I first met Walter when he was the opening General Manager at the Ritz Carlton Berlin. At the time it was a ground breaking opening for both Ritz Carlton and the city of Berlin as the stellar hotel act in town was of course the Hotel Adlon. The Ritz Carlton opened up on Potsdamer Platz and was the first major luxury hotel opening in Berlin in many years. Prior to that Walter had been with Ritz Carlton in Asia and that is where he now bases himself for the majority of his time – as well as in Berlin and Austria.
After his Ritz Carlton days Walter opened art galleries in Berlin and Shanghai as showcases for his very smart business of supplying hotels with art to adorn their walls. Not a bad idea when a hotel opens and needs to decorate 300-400 rooms. With this Shanghai showcase Walter then came into contact with Alex Zheng who had been one of the founding fathers of the Chinese super travel agent, C-Trip. In his time at C-Trip Alex had become aware of the need for budget hotels across China to serve the ever increasing numbers of budget travellers for both business and leisure. Thus the Seven Days Inn chain was born and Alex and Walter started talking about expanding Walters H12 hotel concept in China. Nothing stays the same for very long in China and Alex Zheng has moved onto other things including buying soccer clubs so Walter is now seeking a new partner but with the same principles of developing the H12 brand for discerning travellers around the world but with a particular focus on the more upscale Chinese traveller.
H12 was based on the concept of 12 rooms and 12 artists and the original H12 was and is on a mountain in Austria. The most beautiful place imaginable just a few hours from Venice or indeed Vienna and the perfect combination of casual luxury in a very chic style with every room different and life revolving around a delightfully informal eating and drinking area. Since then the portfolio has expanded to include properties which will shortly be opening in Australia, China, Kenya and South Africa.
The philosophy of the H12 brand is to celebrate ‘The Art of Life’. There is a strong emphasis not only on art itself but also the art of pursuing other interests in life, from wildlife conservation to locally grown food and where possible wine! It is very much a concept in keeping with where the world of travel is heading in my view: smaller more intimate properties with enriching experiences doing the right thing for the local communities so that the property footprint is not only negligible but its impact on the community is positively enormous. As Walter is fond of saying ‘There is the artist that makes the sun out of a yellow spot but there is also the artist who creates a yellow spot out of the sun.’ Life is how we see it and we all see it differently so there is no point in having a cookie cutter approach to hospitality either. As Walter says: ‘Put service first and success will follow.’