Position - President and CEO, Orient-Express Hotels Ltd
Paul White was appointed president and chief executive officer of Orient-Express Hotels Ltd in August 2007 and elected to the Board in June 2008.
He has spent over 20 years in the lodging industry, beginning in 1986, with over 18 years at Orient-Express Hotels Ltd, which he joined in September 1991. He has been a hotel general manager, a financial controller and a regional vice president with profit and loss responsibility for the company’s operations across a third of the globe.
Additionally, from September 2005 to August 2007, Paul served as Orient-Express’ chief financial officer. Paul has a strong international background and extensive experience in acquisition and development projects.
Before joining Orient-Express, Paul was managing director of The Bell Inn, Aston Clinton in the UK, the first UK Relais & Château property. He started his career with Trusthouse Forte.
We own and manage 49 businesses, 39 of which are hotels, each unique in style, from the Mount Nelson in Cape Town and Rio’s Copacabana Palace to the Grand Hotel Europe in St Petersburg and Maroma Resort & Spa on Mexico’s Riviera Maya. We also have two restaurants, including ‘21’ Club in New York, two river cruise operations and six luxury tourist trains.
Paul discusses Orient-Express
I’ve worked for Orient-Express Hotels for just over 18 years in a variety of roles, from financial controller, regional vice president of hotel operations and chief financial officer, to my current position of CEO. Throughout this time I’ve always been proud of our social responsibility programmes, which have encouraged interaction and close relationships with local communities.
Social responsibility is inherent in all of our businesses, and enhancing the quality of life of local communities is as important to me as it has been to my predecessors at Orient-Express, including our founder James Sherwood. We have long recognised that success in the community depends on being part of it.
As a father of young children, I am also acutely aware of the part a company like ours can play in improving the quality of life for others, particularly disadvantaged children and families. In South Africa, for example, we support a charity that helps physically disabled children and funds house-building projects, while in Cambodia we work with a charity looking after abandoned orphans and regularly donate old bed linen to local hospitals.
We also make use of the local employment pool, not only recruiting locally but also training and developing staff. When I helped set up Orient-Express in Peru, 10% of our 1,000 employees were not Peruvians. Today, we have only one foreign employee in Peru, and he is our Italian chef.
What about our policy on the environment? First, I should say that I am a committed environmentalist. As a 45-year-old, I’ve grown up with an awareness of environmental issues. At Orient-Express, we’ve been working towards cutting our energy and water consumption and increasing recycling since the late 1990s. However, it’s important not to force green policies on our guests. I think the real way forward is through education. For example, we invite charities to give presentations so visitors are aware of the local challenges, and we are about to publish our environmental policies in our guest rooms. Then it is up to our customers to decide whether they switch off lights or air-conditioning when they are not in their rooms, take a shower instead of a bath, or donate something they don’t want at the end of their stay to a local charity.
One of the other areas we are focusing on is sustainably sourcing our food. We would ultimately like 80% of it to come from a 50-mile radius. With diners rightly demanding to know where ingredients come from, this is crucial. Just ask one of the UK’s most respected chefs, Raymond Blanc, who runs the two-Michelin starred restaurant at Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons. He goes to great lengths to check that the meat prepared in his kitchen is not only local but comes from animals that have been reared and slaughtered humanely.
A number of properties in the group are in remote locations where sustainably sourcing food is harder to achieve. That’s why broad brush rules do not always work. We are serious about encouraging sustainable tourism but, for it to work, we know that targets must be set on an ad hoc basis.
Orient-Express is a decentralised organisation and we encourage our general managers to behave as if they owned their properties. It is therefore up to them to decide how to implement our policies about responsible tourism and sustainable operations. In almost every case, this means they go further and are more committed than they would be if we issued instructions from head office.
Finally, I believe that actions speak louder than words. So while we don’t necessarily shout loudly about our green initiatives, what goes on behind the scenes is proof of our commitment to local community support and reducing the impact of our operations on the environment.