Whether he likes it or not Patrick Griffin is a legend in his own lifetime. He told The Luxury Travel Bible over cocktails one evening he was the longest serving GM of any Orient Express hotel. He has recently handed over the reins but around the OE corridors the word 'icon' is still used to describe PLG ( Langley is his middle name) and his managerial magic. Under his guidance The Observatory Hotel, Sydney (now a Langham hotel)had a style and elegance that few other Australasian offerings possessed (not unlike the man himself), while remaining quintessentially an Australian experience. If the word 'gentleman' weren't outdated we'd use it to describe Patrick Griffin. He retired as GM in February 2011.
You are one of the hospitality industry's most respected figures, What inspired you to become a hotelier in the first place?
After nearly 50 years in the industry I would like to say I was inspired but if truth were known ... I had borrowed money from a friend at boarding school, my father, a banker, would never have approved, so to earn some money, I got a holiday job in an hotel which I loved... I then failed in my academic endeavours to follow in my father's footsteps and not knowing what else to do at 17 started as a Trainee Manager with The Grand Hotel in Eastbourne - I was impressed with the luxury surroundings, the buzz and excitement ..meeting my first film star, Charlie Chaplin... it all clicked when I realised I could live in like a lord on, in those days, a salary of a pauper!!!
It is a wonderful career, everyday is different, you meet some very interesting characters, good and bad, you can travel and live a great life style, as long as you do not lose touch with reality!!!
What is the single best/defining thing about The Observatory Hotel?
The Observatory is so quintessentially Australian, it was designed with Sydney's Elizabeth Bay House in mind, a grand Australian 19th century mansion. We have a wonderful collection of Australian art, including a number of works by Sir Sidney Nolan, but most importantly a team of staff with a service culture that is warm, friendly and welcoming, that is so true to the 'Aussie' character.
Managing Director, Orient Express (Australia)
What is the next big luxury travel trend?
The new luxury travel trend is 'experiential'. Gone are the days of luxury travellers simply wanting to be pampered. We are finding more and more that guests now want more from their luxury holidays; travelling to truly experience a destination. Whether that be delving into the local culture, taking part in socially-conscious activities or exploring off-the-beaten-track areas with adventure travel operators.
For the travel industry, I believe the new trend will be bringing our day to day services in line with rapidly evolving technology. We will see guests downloading hotel and city guides direct to their smart phones, concierge teams equipped with ipads that will provide guests with virtual directions and, who knows what else is literally around the next corner.
What is your own personal litmus test for whether a hotel is worthy of the "luxury" tag?
The greeting smile of the reception staff and the knowledge of the concierge ...and a great bathroom!
Executive Suite, The Observatory Hotel
Day Spa Health and Leisure Club, The Observatory Hotel
Apart from your own, what are your favourite hotels/resorts? (and why)
I could honestly say most of the properties within Orient-Express as they are so unique and have such 'personalities' ... but outside my own company ... I would say
The Goring Hotel
in London - still family owned after 100 years, full of character, as are the staff and a willingness to please - it is a 'fun' hotel to stay... I look for more than a place to lay my head! The Oriental in Bangkok - it has style, elegance and the air of a bygone age of gracefulness ... yet all 'mod cons'.
What is your favourite city to visit?
Bangkok. I have always had a love affair with Asia - it is so different from anywhere else - the pace can be so frenetic and yet step into one of the luxury hotels and it suddenly becomes so tranquil, supping an iced cocktail with the breeze coming off the river - the smells and sounds that assault your nostrils and ears ... and the flavours of the spices!
What is your best overseas restaurant experience?
There are so many levels to approach this - I'm not sure where to start ... The house brick sized steak at La Cabana in Buenos Aires, where you have no option but to prey The Atkins Diet works or the Risotto at Harry's Bar in London where they shave white truffle over your dish as if it were going out of fashion... but 'an experience' ... probably a small cafe on a Venetian canal, good company, on a warm Spring day, eating Moules Mariniere, a nice dry wine, just watching the world go by !
Drawing Room, being prepared for dinner
What is your favourite airline for business or first class? Why?
Qantas - I was fortunate to be upgraded to first class on the new 380 flight to London ... I thought real comfort had gone from travelling today ... but I can truthfully say I have never enjoyed such comfort, in your own personal space - it was like sinking into an armchair at home ... the bed was almost better and the service excellent.
Luxury travel is back ... once through the airport security, and of course... if you can afford it!
What three things do you never travel without?
1) A shoe horn ... with all the security disrobing ... comfort in-flight and swollen feet. I wouldn't be without it !
2) In flight bag with spare shirt, socks and underwear - lost my bags once ... just a comfort and convenience thing, and one less worry, if it happens again.
3) A sense of humour - I wouldn't leave home without it in today's world of travel ... it helps you 'go with the flow'.
What is the one luxury travel experience you will never forget?
Travelling through the Canadian Rockies, with my family in mid-winter, watching the sunrise over the mountains and glistening off the glaciers, frozen waterfalls and ice... I have never seen anything so awe inspiring in my life and to share it with those closest to you ...nothing could better it.
What is the most important thing (travelwise) that money CAN buy?
A really comfortable first class airline seat ...on a Qantas A380 !
What is the most important thing it can't?
A smile from 'Home Security' staff at American airports... OK, it is a serious job ...but ... they are the first contact with 'God's Country' and the 'Land of the Free !!! ... It makes Oz so good to come home to!