Nobu Hotels is testing out its restaurant-led hospitality strategy in a market where its luxury cachet is less established. Both Warsaw locals and Nobu's global superfans will need to buy in.
Ibiza, Malibu, Shoreditch, Los Cabos, Miami Beach. These are the types of places you would rightly expect to find an outpost of the Nobu Hotel. The famed Japanese eatery turned luxury lifestyle hotel group opened its first hotel property in Las Vegas in 2013 and has since become known as much for its exclusive take on urban hospitality as its world-renowned dishes of sashimi.
But with its upcoming opening of a Warsaw property in spring 2020, Nobu is taking a slightly different approach: It’s opening a property in a market where its reputation might not precede it quite so much.
It’s not that Warsaw does not have its share of luxury hotels — it does. But much of them tend to be from large corporate hospitality groups, and it’s fair to say the luxury market there is not quite as mature as it is in the cities where Nobu has opened its 12 properties in the past six years.
Anthony Campaniaris, general manager of the forthcoming Warsaw property, told Skift at the International Luxury Travel Market in Cannes earlier this month that the Warsaw opening is the first in a strategy to open properties in locations where the Nobu brand is perhaps less established. (It should be noted that while Warsaw’s market for luxury leisure travel could be considered emerging, Poland’s economy itself is considered developed by various indices, and Poland is an OECD country.)
“The luxury lifestyle hospitality market has been growing in Warsaw and we are joining at a wonderful time when other major international companies have begun to introduce or relocate operations to the city,” Campaniaris said. “We expect Nobu to be well-received as there is nothing quite like it in Warsaw. Unique experiences, exceptional service, world renowned dining, and a beautifully designed hotel will become the hub to discerning travellers and locals, alike.”
Though Poland has historically not been a huge leisure destination, that’s slowly changing alongside a steady inbound business market from Germany and eastern Europe. More and more hotel capacity is opening up, including expansion by IHG, Hilton, and Marriott, which is opening an Autograph Collection by Marriott — a soft brand that is similar in its appeal to Nobu’s — in 2021.
In its third quarter lodging report for 2019, real estate intelligence firm Lodging Econometrics ranked Poland’s hotel sector expansion as fifth in Europe, with 87 projects and 13,485 rooms. In 2017, 70 percent of Poland’s travel spending was from international visitors, with 30 percent from domestic, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council.
In its relatively short history, Nobu Hotels has always been a restaurant-first hospitality company. The first Nobu restaurant opened in New York City in 1994 by Japanese chef Nobuyuki “Nobu” Matsuhisa, and co-founded by actor Robert DeNiro and film producer Meir Teper; it now has 43 restaurants worldwide. The company’s CEO Trevor Horwell formerly told Skift that roughly 80 percent of diners in a Nobu locations are locals, not guests of the hotel. Nobu will try to recreate that local-led vibe at its 120 room Warsaw property, but doing so may require a bit of education.
Much of the existing brand awareness in Poland, Campaniaris noted, centers not around sushi or design but Nobu’s famous owner DeNiro. But the brand strives to distinguish itself with the Japanese spirit of omotenashi — a hard-to-define concept representing exceptional Japanese hospitality — at all of its properties, along with its signature dishes, a reputation for effortless luxury, and a synergy with the local culture.
Just as a certain kind of Warsaw local may soon become a Nobu regular, there is also a hope that the property will become a destination itself — a reason for the Malibu-Miami-Shoreditch set to visit Warsaw for the first time, perhaps. Without the existing local brand awareness, that destination status may well be something the property needs to survive in an emerging luxury market.
“When Nobu Hotels enters a new destination, one of the most important strategies for us is to harness the local spirit at each of our properties,” Campaniaris said. “We pride ourselves in creating properties that are unique to their location and the landscape of the community; each hotel blends the culture and energy of the city it operates in.”
The hotel is will be located on Warsaw’s Wilcza street, and will encompass the existing Hotel Rialto, which is described as the first boutique luxury hotel in Warsaw when it opened in 2003. The design and refurbishment will be a collaboration between the Polish firm Medusa Group and the California-based Studio PCH.
Photo credit: A rendering of the Nobu Warsaw, opening in 2020. Nobu Hotels