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Hotelier Saint-Exupéry’s Princely Instincts

Arnaud de Saint-Exupéry — who runs the Andaz, a fine boutique hotel in London — doesn’t have to reach far for inspiration. His great-uncle wrote the book on improving relationships.

Arnaud de Saint-Exupéry — who runs the Andaz, a fine boutique hotel in London — doesn’t have to reach far for inspiration. His great-uncle wrote the book on improving relationships. That relative is Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, the famous French aviator who penned and illustrated The Little Prince shortly before his death in battle in World War II.

The Prince remains a king among books, with more than 200 million copies sold in more than 190 languages, making it one of the bestselling volumes of any kind. Its central message is contained in remarks by a fox to the prince: “L’essential est invisible pour les yeux.” (“The essential is invisible to the eye.”) In the hotel business, that means avoiding routine and rote and relying on instinct.

At the Andaz, one of five luxury boutiques within the Pritzker family’s Hyatt empire, staffers do not wear uniforms, nor do they have badges. “Employees should be remembered by the quality of their work,” Arnaud says, “not their name tags.” Other changes invisible to the eye: reading lights in areas guests read, full mirrors in places people use them, removal of walls that interfere with light and talk. Arnaud, 40 — a hotel man, not an author — is astonished by the celebrity of  his great-uncle’s work. “In some ways, he’s better known outside France than within,” he says. During a trip to Moscow a few years back, Arnaud’s car was stopped late at night. A gruff policeman ordered him to show his papers. “Ah, The Little Prince,” the cop said, brightening at the Saint-Exupéry name. “You are most welcome to go. Have a good time, my friend.”

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