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08/09/2021

INTERVIEW: Laurent Branover, General Manager, Les Domaines de Fontenille

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The sublime Les Domaines de Fontenille collection continues its creation of exceptional addresses with two new openings in June. True to its spirit of authenticity and respect for a natural and built heritage, these two new destinations will enrich the range of global experiences based on well-being, simplicity, culture and osmosis to its environment, which are values that are dear to the founders of the collection, Frédéric Biousse and Guillaume Fourcher.

Laurent Branover, General Manager of Les Domaines de Fontenille collection for the past two years, has left his mark in many internationally renowned addresses. Having worked on four continents, he first integrated very prestigious European houses, such as the Le Royal Barrière in Deauville, Byblos in Saint-Tropez. In 2008, he became Deputy General Manager of l’Hôtel Metropole in Monaco, which was designated at that time, “Best Hotel of the World 2010" by Leading Hotels of the World. Promoted to Director of Raffles Hotel Singapore, the hotel was then ranked in the top 3 « World’s Best Employers » by Forbes.  His exclusive ascent continues by taking the reins of the Namaskar Palace in Marrakech (Oetker Collection). There, he has developed an eco-friendly program that has been awarded the "Best Luxury Green Hotel 2014" award by the World Luxury Hotel Awards. The hotel was also named "Best of the Best" in 2013 by Robb Report magazine. He returned to Europe in 2015 to take over as head of the Palace La Réserve in Geneva.

The addresses of the Domaines de Fontenille reopened last April. On this occasion, Laurent Branover gave us the pleasure of introducing, for the readers of vendom.jobs, the two new institutions highly anticipated in their portfolio. As a leader, we took the opportunity to ask him about his status last year. The result is an incredible vivacity of the collection, as well as a spirit of general emulation that has multiplied the creativity, involvement, and enthusiasm of the teams.

Le Domaine de Fontenille

Vendom.jobs - Introduce us to the collection of which you are the General Manager?

Laurent Branover - Les Domaines de Fontenille is a collection of hotels in France and Spain. From Marseille to Hossegor via the Luberon and Menorca, we offer a unique experience in places immersed in history and exceptional natural and architectural heritage. Our next two addresses will open their doors in June:  Primard, in western Paris, and 70 hectares... et l'océan in Seignosse.

V.J. - What will be the special features of these new addresses?

L. – B. – We open Primard, next to Giverny. The hotel has 40 rooms.  Eric Frechon (mentor and associate chef of the collection) has entrusted the catering part, notably for the opening of a signature restaurant. For the spa, we will collaborate with Suzanne Kaufmann, who will open her first address in France. In line with the spirit of our collection, we will have our garden in permaculture, but also animals, including horses, and many experiences related to Normandy.

Primard

V. J. - The addresses of the Domaines de Fontenille carry a current vision of global and local experience. Can we think of going even further in the osmosis of a host and its environment?

L. – B. - I think we can go even further. At Domaines de Fontenille,we are committed to offering our customers an experience full of meaning and emotion that will enhance the natural environment of each of our places. The idea is not to live in self-sufficiency, but to pay tribute to the terroir and local products. Reconnecting with time and land is essential to us. More and more hotels are becoming aware of this, even in cities where the notion of terroir is not necessarily obvious. That is a particularly good thing.

V.J. – Precisely, do you print this authenticity in your more urban addresses, like Marseille?

L. – B. – All the addresses in the collection stand out globally for their strong involvement in sustainability issues. All our hotels have banned plastic and we use recyclable products for our customers as well as internally: our cosmetics are organic, our clothes come from Maison Standards which uses organic and ethical cotton, etc. The traceability of products outside the domains we use is checked twice.

For food products, about 80-85% of these products come from short food supply chains. In Marseille, it was easy, as we directly opted for fish and seafood. We are source from the old port. Products from vegetable garden of Lauris are also shipped to Marseille, including tomatoes.

Les Bords de Mer

The Domaine de Fontenille, in Lauris, produces some of its eggs, the other part comes from a breeder who has collected cull hens, etc. In Hossegor, 95% of the products are local and produced within a 15 km radius of the hotel; our fish comes from the Cape Breton market.

V.J. – How do you continue this reflection?

L. – B. – The credo of the Domaines des Fontenille  has always been about sustainability: healthy, local, ethical products. Sourcing takes time, that is why we have taken advantage of lockdown periods to work on these issues and push our positioning further.  We discovered an exceptional beef farm in Normandy, in Utah Beach. We have also increased our requirements and techniques for cheeses, the production of our honey, our jams, etc. The addresses of Domaine de Fontenille source between them: the honey comes partly from Lauris and Menorca and the jams of Lubéron and Menorca, where we have a citrus plantation. We're even starting to develop our own pastis!

V.J. – As you pointed out, each of your addresses is anchored, from the moment they were created, strongly in heritage. Do you think that in the future this trend will be generalised, more authenticity, proximity, conscience, valuing a heritage, etc.?

L.- B. - I believe it is the future and especially following the latest events. I think there is a real need to get back to basics. Using the example of Fontenille, our vineyard has been in operation for almost 400 years. Now certified in organic farming, we wanted to enhance the existing heritage. This, combined with a gastronomic offer whose products come mainly from our permaculture vegetable garden, offers our customers a unique experience. I think more and more people are sensitive to this eco-responsible dimension.

V.J. – Since the loyal customers of your establishments are sensitive to these aspects, are they tempted to visit your other addresses in order to rediscover this spirit of authenticity, but in another environment?

L. – B. - We know that 57% of our guests return to our homes, 15% of whom have stayed in all our hotels. Unconsciously since the beginning of the Domaines, at least without theorising or initiating it by targeted offers, we wanted to give this meaning to the collection. To come back, in a way, to the spirit and tradition of the Grand Tour.  Our clients, who contact me to give me their feelings, help to develop this soul that constitutes the guiding principles of the Domaines, even if the decorations are different. Each of our destinations is unique and atypical, while offering a complementary range of our territories, with urban, country, sea addresses and now, an integrated resort. 

V.J. - These are recent establishments. How did you bounce back during this particular period that we have just passed?

L. – B. – I think that in the first place, it was essential to listen to our employees. I really tried to be as close as possible because this period was and still is a real challenge, however it pushes us to go even further.

We are certainly young addresses, but we always adapt which I think is essential in this profession. Nothing is ever taken for granted and you must always think about it, for the better!

V.J. – How did you maintain the relationship with your employees?

L. – B. – During the first lockdown, we quickly decided to create instant messaging groups for each hotel so that we could exchange as freely as possible with them. We connected - hotel managers, human richness services and myself - in order to stay in touch at least once a week with each of them in order to accompany them, exchange, and take care of them.

Then we decided to use this momentary downtime to think about what we could evolve, renew, improve. At this stage, all teams, whatever their function, were involved in this immense brainstorming. A great motivation resulted that manifested itself when our addresses reopened on April 1st.

V.J. – Has this period, which is always uncertain, led you to rethink your leadership?

L. – B. - This is always a difficult question, because we all evolve, it is only through the eyes of our teams that we see this change!

Personally, I read a lot and I took time to exchange with fellow hoteliers, friends, customers, partners .... Most importantly, I thought about what I wanted to see and what I did not want to feel anymore.

With the teams of the Domaines de Fontenille, we worked hard and exchanged a lot and took the time to make great decisions. The result being a turnover of our teams of 13% out of more than 350 ambassadors in 2020. Hence, 87% of the teams were present for the reopening.  I am incredibly happy with this and I thank the passion and loyalty of my "CODIR".

Les Hortensias du Lac

V.J. – Have you opted for upgrades ahead of reopenings?

L. – B. – We have set up tailor-made training for our teams according to their department. The idea was to give them the words, the attitudes, that they will appropriate to elevate the customer experience. "Food and words" instilled the phraseology that can be used to sublimate dishes. "The magic of the place, the magic of words"was    a module dedicated to accommodation and spa. We've also made changes to our internal PMS and P&S systems; all of our ambassadors  have been included in these reflections.

V.J. – What are the constraints for you that can no longer be avoided in high-end addresses, in terms of human interaction, space design, consumption, etc.? How do you plan to prepare for this?

L. – B. – First of all, I think that environmental issues are currently at the heart of societal debates. You cannot think imagine a big group or high-end address without thinking about it! This has become a real issue, especially since within the collection we all feel concerned! We really want our customers to feel "at home" and we do everything we can to make their customer experience as qualitative as possible, but this should not be at the expense of the planet.

There is also the question of making this customer experience unique. The question is, how do we get people to come and go? To do this, we rely on the services.

Santa Ponsa, Fontenille Menorca

Finally, adaptability. Adapt, again and again! Today's demands are not those of tomorrow, let alone those of yesterday. Everything is now going very fast... and that is a real constraint. Adapting, watching, being on the lookout for new trends, listening have become essential and necessary things!

V.J. – Something that you will not miss from the so-called "before" world?

L. – B. – Our society in 2020 was a world of hubbub, immediacy, and verbiage. These chatters are mixed with marketing, advertising, and standardised communication, masking the extreme poverty of thought.

For my part, I have found a sacred space that has allowed me to escape this commotion despite the economic difficulty we have suffered. The management of speech during the famous ZOOM has created a time of recoil, listening and conciliation. A rule of silence that was neither a punishment nor a weakness on the other hand, it was a valuable tool to continue.

We have improved our strategy, whose quest for meaning is important with RESPECT (respect for others, respect for the organisation, respect for the hierarchy, respect for nature, all the respects we owe to the human being...) to build a strong identity by having perceived, heard and lived with our teams a belonging and a pride to work for the Domaines de Fontenille collection.

Thus, "the thing" that I will not miss is our too prolific mental activity that is difficult to control. We now live in an illusory world, that limits our reflection and moves us away from ourselves and the meaning we want to give to our profession so exciting.

lesdomainesdefontenille.com

(Photo credit: Les Domaines de Fontenille)