"We're obsessed with creating a very small exclusive global network of favourite destinations" — Bulgari CEO, Jean-Christophe Babin
A Buro 24/7 exclusive
With the likes of Bella Hadid and Alicia Vikander flying into town to celebrate the launch, the opening of the Bulgari Resort & Residences earlier this month was a spectacularly stylish event. The first resort for the famed jewellery brand in the Middle East, the hotel is a shining example of the brand's committment to luxury and elegance. Buro 24/7 Middle East recently spoke with Jean-Christophe Babin, the CEO of Bulgari, about the Middle East, millennials and making plans for the future.
You've just recently opened in Dubai - what is it that you love about the city?
Outside the hotel what fascinates me in Dubai is something you don't really see but you feel which is energy. There is a lot of energy. And there are few cities on earth like that. And then at the same time you have the capacity to drive 20 kilometres to be in total quietness — after just a few kilometres the landscape totally changes and from being in the middle of a very hectic city you just feel yourself lost in the desert. I just feel good in Dubai. And after two or three hours in the desert you want some more show. Dubai is the most attractive place on earth because it has the best bars and restaurants that have opened over the last 15 years which makes it a city that at night is very exciting. Even in the old city, which I think too many people skip in their travels, you still find some authentic Dubai characters the way it was 25 years ago.
You're opening a Bulgari hotel in Russia in 2020. What can we expect to see?
It will be an urban boutique hotel, so in principle quite consistent with what we have now in Milan, London, and Shanghai; that is small, we have less than 100 keys, mostly suites, as we believe that the suite delivers an even better experience. We want our spa to be really very spacious, very intimate, and the 25-metre swimming pool is something you wouldn't expect in a small boutique hotel. And then there are some unique features that are proper to the location — the garden and courtyard will, for six months of the year, be a great place to have drinks or coffee. And then the rooftop, which will be both a presidential suite as much as an area where we'll have events, will have a commanding view over the city and Red Square which is just a six minute walk away. So it has its own specificities — it's also an old building, it's part of the city's history, but at the same time it's a reinterpretation the Bulgari way.
Exploring new markets is what Bulgari's very good at - what else is in the pipeline?
Well in the case of high hospitality, we're really obsessed with creating a very small exclusive network of global favourite destinations. Favourite destinations where you don't only go frequently, but you go passionately — in your business life there are places you have to go, some in a certain way, others in a different way. For the first group it's something where you go and you're happy to find a good hotel and then pack up and go home 24 hours later. The second category which is our target, 15 aspirational cities, you might not only have to go, but you rejoice at the idea of going because of the city itself, because it's our brand, because it's cultural, because it's colourful, because it's exotic. In that sense the cities where we'll eventually have the Bulgari flag are not necessarily that original, just because to become a destination globally you need a lot of history, you need culture, you need trendiness and this limits the number of cities or destinations. So you will see further destinations in Europe and as soon as we find extraordinary locations in America we'll do something there.
"What fascinates me in Dubai is something you don't really see but you feel which is energy. There is a lot of energy. And there are few cities on earth like that."
Bulgari is an aspirational brand in terms of its luxury goods department - how do you translate that into tourism?
Well I think more than tourism it's really about experiencing something which would be in your wildest dreams when you think about your home. So [the hotel is] a kind of ideal home because it's beautiful, precious without being show-offy, bespoke. And, like in high jewellery, we know who you are, you know who we are. It's very much about the good, cozy feeling of a unique experience which is bespoke, which aesthetically, because of the material of the design and architecture, somehow speaks to your heart. And obviously above and beyond that, you have all facilities that you could find at a much bigger hotel even though you only have a few keys. And also this willingness to come back, which is very much an obsession for us, we love returning clients.
Given recent discussions around millennials and their spending power, are they your target consumer?
One of the obsessions of millennials is less to possess and more to feel and to experience. Jewellery represents possession because when you wear it you feel better and you feel extraordinary so it contributes to a feeling — a feeling that has roots in possession of something very rare, very precious. Whereas the hotel is 100 per cent experience because when you check out nothing is left of your money except for what you have in your heart and your mind and the good will that you want to share with friends. So obviously it's even more challenging, as all jewellery is matter and even if at some point you are tiring of what you have you can still re-sell it. You will never re-sell the beautiful night you had at the suite of Hotel Bulgari ten years later. This is gone after 24 hours. So I think this kind of luxury speaks a lot to millennials.
"Whatever we build, whether it's in Valenza at the beginning of this year or the island in Dubai, we have the same obsession to leave the minimum potential mark on our environment."
Earlier we spoke about Mira and her moves to merge sustainability and fashion to combat the waste that comes with the fashion industry. How do you combat that within the hotel industry?
The great thing about being a jeweller is that we don't waste anything. Basically we craft the gems of nature, gems or metals which have taken millions of years to create themselves, and then we just try to preserve what nature has created but we don't try to modify that which nature has created. We don't waste anything and what we craft usually is forever.
Does the same apply to the hotel and tourism in terms of sustainability? Do you have any certain practices in place?
Well whatever we build, whether it's in Valenza at the beginning of this year or the island in Dubai, we have the same obsession to leave the minimum potential mark on our environment. The good thing in nature is one goal is often compatible with two goals: take isolation, I mean it's very important in a luxury hotel to absorb the sounds for the comfort of clients, but it's equally important to save the energy. Hotels are very similar to jewellery because the waste in a hotel is very little when you think about it-first the structure is built forever, you cannot invest such a lot of money thinking one day it will be demolished. And secondly obviously a hotel is evolving in a very tough competitive environment so as you can imagine when it comes to energy, natural light should be the main conveyer of internal energy. If you switch off the light, except for five hours, virtually no room needs any light. There are ways in our hotel we have an impact but I think it's very minimum — the only impact we have had is that we have modified the geography by creating an island which I think is good because it adds excitement and it creates an ecosystem.
Looking to the future, we're talking about fifty year's time, maybe even 100, what does the hotel of the future look like?
I think it's very ergonomic, it will be obviously very technological as long as the technology will be very simple. And probably hotels which will be quite essential in the decoration, so you know I think the new century is pretty much about what's really authentic and beautiful, and I think in that context the fact that we are the the first ones to pay so much attention to the beauty, the quality, the rarity of material is also probably a good step for us to making sure that in 20 or 30 years from now this hotel will still be attractive. Authenticity never fades away.