Soon after the pandemic asserted itself, Bill Walshe, CEO of Los Angeles-based Viceroy Hotel Group, organized a Formula 1 racing-inspired Pole Position program, aiming to “bring as many furloughed colleagues back to continuous employment as fast as we possibly could,” he says. The activation date for this re-employment program was postponed until this year, but Walshe’s mindset hasn’t shifted: “I won’t rest until everyone has been given the opportunity to return.”
At Viceroy’s core is an ideology that begins with the company’s commitment to serving as hosts. “Every word remained true to purpose, but the interpretation had to change” in 2020, Walshe says. Instead of nourishing guests at buzzy F&B spaces, for example, safety became the priority, leading the brand to implement some 223 processes and practices across its portfolio.
Walshe, a former CEO of the Doyle Collection who also worked at Jumeirah Group and Kempinski Hotels & Resorts, joined Viceroy in 2012. In the almost decade he’s been with the company, he has helped shape Viceroy into a lifestyle and luxury hospitality giant with an approachable sensibility. This year, he was inspired to reimagine what that means. Luxury, he says, “has gone from high-touch to low-touch.”
During these trying times, Walshe was also candid with his colleagues, holding senior leadership meetings three times a week and then continuing those discussions with his respective teams. “Our culture is rock solid as a result of the pandemic, probably better than it would have been had the past year not happened,” he says. Asking for help, including for himself, “is the greatest demonstration of strength in our organization,” he explains. “I’ve reached out to many of my career mentors over the past year to say, ‘I woke up this morning with a particular issue that I have no idea how to address.’”
This contemplative period also propelled Viceroy to incorporate an additional line into its ideology “that speaks to the value of difference in humanity,” says Walshe, manifesting in a Viceroy for Everyone campaign that encourages self-identification among staff and sends a message to potential guests that they will encounter universal respect at each hotel.
Such a solid infrastructure has led to brand growth even amid uncertainty. The 14 hotels in the Viceroy collection—those like Snowmass in Colorado, Sugar Beach in St. Lucia, and locations in Los Cabos and Riviera Maya in Mexico—are particularly well primed for post-pandemic travel. 2020 also spawned two urban developments in the nation’s capital: the woman-centric Hotel Zena by Dawson Design Group, and Viceroy Washington DC, designed by EDG.
Looking ahead, Wimberly Interiors will complete three upcoming projects for the brand. The Viceroy at Ombria Resort Algarve in Portugal is set to open in 2022, followed a year later by the Viceroy Bocas del Toro Panama, starring overwater villas. Most immediately is the June arrival of Viceroy Kopaonik Serbia, a ski-in/ski-out resort in Raški Okrug, a few hours away from Belgrade. “Historically, one of our attributes has been our courage to enter new destinations before they become established,” says Walshe of this foray into Southeastern Europe. Like all Viceroy properties, it will feature guestroom voice-activation capabilities, including Amazon Alexa and Google Home units, born of the COVID era that allow guests to order room service and make pillow requests.
“At its essence, Viceroy is a luxury oxymoron expressed through a contradiction of consistent individuality,” Walshe explains. “At that point of collision between those opposing ideas of consistency and individuality is where we exist. My job is to curate that moment and to ensure we have a sufficient degree of consistency within the organization without suffocating individuality and spontaneity [while encouraging] a willingness to take risks and make mistakes as we grow and try new things. And it’s a fun place to be.”
This article originally appeared in HD’s June/July 2021 issue.
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