Named London’s Hotelier of the Year, Thomas Kochs, the Managing Director of Corinthia London Raises the Bar on Modern Luxury
In the sunlit lobby of the Corinthia London hotel where a Baccarat crystal chandelier sparkles beneath a glorious skylight, Thomas Kochs looks exactly like a movie version of himself: leading man good looks, tailored dark navy suit, the elegant man in charge of a glamorous hotel steeped in luxury and history. “How about some British tea?” he asks, as Kochs (pronounced “Cox”) and I settle at a table.
Widely regarded as one of the top hoteliers in the world of luxury hospitality, Kochs oversees one of the most iconic properties in London, nestled between Trafalgar Square and the Thames River on an unrivaled, spectacular triangular site. The Corinthia Group, a Malta-based company acquired the historic building in 2007 and spent a reported $490 million to renovate the entire inner structure while preserving its historic façade, before unveiling the Corinthia London in 2012. Five years later, they hired Kochs, who at the time was a managing director at a rival luxury hotel– to breathe new life into the crown jewel of the Corinthia flagship.
That’s where the turnaround began. Within a year, Kochs had revamped the restaurant and brought England’s renowned Michelin-starred Chef Tom Kerridge, and award-winning chef André Garrett to Corinthia. In the ultra-competitive world of luxury hospitality, where guests expect first-rate dining without leaving the premises, securing the two prominent chefs was a testament to his influence. By 2019, the hotel had recorded its highest revenue since reopening and has continued to flourish. The industry took notice: the German-born Kochs was named Hotelier of the Year by the Brit List and voted one of the “50 Most Influential People in British Luxury” by Walpole, an official body for UK luxury which promotes a sector worth £48 billion to the UK economy, according to its website.
On the surface, Kochs appears serious and pensive, but as we speak, Kochs reveals a complicated range of qualities that make him uniquely right for his role: experience, intellectual sensitivity, confidence and humor. For example, asked for the secret of his success, he pauses between sips of tea, smiles cheekily at me, and says, “If anyone has this formula.. you tell me!”
“Luxury can mean a hundred different things to a hundred different people,” he says. It’s continuously evolving and extends beyond building relationships, unique amenities or designs. At Corinthia London, for example, Kochs adds lighthearted elements that he fondly refers to as “necessary unnecessities.” These touches include things like having a bespoke cart by designer Guy Oliver that offers freshly baked treats to guests during check-in. For the afternoon tea, they surprise guests by serving only one red Richard Brendon bone china tea set at each table (the other sets are black and white). At breakfast, there is a note next to the muffins with encouraging words: Go ahead darling!
“We try to be fairly informal, but still give you everything that you need and want. It’s a fine line in hotels. It’s much easier to run a very formal hotel. If you break the rule, you get a yellow card or a red card,” says Kochs. What’s more complex is to lead and coach a team of 500 staff on the delicate balance of being personable without being intrusive. Ultimately, says Kochs, it comes down to having a genuine passion, heart, and integrity behind what you do.
“We want to make people feel better. It doesn’t mean you don’t feel good when you walk in. When you leave, you should feel better, a little lighter, a little brighter. With a great memory of your stay,” he says, noting that nearly 40 percent of guests are from the U.S.
Kochs began his career at the Steinberger Hotel Group in Germany while pursuing his MBA at Hochschule München University of Applied Science. Moving to London in 2000, he held positions at Hyatt Carlton Tower, then The Berkeley hotel in 2001, and The Connaught in 2007, before becoming the youngest general manager at the iconic Claridge’s hotel in 2009. In 2012, Kochs unintentionally gained fame through a BBC 3-part documentary called “Inside Claridge’s” which showcased his leadership during the whirlwind London Olympics preparations, and his idea to open a three Michelin-starred pop-up restaurant, Noma. Within 2.5 hours of selling tickets for Noma, more than 10,000 people vied for the 3,500 sold-out seats, according to Eater.com. The BBC documentary was a prime time hit and has garnered over 3.6 million views on Youtube. In 2016, Kochs left to become the managing director at the five-star Hotel Café Royal. A year later, the Corinthia Group hired him to take charge of their flagship hotel. Television producers promptly followed Kochs to his new location. They have featured him and his Corinthia London team on several popular TV documentaries such as Channel 4’s “Britain’s Most Luxurious Hotels” and the BBC’s “A Hotel for the Super Rich & Famous.”
We speak with Mr. Kochs about his role as the managing director of one of the most luxurious hotels in London, his thoughts on the competition from new opulent hotels, memorable moments of his career, and his plans for Corinthia London in 2024.
Please describe your job.
TK: I sometimes look at myself akin to the conductor of one fine orchestra. I head up a team of 500 people and they are all experts and specialists in their own ways. My job is being responsible for this hotel, operationally but also commercially and making it interesting for our guests, so that everyone leaves with lasting and meaningful memories is a big part of the job.
What sets Corinthia London apart from other luxury hotels in London?
TK: Corinthia London is designed for modern life, it has a way and a tone that really gives our guests what they want in a grand setting of a historic building. Whether you want to be discreet or take center stage, it’s all possible here. We have a fantastic portfolio of restaurants and bars, an award-winning and incredible spa, stretching over four floors and of course beautiful rooms, suites and Penthouses.
How has the concept of luxury hotels changed since you first began?
TK: Luxury is not just linked to precious materials and expensive products, it’s so much more these days. It’s real appreciation of moments that make you feel better, time with your loved ones and impactful experiences like fantastic dinners or enjoying rare wines. Little or large, it can all be the ultimate luxury at that time. Great service is for sure part of a luxury hotel experience, and we understand that this can mean a hundred different things to a hundred different people.
What do you think about the new luxury five-star hotels coming to London?
TK: It’s great for London. It makes it an interesting and attractive destination for guests. It’s part of being in a big city. New hotels are coming in. Hotels are closing; they’re refurbishing. How long is ‘new’ new? Before you know it, another hotel is open.
What excites you most today about what’s happening in travel or hospitality?
TK: It is exciting how the world is constantly evolving; people are really appreciating travel and hotels these days and are looking for unique and exceptional places in which they can invest their time. A normal luxury hotel isn’t enough anymore. People travel very consciously and consume in a very aware way.
You have had the privilege of meeting many iconic figures, including Queen Elizabeth. If you could have dinner with anyone (living or deceased), who would it be and why?
TK: I think dinner with Her Majesty would be very exciting, but I would be too nervous, she was truly an exceptional woman. I don’t know really, there are so many people that are inspirational for so many different reasons. The celebrities are probably who everyone would expect now, but I would probably pick someone really iconic in the world of hotels, like Isadore Sharp, the founder of the Four Seasons. I would find it very interesting.
What are some of the most memorable moments of your 30-year career?
TK: I have so many.. I always enjoy when the team achieves success, when we win an award, or get recognized for something we have done. Meeting Tom Kerridge and opening a restaurant with him here was for sure a career highlight.
What are some exciting things coming up at the Corinthia London in 2024?
TK: Our first venture, the launch of Flowerbx at Corinthia London, brings a burst of creativity to our floral decor. Led by CEO Whitney Bromberg Hawkings, this female-founded brand is set to adorn our hotel with innovative floral installations, starting with an enchanting Christmas display and their inaugural London shop in 2023. Equally, we will be giving our London suites a modern luxury makeover, collaborating with top interior designers from London to create spacious suites offering breathtaking views of the city. These revamped suites are poised to be a stunning addition to Corinthia London’s repertoire.
Photos courtesy of Corinthia London and IHI, p.l.c group.