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Fast Talk: Claus Sendlinger

Eleven years ago, Claus Sendlinger had a vision. He predicted that travelers would not only be attracted to design-oriented hotels, but demand them. So Sendlinger used his previous experience as a travel agent to form Design Hotels, an international lifestyle brand "synonymous with distinctive architecture and interior design, balanced with functionality and service." As president and CEO of the company, Sendlinger travels all over the world, from Estonia to Brazil, in search of new members who meet the group's criteria. In doing so, he has witnessed firsthand the evolution of boutique hotels and gained valuable insight into what the future holds for the hospitality industry. Sendlinger took time between hotel-seeking jaunts to speak with Travel + Leisure about his favorite hotels and services, and how boutique properties can set themselves apart from chains.

1. Where are you now?Are you there for business or pleasure?
I'm in Moscow, and I'm here for business. We're looking at the Russian market and the Moscow scene, and seeking out the right angle to enter the market here. The potential is enormous.

2. How often do you travel?What is a sample of your yearly itinerary?
I travel about six months of the year, split up between short visits to particular cities and longer periods where I pack in appointments throughout a whole region. During this trip I flew into St. Petersburg then took the train to Moscow, stopping on the way for a break with friends at a lake near St. Petersburg. I'll be heading back to St. Petersburg to follow up on a few things, then flying to Barcelona for a meeting before getting back to Berlin.

Earlier this year I was in Southeast Asia on a six-week business tour, and that was fairly busy. I arrived in Jakarta, went on to Denpasar for appointments around Bali, then traveled on to Yogyakarta (Java), Singapore, Ko Samui, Bangkok, Hua Hin and Ko Lanta, with several flights to and from Bangkok and Bali in between. That was hectic.

3. As president of Design Hotels, what is your role in shaping the new members of your group?
We don't shape the hotels that join us. We seek them out and select them.

4. What do you look for in a hotel in order for it to fit the Design Hotel mentality?
We generally look at the people behind the project and whether their ideas and visions fit with ours. It's not just the design that makes a property suitable for the Design hotels brand; the hotel also needs to show it has the right personality. The staff and the guests obviously play a large part in that, because they give a hotel its soul. The architecture and interior need to provide the right element for these people to interact in, and when the right people come together in the right environment, the result is a fascinating place to be. That's what our hotels should be like.

5. Can boutique hotels survive a market in which chain hotels are adopting their design ethos?
In the boutique segment, real growth is forecast for the next 10 to 20 years. But boutique hotels must constantly reinvent themselves to meet the growing needs of their guests.

6. Has a hotel's look or location ever surprised you?
I was in Paris's Latin Quarter in the early nineties and passed what I thought was a cool little shop selling bits of fashion and furniture. It didn't seem to have a sign, but the door was open, so I walked in and discovered that it was the lobby of the ArtusHotel. The property eventually became one of our group's original members.

7. What will the hotel room of the future look like?
Travelers will continue to seek out authentic experiences. In Nepal, for example, someone might stay in a polished-concrete monk's cell with open windows and power showers. Functionality is important, too, as urban locations upgrade their technology—wall-sized plasma screens, windows that can become TV monitors—and give guests complete control over their surroundings.

8. Where is your favorite hotel?Why?
I don't really have an overall favorite; it depends on the purpose of my trip. For business, I would choose a different hotel in London than I would for a shopping or art weekend. A lifestyle time-share idea appeals to me, because for someone who travels a lot and doesn't really live in one place, it offers the height of flexibility. I think that's a concept that's going to expand in the next few years.

9. Is there any destination that is badly in need of a sexy hotel?
San Francisco.

10. How is service changing?
There's been an increase in the amount of local intelligence that guests need, so "ask me" stations, where well-informed concierges can answer almost any question, are vital. Hotels aren't looking to sell beds, they're selling experiences.

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