. Their expectations are different. Whether they come from America or Asia, it’s important for all staff to know what their particular likes and dislikes are - whether that’s a welcome note in their room or a breakfast dish customary to where they come from.
The business mix has changed and is likely to [change] further with different guests coming from other continents. It’s important that we embrace our heritage and stay true to The Balmoral, but also ensure that we know our guests and what they want from luxury.
- The Balmoral opened in 1902, primarily serving domestic travellers from across the UK. Today, the majority of its guests come from overseas
- The hotel was recently voted the top UK hotel in Condé Nast’s Traveller Readers’ Choice Awards and its restaurant, Number One at The Balmoral retained its Michelin star for the eighteenth consecutive year
- With more international guests than ever, the hotel balances the ‘Balmoral’ brand of luxury with culturally diverse expectations
- Hotel staff put an emphasis on genuine, warm service - forgoing stereotypes of ‘snooty’ luxury service in favour of a more family-orientated approach
- Amenity and facility updates bring the property in-line with expectations of modern luxury, while a considered approach to design maintains the property’s heritage