Q&A: Michele Caniato, Chief Brand Officer, Sbe Lifestyle Hospitality

Since joining Sbe in 2016, Michele Caniato has overseen brand and marketing strategy across the group’s global portfolio, from hotels to dining to mixology. At a time when communication is more critical than ever, we caught up with the industry veteran to talk recent openings, Covid-19, and what’s on the horizon for Sbe.

How have the past 12 months been?

The past 12 months have been perhaps some of the most challenging and difficult times for the hospitality industry. Despite that, we were able to continue the growth of our brands globally. More importantly, in December of 2020, Accor fully acquired Sbe’s hotel brands having held a 50% stake in the company since 2018. This news was met with the announcement of Accor’s planned joint venture with Ennismore.

It was also important for us throughout 2020 to focus on the safety of our team members and guests while continuing to innovate the experience both on and off property. As a lifestyle company, our goal is to create memorable experiences and unique opportunities. To mention one, we collaborated with fitness brand Dogpound at select properties to provide one-to-one virtual training for guests with celeb-favourite trainers.

We reimagined our annual culinary celebration – Taste of Sbe – too. This year, it took place virtually and featured five interactive cooking experiences with award-winning chefs Dani Garcia, Masaharu Morimoto, Dario Cecchini and Jose Icardi, as well as celebrity guests such as Nick Jonas, Aaron Paul and Bryan Cranston.

Can you tell us more about some of your latest openings?

In August 2020 – during the middle of the pandemic – we opened our first Mondrian in Asia, bringing 296 rooms and four F&B experiences to one of the global capitals of the world, Seoul. This was followed by the Piero Lissoni-designed SLS Cancun in February 2021, our first SLS hotel in Mexico and sixth outpost globally.

And what’s on the horizon for sbe?

In early April we plan to open SLS Dubai, our seventh SLS property and first in the Middle East. Occupying one of the tallest buildings in the city, the hotel will have over 500 hotel rooms and residences along with six F&B experiences, one of which is a contemporary steakhouse concept helmed by our butcher Dario Cecchini.

Then in June we’ll return to London with Mondrian Shoreditch, home to world-famous chef Dani García’s first culinary concept in the UK. The property was formerly The Curtain and will incorporate a members’ club of the same name. And in July we are opening our eighth SLS, this time in Puerto Madero, Argentina.

How has Covid-19 changed the hotel landscape?

There are different aspects of how Covid has impacted the industry, and one was to adapt with local, state and national guidelines. As such, upon reopening our hotels in Mexico, The Bahamas and Miami, we established different procedures and amenities – rapid antigen testing is being carried out on-site for both staff and guests by third party medical personnel, while SLS Baha Mar is becoming the first resort to offer a courtesy private jet service back to the USA or a free stay for those who test positive for coronavirus prior to departure, and SLS Cancun is providing transportation for all residents staying three nights or longer.

Where do you see hotel design headed in the future?

Design is a part of our DNA. We have always collaborated with some of the most celebrated designers in the world, from Philippe Starck, Marcel Wanders and Piero Lissoni to Yabu Pushelberg, David Rockwell and Lenny Kravitz Design. The future is always going to be driven by design and providing an incredible level of detail in the spaces that immerse our guests. Technology will continue to be a key component of these experiences.

What do you think are the biggest challenges the industry will face?

I don’t look at the challenges, I look at the opportunities. I think there’s a tremendous opportunity to re-engage with our guests – the future of hospitality is positive and people are eager to travel again, and to do so safely. We are in the business of making memories, and our guests past and future are yearning for those. The future will be continuing to develop lifestyle destinations that provide incredible culinary, mixology and entertainment experiences, all the while making residents feel at home in beautifully designed guestrooms.

Photography: © Adam Ferguson