Nobu Hotels blend modern cool luxury and minimal Japanese tradition in the concept of a lifestyle hotel. Each property provides a local experience with a modern design and stunning spaces. Led by world-renowned chef Nobu Matsuhisa, Robert De Niro and Meir Teper, the Nobu Hotels concept is a curated experience where every property is different.
What was your background prior to working for Nobu Hospitality?
Trevor: I began my career in the 1980s at Hyatt, which is where I first met Struan. We both moved to COMO Hotels, then Hard Rock Hotels, and now Nobu Hospitality, which we joined almost 14 years ago. Next year we will be 30 years together – we are happy with our lives, and love what we do.
How do you see the company changing in the next two years, and how do you see yourself creating that change?
Trevor: We have grown Nobu Hotels at our own pace, and only with the right partners. Developing partnerships takes time. When we started in hotels, we had to show we can create value. If you do a good job, you grow. But to scale properly you need to do it with the right partners. Today we are self-sufficient, we are a brand and cash flow company, we don’t hold real estate assets. We have 31 hotels and are signing five to six a year. In the past three years, we have grown substantially. Our core strategy is to grow Nobu Hotels with a restaurant inside – this way we keep brand equity strong.
Struan: We have some exciting projects in the pipeline, and what should be a very positive few years ahead. We are excited to be expanding our European footprint in 2022, having just opened our first Greek hotel, Nobu Hotel and Restaurant Santorini. Pipeline hotel openings this year include Rome, San Sebastian, and Madrid. Looking ahead, we are exploring the ways in which our hotels can elevate transformative experiences that offer a greater sense of purpose and value for guests, and mixed-use hotel and residence developments are also under way in Los Cabos and Toronto.
What role do Europe and Asia play in Nobu Hospitality’s growth?
Trevor: Europe continues to be a key destination for us, following the successful launches of Nobu Hotel Ibiza Bay, Nobu Hotel Marbella and Nobu Hotel Barcelona in Spain, Nobu Hotel Shoreditch and Nobu Hotel London Portman Square in the UK, and Nobu Hotel Warsaw. The success of these openings has led us to invest further in our European footprint, with four new hotels set to open on the continent.
Struan: Asia is also a really exciting destination for us, owing to our Japanese roots, and we are currently exploring ventures in Vietnam, Thailand and China, including Hong Kong for a hotel.
How does design play a role in driving customer loyalty?
Struan: Each of our Nobu Hotels is a blank canvas, embracing the local spirit of the destination. Our hotel concept is defined throughout the property with the Nobu DNA. It’s an authentic experience, and not a gimmick or a theme. The aesthetic is peaceful, understated, while also dramatic. It is a succession of drama in the public spaces, and intimacy in the guest rooms. We derive inspiration from great interior designers such as David Rockwell, Severine Tatangelo (Studio PCH) and Simon Rawlings (David Collins Studio), all of whom have designed hotels and restaurants for the brand.
Trevor: I always say that your customer defines you. When you stay at Nobu you want to be where you can socially engage with like-minded guests. Most importantly, it is about making our guests feel at home, and we recognise them in the Nobu way and foster personal connections with them. So far, this approach has been successful, but we remain vigilant in maintaining the same consistency throughout our properties.
What is the biggest challenge you’re facing in improving guest experience?
Trevor: The biggest challenge has been the disruption in labour markets. We are very focused today on our culture. We were built on the professional pride of our employees. Today, we have serious value – our value is not based on purely earnings, it’s based on customer value, our culture, and consistency.
We have five million customers a year, and they are repeat and multi-generational. Our culture is second to none, and it’s about maintaining the consistency of our product. That’s about people. Our employees have the inner drive and spirit, which makes us one family, not a big corporation. Our guests continue to return because of their trust in us to maintain that quality and standard.
Struan: As much as people may dismiss it, Millennial culture matters. That’s something that, as a brand, we focused on pre-pandemic, and even more so now. It’s something that will continue to change the landscape in the future – even now in retail around the world, that is changing dramatically. Millennials are an important segment of our customer base, and we will be continuing to explore the ways in which our hotels can further answer their demands for elevated and transformative experiences that offer a greater sense of purpose and value.
How important is interior design in your hotels?
Trevor: Naturally, design is very important. I could say the same for marketing and operations. Our hotels are not just about the design – we see that as part of the hardware. Many hotels have great design, but lack creativity and imagination. You cannot buy style, creativity, and imagination, it’s the intangible heartbeat of the hotel that brings it to life. It’s the software. It’s also about being a game-changer, not copying others and doing it your way. It’s the right-hand side of the brain and left-hand side working as one – structure and creativity. A business needs the heads to have a vision, creativity, style, and imagination – Nobu has that. Many big brands do not. Style and creativity do not exist in a boardroom of bankers.
Struan: Each hotel fuses the culture and energy of its locality and taps into the local market, from the Japanese beach houses in Miami to the industrial Shoreditch. Our partnership with David Rockwell has been such a success because the designers completely understand the Nobu aesthetic – from Barcelona to Miami, they have achieved a coherent design, whilst very much giving each property its own character.
With the recent opening of Nobu Santorini, what can we expect from this property?
Trevor: We’re delighted to be making our Greek debut with the opening of Nobu Hotel and Restaurant Santorini. It’s one of the most highly regarded destinations in the world, with its rare beauty, distinctive cuisine, and whitewashed architecture. We’re excited be inviting locals and international travellers alike to experience the Nobu lifestyle in this special destination.
Struan: The hotel opened just last month, and is home to a signature Nobu Restaurant, treatment rooms, fitness facility, dual-level infinity pool and five luxurious pool villas, complete with panoramic views of both the caldera and Aegean Sea, from its unique clifftop location in Imerovigli.
How do you think the influence of new technology affects travellers, and could do in the future?
Trevor: Nobu is a recognisable brand, and our customer knows us in restaurants. Nobu Hotels, however, is relatively new, so we must build more brand awareness through digital. We are always trying to be current on digital adaptations, hence why we are one of the few groups with mobile-first technology on our website. Social platforms are an essential part of our strategy for connecting with our guests – but instead of viewing it as a promotional transaction, we view it as a chance to build connections. The trust we have built with our customers is of the utmost importance, so being able to build an engaging conversation on a personal level across our social channels is key. For us, content is key, as well as segmenting your audience. We’re proud to say we are probably the most Googled restaurant brand, and now we’re focused on building the brand awareness of Nobu Hotels.
Struan: We have also introduced the Nobu app, which offers guests a platform to book guest rooms and tables in one place, chat with the hotel teams, check-in and check-out, offer a mobile key and provide up-to-date local information.
How would you define Nobu Hospitality’s identity?
Trevor: Family, Kokoro (from the heart), Crafted, Joy and Smile are our core values. Our core values and philosophies were really born out of the story of Nobu San and his personal journey. They are not just philosophies, and they were not manufactured, they are truly intrinsic to Nobu San and the way he works. They are also fundamental in the way everyone at Nobu works. There are very wide explanations for each value, but we are essentially a family, and each staff member is made to feel welcome and respected like family. Good Kokoro is what Nobu San follows. His passion comes from the heart, spirit, soul and mind, all together. The Nobu Way is introduced to new team members during a company induction, and we try to keep it alive through storytelling – stories based on staff interactions with Nobu San, and each of the crafted experiences from the properties. That way, each employee has the chance to become part of the Nobu story. Above all, we simply deliver Nobu service from the heart and with a smile.
Struan: From the very beginning, Nobu was about creating memories around food, and with our roots in Japan, we embrace the concept of Kokoro – the connection between emotions, feelings, spirit and soul. This is the heartbeat of Nobu restaurants, hotels and residences, and our aim is to deliver authentic and inspired moments that promote Kokoro in all of us. That is why our customers continue to return to Nobu. They know we provide more than just a place to stay, but a platform for new experiences and memories.
What would be your dream hotel project?
Trevor and Struan: In terms of dream projects, it would probably be New York, where we started in restaurants. It would be a great city to have a hotel. But [in New York] it would have to be a very special hotel, which I’m sure will come over time. We are working on several new locations in the US with existing and new ownership partners. We are also seeking to enter new markets in Europe, including Portugal, France, Germany, Austria, Italy, Croatia, Serbia and Turkey. The Middle East is another important destination for us, and we’re working on projects in Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia.
Lastly, what plans and aspirations do you have for Nobu Hospitality?
Trevor: The Nobu brand is a wonderful incubator to introduce new products and services. We started in restaurants, then hotels, and now are moving forward with residences. We are not a traditional brand – we had many naysayers when we moved into hotels, but we forged ahead, and we never let self-doubt creep in. For example, the upcoming Nobu Hotel & Residences Toronto is one of our more ambitious launches. We’re developing twin towers which will feature 660 residential units and a Nobu hotel and suites on the top of the residences. We were able to sell all the residences within three months of launch, probably at some of the highest prices ever paid per square foot in Toronto. Nobu is a legacy play for our shareholders. They love what they do. All of us love what we do, otherwise we wouldn’t be successful. We are open-minded to what the future holds.
Struan: Going forward we have further mixed-use hotel and residences in destinations such as Los Cabos, as well as new locations in Dominican Republic, Orlando, and Al Khobar in Saudi Arabia. We currently have 14 hotels open, with 17 in development, and we look forward to continuing to add meaningful destinations to our portfolio.