Noting the trend of large hotel chains to re-package and create “boutique” brands to stem losses as more of the well heeled and well traveled are selecting intimate hotels, luxury travel writer Brian Berkman spoke to The Last Word founder to better understand it.
“Large hotel brands are immersing themselves in ‘boutique’ to create a difference and to try to stand out from the myriad of large hotels,” says Peter Fleck, who founded The Last Word collection of three intimate hotels and one villa. “But a 150-room hotel can never be boutique and never personal,” he says explaining that’s the beauty of being small and why The Last Word have the quest to be ‘beyond boutique’ with their intimate hotels. “We believe in the pleasures that people bring to a guest experience.”
Having stayed at each of The Last Word properties I can confirm that it is indeed the easy yet professional interaction with the staff that make staying with them so special. One gets the feeling of being in the stylish home of a favourite aunt with a team of staff you have known since birth.
Peter spent a lifetime working in the liquor industry with premium brands such as Chivas Regal, Glenlivet, Absolut Vodka and Captain Morgan after starting a career in journalism in the late 60’s where he worked on The Cape Argus newspaper. “I did write an unpublished book/manual for our staff, but that’s where the writing ends,” he laughs. It was while travelling for work where he had the opportunity to be the guest at some of the world’s top hotels such as the Dolder Grand in Zurich, Switzerland and Hotel George V Paris, France. “Now when we travel we also choose smaller properties that go ‘beyond boutique’. There are some gems that simply steal your heart: I can think of Longueville Manor in Jersey, United Kingdom or some of the Grace Hotels in Greece or other parts of the world. At The Last Word we try to build our image on the intimacy we create in everything we do,” he says. He does add though “some of the more renowned hotels I stayed in served only to inform that one needs very deep pockets and that the bigger you are the more personal service fades. Our staff give of their natural self on a personal basis and not the starched version. This is what makes us distinctive,” he says.
The Last Word Franschhoek recently benefited from a major upgrade which included expanding suites on a second floor following flooding in the village. “Our Franschhoek hotel’s popularity stems from its location right in the centre of the village. It is just a gentle stroll to boutiques and the many fine restaurants in what is considered Cape Town’s culinary capital”, he says. He adds that the Last Word Constantia is an oasis in an upmarket residential area, centrally accessible to all Cape Town has to offer while The Last Word Long Beach is right on the beach. “Perhaps ours is the only hotel where you can literally walk 10 metres and you’re on the sand,” he says adding: “It also has one of the most picturesque views in Cape Town.”
Racontours is a parallel bespoke touring business. Peter explains: “Racontours began as an option for Last Word guests to do something interesting in a more personalised way; an opportunity to visit selected wine farms where owners meet guests for tastings; also to get the inside stories of Cape Town’s city given by a unique and knowledgeable story teller; or to tour the mountains hearing from personable experts about Cape Fynbos; or generally touring the best attractions with humour.” Peter says that while Racontours is still connected to The Last Word, it is now also part owned and run by Getaway magazine former editor, David Bristow. “Racontours tries to find the story behind the story and lets our guests live much of that story as they can,” Peter says.
“We pride ourselves in selling more than a comfortable bed. We offer an experience. The niche market we attract desires home comforts in a stylish, graceful environment,” he says.
For more than six consecutive years The Last Word Long Beach was voted South Africa’s Leading Beach Hotel by the World Travel Awards’ travel and tourism professionals worldwide.
The Last Word Constantia won a Lilizela Tourism Award in 2013 when voted the top five-star guest house in South Africa for service excellence.
Nicky Coenen, Peter’s daughter, is the group’s general manager. She admits to getting immense satisfaction from continually working towards the next level of success. “Being a family business, we are small yet highly creative – and keeping one step ahead is a constant motivating factor,” she says, clearly inspired by the position she holds.
As a guest, The Last World provides everything I want in an all-inclusive package but its real genius is in proving the things I don’t even know I want, yet always appreciate.