Stephen Meinich-Bache (48) was appointed CEO of the Norwegian hotel chain Classic NORWAY Hotels in February 2020. Five weeks later the Corona virus reached Norway. Travel restrictions and regional lockdowns had far-reaching effects on the hotel industry. However, there were opportunities too. Learn more about the CEO who was navigating a Norwegian luxury hotel chain during the pandemic.
Classic Norway Hotels consists of 21 of Norway’s most charming hotels and cabins from Fevik in southern Norway to Lofoten in the north. Phrases like “personal hosting”, “quality conscious” or “tailoring” are not only phrases, but a blueprint, at Classic Norway Hotels.
Meinich-Bache is proudly telling us that that all their hotels and cabins are situated in beautiful surroundings and creating great experiences for their guests through local culture and food traditions which is the chain’s main objective. His background as naval officer might have been helpful when the pandemic attacked the world.
Why did you start in the hospitality business?
It was a pure coincidence. An old friend of mine in the industry told me they needed ‘a good man’, and I was offered a position as General Manager at Breiseth hotel in Lillehammer. After that, I worked in Copenhagen for two years before moving back to Norway. It turned out that the chairman and owner of First Hotels, Asmund Haare, and I had coincident opinions and he wanted me to take charge.
Later on, I had the pleasure of meeting Erik Berg, owner and founder of Classic Norway Hotels. He invited me to be CEO of Classic Norway Hotels and after that, I never looked back!
How did you navigate your business through the COVID-19 crisis?
“Never shy away from a crisis,” says Meinich-Bache and adds, “The pandemic was of course critical for the finances, but the owners never panicked. We have managed well through the crises with the help of our own means and compensations from the Norwegian government. Our owners are long term thinkers. Our strategy is built on three pillars; nature, culture and history. We have a short history, and we focus on the future.”
Of the 21 hotels and cabins in the hotel chain, 3 are leased, 1 is franchised and the rest is owned properties.
Where does your passion come from?
“There has always been an inner fire in me that gets me early up in the morning. I’ve always wanted to contribute and I am triggered by results. My military background has been an atypical journey into the hospitality business. It’s a discipline I’m using, consciously or unconsciously.
My passion is driven by the amazing team members that surround me. We’re allowed to carry through our ideas, and there is no other way than teamwork to achieve it. There is nothing more satisfying than knowing you’ve put a smile on your guests’ faces and that we’ve made their stay memorable.”
How would you describe a stay at one of Classic NORWAY Hotels’ facilities?
“Magic moments! Good memories. It’s always different. Classic NORWAY Hotels are great because they have so much to offer – wherever you go it’s really quite unique. Whether you’re coming in the summertime for amazing beaches, in the autumn for woodland walks, or even in the winter to gaze across the dramatic coastlines, there is always something to experience. There are great differences.”
Which would you recommend as the ‘must-see’ place for anyone visiting one of your facilities?
“There’s so many to choose! If I had to pick one, it would have to be Flatflesa lighthouse. It’s such a breath-taking place, an experience completely out of the ordinary. Here you stay on a small islet in the open ocean. «Flesa» means cliff. This cliff has all the facilities you need to have a comfortable stay. It is also very safe, even in all kinds of weather. Here the houses have stood safe and sound for 116 years.
Any crazy guest demands?
“Well, some ‘rich and famous’ guests might sometimes be demanding – in a different way. One guest wanted to give a ‘homely’ party to his friends, and we had to move a used sofa, resembling his own, to and from his room. That being said, no demand from any of our guests is crazy.”
Stephen Meinich-Backe says he is pleased leaving a very good summer behind. More and more guests are visiting their hotels for weekends and stay more nights. And even if vacation guests are the main target group, many conferences and business meetings take place at Classic NORWAY Hotels.
Navigating a Norwegian Luxury Hotel Chain During The Pandemic, interview by Tor Kjolberg
All images © Classic NORWAY Hotels, except where otherwise stated.