Franka Holtmann chose the right time to become the first female general manager of the Hôtel de Crillon in Paris. After a 2 1/2-year, $25 million renovation, the hotel looks as good and operates as smoothly as it should. Guestrooms have been updated with Murano and Baccarat chandeliers, silk and velvet accents, larger marble bathrooms, and high-speed Internet access. And Holtmann knows how to keep a Parisian hotel on top; she was previously a manager at the Plaza Athénée and, before that, director of sales and marketing at the Ritz. Travel + Leisure caught up with Holtmann on her way back to Paris after a brief stay in one of New York City's most storied properties, the Plaza, to find out how she passes the time on long-haul flights, how hotel service may change in the future, and what it's like to be the first woman general manager at one of Paris's legendary palace hotels.
1) How many days out of the year do you spend traveling?How much of it is
for business and how much is for pleasure?
I travel about two months for business and five weeks for pleasure.
2) Where do you go to relax?
I love the little town in Germany where I grew up—Hamm, in Westphalia. My parents still live there. I also have a country house in Burgundy, between Nuits-St.-Georges and Gevrey-Chambertin.
3) What do you always take with you when you travel?
Too much. I always travel with a special pillow, a blanket, some note cards, my Montblanc pen, a big book, a bottle of water, and chocolate for the plane. I can amuse myself for hours.
4) How did you get your start in the hotel business?
I started to work during my school holidays, when I was 17. It was a way to be independent for a while. I attended hotel schools and then went right into the sales departments of hotels in France.
5) You have worked at several properties in Paris: The Ritz, the Plaza Athénée, and now the Crillon. What do you think sets these properties apart from other luxury hotels in Europe?How is the Hôtel de Crillon unlike the others?
These three are so Parisian. But the Hôtel de Crillon is unique, because it is the last French patrimony in Paris: it belongs to the Taittinger family. It is an architectural monument, with the most exceptional location—on the Place de la Concorde and near the Champs Elysees—and a rich and authentic history.
6) Your recent appointment made you the first female general manager of a Paris palace hotel. Is your managerial style different from that of your male counterparts?
You should ask my staff. I'm not sure that there is a gender difference. On the other hand, most women already run the family, so they may be more pragmatic and skilled at multi-tasking.
7) The Hôtel de Crillon recently introduced programs aimed specifically at women (Femmetastique), children (Pour les Enfants), and guests traveling with pets (Dog de Crillon). Are these types of programs—and programs like the flower-arranging school, where the guest is seen as an individual with specific needs—the wave of the future in hotel service?Does the hotel have other programs in the works?
Yes. Increasingly we have had to anticipate our clients' needs and adapt our offers to their expectations. A hotel is no longer just an address or a place to sleep. Clients are looking for ambience, for a sense of place, and for diversions; they want to be surprised. So we must target and profile each guest and determine what activities would be most attractive and unique to enhance that person's stay at the hotel. We also have to be more creative than our competition. It's vital for a hotel such as ours to constantly develop new ideas, concepts, and services.
8) What are the items that every hotel room should have?
A pleasant atmosphere, with good lighting and a comfortable temperature, and a design in harmony with the lifestyle and culture of the country. Beds and bathrooms should be of good quality and should definitely include some pleasant extras—a choice of pillows, smooth linens, and for bathrooms some nice amenities, like good hairdryers and makeup mirrors.
9) What ingredients make a great hotel?
Hotels should offer a subtle combination of tradition and modern technology, mixed with very personalized service that reflects the enthusiasm and the positive energy of the staff. Gastronomy is also an important criterion. Generally, you have to treat your guests with the utmost sincerity and be available to them at all times.
10) What is the best travel advice someone has given you or that you can give our readers?
When you plan to travel to foreign countries, make yourself familiar with their culture. Read a little in advance, and if you have questions about the destination or the hotel, call the concierge before you arrive. They'll be delighted to help you in advance of your visit. Travel is life-enhancing. Never stop traveling; it keeps you current and opens your mind and rejuvenates you. I am addicted to travel, and have been for the last 20 years.