Luxury hotel Capella opens in Georgetown


The presidential suite at the Capella Hotel in Washington. (Jeffrey MacMillan/For The Washington Post)

Welcome to Capella, a luxury hotel with no check-in times, no front desks and absolutely no end to the possible perks.

“You want a personal stylist? Private shopping at Saks 5th Avenue? A walk-on role at the Washington Ballet’s ‘Nutcracker’? We can do all of those things,” said Alex Obertop, general manager of the Georgetown hotel.

The brainchild of former Ritz-Carlton executive Horst H. Schulze, Capella was established in 2002 to cater primarily to business travelers who spend most of the year on the road. The location in Georgetown, which opened March 22, is the first in the United States.

“We truly do everything,” Schulze said. “If somebody comes in and says I want to eat at 3 o’clock [in the morning], we say yes.”

But that kind of special treatment comes at a price. A room for a one-night stay in June costs up to $1,135, according to the hotel’s Web site, while the 1,300-square-foot presidential suite has a nightly rate of $5,000.

Schulze retired as vice chairman of the Ritz-Carlton, headquartered in Chevy Chase, in 2002. He went home that weekend and questioned everything he knew about the hotel industry.

“On Monday, I decided I’d start anew,” said Schulze, who now lives in Atlanta. “I told my wife, ‘I’m going to go look for a new office,’ and she declared me insane.”

Schulze began holding focus groups. He wanted to know exactly what people expected from a luxury hotel — beginning with check-ins.

“When I was at the Ritz-Carlton, as long as checking in took less than four minutes, guests were fine,” he said. “Today, we’ve found that 30 seconds is too long.”

Instead of walking up to a front desk, Capella employees greet customers by name in the hotel’s foyer when they arrive. From there, hosts show them around the hotel — the private living room, a rooftop swimming pool and bar — while processing the check-in on an iPad. By the time guests arrive at their rooms, they’ve been checked in. All they have to do is sign.

“It’s not an issue of being better,” Schulze said. “It’s an issue of being different.”

Along the way, Schulze has done away with rigid times for check-in and check-out. He works around the guests’ schedules, which he says is possible because Capella hotels are relatively small in size. The location in Georgetown, for example, has 49 rooms and suites.

“If we go over 100 rooms, our promise that we do everything would become a lie,” he said.

Employees carry note cards that they can fill out with guest preferences — a penchant for chocolate chip cookies, say — or with blips they notice along the way. The company keeps a running log of mistakes so they can quickly correct them as they occur.

“It could be any little thing like this guest had a stain on the towel,” Obertop said. “If it happens once, that’s OK, we can fix it. If it happens again, maybe we have an issue with our laundry company.”

“Guests — especially our guests — have high expectations,” he continued. “Our biggest priority is to convince them to come back.”

Abha Bhattarai covers local banking, retail and hospitality for The Washington Post’s Capital Business section.
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