7 Questions with Filip Boyen, SLH Chief Executive Officer

  • SLH's new chief executive officer Filip Boyen.

    SLH's new chief executive officer Filip Boyen.

  • The pool of the L'Occitane spa at  SLH member Khyber Himalayan Rseort & Spa.

    The pool of the L'Occitane spa at SLH member Khyber Himalayan Rseort & Spa.

  • SLH resort Velassaru Maldives resides on a private palm-fringed island.

    SLH resort Velassaru Maldives resides on a private palm-fringed island.

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Perhaps the best gift that Small Luxury Hotels of the World received for its 25th anniversary in 2015 was the appointment of Filip Boyen as its new London-based chief executive officer. Here, we talk to him about what the world’s top collection of independent hotels has in store for next year—and dim sum, Peru, après-ski…

By Gabrielle Lipton

What makes a great small luxury hotel?
I think it goes with a sense of place, which I always say is when you don’t have to open the curtains to know where you are. Our hotels are imbedded into communities, so they have a huge amount of character. Sometimes they’ve been handed down through generations. The more different they are, the more we like them.

How difficult is it for a hotel to become an SLH member?
We have about 1,000 enquiries a year to join, and only about 5 percent make it through. SLH is a stamp of quality, and we want to make it harder for hotels to join to stay in. We’re going to start re-inspecting each hotel every year.

What’s in store for 2016?
We’re bringing the SLH Directory book back, publishing a cookbook with 250 recipes from our best chefs around world, and our new app is coming out in December for Apple and March for Android. We also have some great hotels in Asia in the pipeline opening next year. 7 Secrets Resort and Wellness Retreat in Lombok opens in June with open-air bathrooms, molecular mixology, and catamaran sailing trips. The three-suite Tai Residence opening in Beijing will be the smallest SLH hotel in Asia Pacific, and Anya Resort & Residences Sanctuary in Tagaytay City is opening in March, a beautiful wellness retreat in the Philippines.

How did you begin working in hospitality?
I actually got into it from the kitchen side—I love cooking and was a chef for nine years before joining Orient-Express Hotels, then Belmond. I also love traveling, and my career has taken me to Belgium, England, Turkey, South Africa (the year Mandela was released from prison), then to the Comoro Islands, on to Moscow (five years after the end of Gorbachev and Perestroika), then Bora Bora, and Peru.

What have you learned from your travels?
I spent five years in Lima and two in Cusco, and going from Lima to Cusco is like traveling 200 years back in time. The people I worked with in Cusco were amazing—their humility is unbelievable, and they’re proud to work in service there, and that’s a very important word. In cities, you don’t always find that. I’ve also learned that when you land somewhere, you should never expect a new culture to bend to you.

As a traveling foodie, what are some of your favorite restaurants right now?
Give me Asian food, and I’m the happiest man. I’m crazy about Chinese food, and I think wherever I’ve traveled, I’ve eaten at a Chinese restaurant. But I was just in New York, and I went to the 21 Club and the Polo Lounge, both formal American and perfectly fit with the city. Here in London, I love Restaurant Story, started by chef Tom Sellers. The last time I ate there, one of the courses was beef drippings, and the server came out with a candle made of beef fat and melted it into a little bowl with rock salt that you dip your bread into. It’s like art.

What’s your ideal vacation?
Once a year, I go skiing with my family. France’s Val d’Isere is top-class, and St. Moritz has really great après-ski. But my favorite is in Italy, in Madonna di Campiglio—great skiing, nice people, and great food in all these little lodges. And when I ski, I sleep eight hours, which for me is paradise.

For more information, visit SLH.

This article originally appeared in the December/January print issue of DestinAsian magazine (“Small Talk”)

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