Interview with Camille Oostwegel, owner and General Director of the Oostwegel Collection, on being a good neighbour in the region, city and community.
Independent Hotel Show Amsterdam
Camille will be speaking at the Hotel Vision Stage, in partnership with Amadeus, designed by Madelon Design, at the Independent Hotel Show Amsterdam on 18 March at RAI Amsterdam. In a panel discussion, he will talk about community involvement and the opportunities that can emerge from supporting local businesses.
'Our Cultural Tour is a well-kept secret that reveals the best of the region once a year.'
We meet a young, energetic and ambitious Camille Oostwegel in the nave of a former church where the Kruisherenhotel has been located since 2005.
Subjects like reformulating the function of a hotel, being open to the new work ethos of co-working, anticipating guests' ever-evolving expectations, involving your immediate community and being a good neighbour will be discussed. We are curious about how you can be and remain a good neighbour.
'From experience to meaning', is a typically Camille expression. He does not believe solely in experience anymore. In 2020, it is explicitly about giving meaning to the guest experience. This narrative is about collaborating within the region, city and community, and it's about residents remaining critical of your activities in the interests of both guests and the community that you are building together.
As a brand, getting into bed with the community that is fundamental to your future carries responsibilities with it.
"When the cultural heritage property belonging to the old Gothic Kruisheren convent was made available to us, we gave a commitment to the community that we would be a positive influence. The arrival of a luxury hotel brought a new, invigorating momentum to this previously invisible district of Maastricht. The neighbourhood went from being unknown and unloved to being attractive and lively, and a significant metamorphosis took place that saw new commercial activities and improvements in infrastructure. Tourists and residents alike are discovering an attractive neighbourhood where everyone understands one another to be a good neighbour", says Camille.
"We develop local initiatives that add value to the guest experience, never losing sight of the surroundings in which we are located." Art and culture are key elements for attracting Oostwegel guests. Camille: "My father, former director of the Oostwegel Collection, is a passionate art lover and is very knowledgeable about the region. Every year, under his inspiring leadership, one, very special Cultural Tour is arranged. He provides exceptional insights and intriguing narratives from the region, and helps guests get to know the local delicacies and tales about farmers working the land."
“At the same time, we are very open to the new dynamic in the city and welcome freelancers and students who find their way to the former church to work here, or to 'overthink' their theses. New and returning guests mingle in our 5-star offering and their coming together creates a new hospitality experience."
Craft and passion
A bit farther up the map, where Maastricht gradually turns into landscape dotted with distinctive estates, the signature Oostwegel collection is challenged to collaborate with local artisinal production. This is where Zuid-Limburg terroir comes into its own with its gastronomical backstory. To the extent that we can, our menu expresses of the work of hinterland farmers and local growers, cheesemakers and beekeepers. "Our chef, from l’Auberge at Château Neercanne, is a triathlete who has used his passion for healthy food to develop a delicious sourdough bread recipe that we now serve in our restaurants." We also wondered about the Limburg pies... "Yes, well we don't bake those ourselves, and the reason is that there are no better pies to be had than the ones from Hermans bakery", says Camille, laughing. "By putting local businesses in the spotlight, we are promoting the region and involving guests in a unique culture with remarkable narratives."
It is obvious that this hotelier has made a considered choice in taking his guests along this route - from experience to meaning - with the aim of showcasing the region that Limburg is proud of!
Staying in contact with your community, active sales promotion in the domestic and foreign markets and linking the Oostwegel Collection of properties to well-known marketing brands like Relais & Châteaux, Small Luxury Hotels and Design Hotels. These are just a few of the priorities that Camille is pursuing to make sure his products, and the region in which they are located, remain in view.
"Cooperating with regional promotion in my view works a lot better than going it alone, and it's also more efficient", concludes Camille. "When NBTC Nederland does promotion on, for example, the ITB in Berlin, I think it is critical that they also draw attention to distinctive cities and regions in the Netherlands. It is really very important that the region in a coalition of cities tell their own stories, too, in order to increase their appeal, and following on from that, to boost the number of potential visitors and bookings."
"Personally speaking, my favourite cause is the accessibility of our region. We have Maastricht's Aachen Airport, which, if it offered a daily connection with a large, international hub would really stimulate this region", says Camille.
Today, tomorrow and in the future
"Good stewardship means that I, as the custodian of the heritage properties in which our hotels and restaurants are located, take good care of them because they are merely on loan to us from the next generation. Maintaining them, improving them and reinvesting returns in the current products. That way, we can ensure the continuity of the family business while continuing to maintain the estates in the way they deserve to be kept."
"Maintaining the international flair of this border region, in terms of its historic, cultural, architectonic and culinary areas is also critical. The TEFAF international art fair has put Maastricht's cultural diary on the map (and fortunately, commitments have been made for a further 10 years), and maestro André Rieu has made the Vrijthof world famous. At the same time, we would have enjoyed having the City of Culture title in 2018, and a great deal of work was put into the bid to hold the EUROvision Song Contest. In my opinion, Maastricht would have been the ideal location for this European event." We can sense Camille's desire to ensure that the region's reputation is maintained comes with a big helping of ambition.
Keeping focus on heritage properties and hospitality services sometimes also requires a dash of colour and going beyond well-trodden pathways. In "Villa and residences" Camille has established a new, "curated by the Oostwegel Collection" service, offering guests a collection of unique, luxury accommodations in special locations, where guests can enjoy a fully self-catered residential experience. This will also stimulate patronage of businesses in the region.
The bottom line is: Camille is a big proponent of letting the guests be guests. "There is a sense of community and there are great stories, but forcing the guest to participate in this conversation must never be the intention," according to Camille.
It's another clear expression from an independent hotelier who has a great sense of what the needs of today's guest are.
SEVERS+JANSEN, The Hospitality Studio
Mark Severs and Kim Jansen
13 February 2020