Looking for insider traveler intel? Coming right up! Meet George Fleck, VP and global brand leader for St. Regis Hotels and travel connoisseur. Having grown up all over the globe, travel has always been not only a passion, but part of his DNA. We sat down with Fleck to discuss his international upbringing and love of travel, the luxe nature of the St. Regis brand, and which locations are opening doors in the near future.
Tell me about yourself! Have you always had an interest in travel?
I was born in Germany, and I’ve been in the U.S. now for almost 25 years. As a child, I would travel all over Asia and Europe. My mother actually is Korean, so I spent a lot of time in Asia when I was young. I just naturally picked up that sort of passion for travel, having seen a lot of incredible places around the world at a young age. I always kind of knew I wanted to work in hospitality. It was always my dream. Eventually, I moved to the U.S. to go to school, and that’s when I started working in hospitality.
What were your first jobs?
I worked my way up. I was a bellman, guest services, the front desk. I moved all over the world over the last 25 years in hospitality. I’ve lived and worked in Singapore, the Maldives, Barcelona, Los Angeles, and New York. I’ve supported openings in London, Paris, and Hong Kong. My very early experiences traveling the world and those inspirations have reshaped my desire and interest to work in travel. I don’t see my work as work. As I travel around the globe and I support and look at all these amazing openings—they’re just more ways to open my own horizons and learn from different cultures. It’s been part of my DNA from a young age.
How long have you been with the St. Regis?
I joined the brand as the new brand leader last fall. So, a little less than a year. But I’ve been with Marriott and Starwood before that for over 20 years. So I’ve worked on brands such as W Hotels, where I spent the longest time—over 10 years—and I also led brands including Le Méridien, Westin and Renaissance, and then had the privilege to join our St. Regis brand last fall.
What do you love most about your job and the St. Regis?
It’s such a dream for me to be able to become part of. It’s such an incredible brand. In this very crowded, luxury hospitality space, it’s already very hard for customers to differentiate between brands. What I really love about St. Regis is that it has such a strong origin story. I feel like some of the strongest brands that still leverage, and have such a strong origin story, have the ability to do a lot more storytelling around them, which I think really then sticks with our customers. They tend to recognize those rituals and programs and an experience from hotel to hotel. I see that very much happening in other industries. I think about how Chanel leverages its origin with Coco Chanel, for example. A lot of fashion houses do [that] with the original visionaries, if you will. And I very much liken that to St. Regis, where it started with John Jacob Astor IV and the Astor family—who were, in their era, very innovative and visionary on how they reimagined the hotel experience in New York City at that time as well. They brought innovations in like, air conditioning, which didn’t exist in hotels at that time. The St. Regis New York was one of the first hotels to offer that. Butler service was not something hotels would offer, so the Astors brought in butlers to look after their guests at the St. Regis just like they would be in someone’s home.
We really embrace that same spirit of innovation today. I read a lot about the history of the Astors and spent a lot of time with [our] brand historian advocate at St. Regis New York. The guests that have stayed at the hotel over the last century, the stories, the inspirations—there’s something very light-hearted, and maybe eccentric about all of them that I find very special in hospitality because I think a lot of us have been quite serious, especially in luxury. To have a bit of an avant-garde, a bit of an edgier point of view on luxury. We can take that liberty—given the origin story and that character and eccentricities of the family—that created the brand to begin with. ‘How do we take those pieces of our past and use them to push the brand into the future?’ I find that really appealing.
Tell me about the origin of the company and the founding family!
I could talk about this for hours. The more I read about it, the more I’m fascinated. I was just on the beach, and read several interesting books about it. The Astor family was already one of the biggest landlords in Manhattan at the turn of the century. They had The Astor House in lower Manhattan. They already had the Waldorf Astoria, which then got demolished and made way for the Empire State Building before the current Waldorf Astoria was erected at its current address. Then, John Jacob Astor had a vision to actually create something very different from The Astor House or Waldorf Astoria, which, at that time, were already considered some of the grandest hotels in America. His vision was to build a hotel where there were no other hotels.
Where is the company seeing the most growth today?
We’re growing exponentially with this brand. We have almost 50 hotels now—we’re at 49 today. We’re slated to open The St. Regis Chicago next year, which will be our 50th property, which is a great milestone. It was important for us to grow this brand very carefully and thoughtfully and, again, inspired by the New York property being at the finest address at 55th and Fifth. We want to make sure every property around the world is truly the best address in every city you’re in. When you think about the location of the St. Regis Rome, it’s close to the Spanish Steps. The St. Regis Maldives is in the private islands. We are looking to grow the brand. I’m particularly excited about the brand’s growth in resort and leisure destinations. Next year we expect to debut The St. Regis Kanai Resort, which is in the Riviera Maya, and then in 2023 we are slated to debut in Los Cabos, as well as in the Dominican Republic in the coming years. We’ve got some really exciting destinations coming up.
Do you have a personal favorite? Have you been to all of them?
I have not been to all of them. But I have to tell you that my absolute favorite one, and I kind of have to love all of them the same, but I would say selfishly—and this may be more so because of the country because I love it so much—is the St. Regis Rome. I just love Italy. I spent so many wonderful days and trips in Italy, and in Rome specifically. If you’ve seen the movie The Talented Mr. Ripley, it truly feels like you’ve been transported into that time and place.
What are your predictions for travel in the near future? Where do travelers have their sights set on right now?There’s a massive pent up demand from travel. Leisure travel is returning so fast, which is very exciting, especially for St. Regis because we have so many destinations where travelers have been wanting to go to or they can’t wait to go back to—especially when they feel incredibly private. Time and space will become more important. Customization of travel will be more important.
Have you seen any trends on specific locations your guests are going to?
I was really surprised and really pleased to see the demand in mountain resorts in the summer. We’ve seen this in Aspen and Deer Valley. But it’s also a trend that we’re seeing in Europe such as Switzerland, Austria and Germany. I’m really excited to see the demand in mountain resorts. There’s also been incredible demand also in our desert portfolio, in the Middle East, and in Africa.
Can you share the names of any famous or regulars that you’ve seen at St. Regis locations?
I can’t comment specifically on guests that have recently stayed there, but I can say that the brand has always played host to the world’s luminaries. Guests like Marilyn Monroe, Ernest Hemingway and Alfred Hitchcock have graced our hotels with their presence. In a modern context we are seeing a lot more travel of personalities, influencers, and celebrities again, and that’s really exciting for us to see. We love when they choose our brand to make their home.