SPOTLIGHT ON Shannon Knapp, President and CEO, Leading Hotels of the World

The Datai Langawi

Shannon Knapp shares her inspiration for a career in hospitality as well as her approach to ensuring each of the 400+ properties in the Leading Hotels of the World portfolio maintain their high standards of quality and service the company is known for. She also discusses how LHW balances individuality and character with the need for consistency, emerging trends in the luxury travel industry and the steps member hotels are taking to reduce their environmental impact.

Shannon Knapp, President & CEO, The Leading Hotels of the World

What inspired you to pursue a career in the hospitality industry, and how did you get your start in the field? 

There were two specific experiences in my life that sparked my interest in travel and hospitality. When I was in university, I had the opportunity to study abroad in Europe. During that time, I fell in love with the idea of exploring new destinations and experiencing new cultures. Then, I discovered you could actually make a career in travel when I joined the consumer travel team at American Express, where I spent 7 years managing various Platinum and Centurion card travel benefits.  From my early days, I never really charted too narrow of a course for my career. I don’t believe that success always follows a linear path, and I believe it’s very important to get diversified experience.

Leading Hotels of the World represents over 400 properties in more than 80 countries. How do you ensure that each member hotel maintains the high standards of quality and service that the company is known for? 

As the only pure play 5-star luxury collection brand, our commitment is to curate the most exclusive collection of independent, luxury hotels to ensure our members are positioned only among the best hotels in the world. We seek hotels that demonstrate remarkable quality and are led by remarkable individuals who craft the uncommon experiences luxury travelers demand. And we measure and evaluate quality by integrating three different sources of information: annual in person inspections, by Leading Quality Assurance (LQA) guest satisfaction surveys and online reviews to ensure our member hotels continue to meet the high bar of quality and service. We carefully curate our portfolio by bringing new hotels into the collection that deliver only the highest quality product and experience to our guests. Each year, we evaluate over 500 inquiries, and accept only five percent.

Nayara Alto Atacama

Leading Hotels of the World is known for its focus on personalized service and unique guest experiences. How do you balance the desire for individuality and character with the need for consistency across the company’s diverse portfolio of properties? 

Our only mission is to connect and empower hoteliers to achieve the commercial success necessary to enable them to make the choice to stay independent. LHW members are united not by what makes them the same, but the remarkable details that make them different. We pride ourselves on the fact that LHW members are able to gain access to Leading’s global brand, sales, marketing, digital and distribution expertise to acquire new guests and deliver best-in-class ADR and annual revenue growth, all while preserving their distinct brand and realizing their own vision for their hotel. The consistency you mentioned is found in the fact that no two LHW hotels are the same, but guests can expect the same level of quality, service and personalization when traveling across LHW’s portfolio.

What emerging trends do you see in the luxury travel industry, and how is The Leading Hotels of the World responding to these trends? 

We recently conducted a study on the attitudes and behaviors of luxury travelers and if I could sum up the findings in one word, it would be “more.” They are traveling more, spending more, and expecting more from their travel experiences, especially with respect to sustainability. The past years have created a greater appreciation for just how important travel is in their lives, and they are in search of even more authentic and tailored experiences that enrich both themselves and the communities they visit. This is particularly exciting for Leading Hotels because we are uniquely positioned to meet this moment with our exceptional hoteliers who have been delivering these experiences for decades — like the Scherz family of Gstaad Palace, the Gambardella family of Santa Caterina, the Ghitis family of Nayara Resorts, the Uva family of São Lourenço Do Barrocal and the Faessler family of Sonnenalp Hotel.

Sustainability and social responsibility are increasingly important issues for travelers. How is Leading Hotels of the World addressing these concerns, and what steps are member hotels taking to reduce their environmental impact?  

Responsible travel has been deeply ingrained in the principles of LHW, long before the term became so widely used. From Spain to Malaysia, many Leading Hotels have worked tirelessly to protect the environment, reduce their carbon footprint, and support their local communities, truly defining what “Leading with a Purpose” looks like in practice. I strongly believe that travel is a force for good in the world and that’s seen through LHW’s brand efforts that focus on elevating multiple UN Sustainable Development Goals, both as a collection and through member hotels’ individual commitments. Each Leading Hotel’s individual efforts add up to shepherd in a new standard of sustainability in this new age of travel. Whether it’s seahorse conservation at Marbella Club Hotel, upcycling cleansing products to distribute to families in need at The Dolder Grand, or planting thousands of trees at The Datai Langkawi’s Tree Sanctuary, our members are very conscious of the impact they can make to both their local environments and communities.

Leading Hotels of the World has a global network of properties, each with its own cultural and historical significance. How does the company work to showcase and celebrate the unique heritage and traditions of each destination? 

We are so fortunate to be a company built on heritage and craftsmanship. Many LHW hotels have been part of their communities since they came to be, developing a deep connection to the culture and people, and we love to highlight this intersection of heritage and hospitality. The evolving digital ecosystem and social media has been a game changer when it comes to sharing and amplifying the stories of our remarkably uncommon hotels and the destinations in which they thrive. For example, last year we created a European Summer Campaign where we spotlighted the Madeiran Wine Festival, the Starlite Festival in Marbella, the Israeli Jazz & Food festival in the Bavarian Alps and more. This year, we have rolled out a robust Culture Calendar where guests can see events take place near LHW hotels around the world—from Cherry Blossom season in Japan to Oktoberfest in Germany to The Rugby World Cup in France.