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Meet Benjamin Habbel, the Founding Partner of Limestone Capital, Europe’s leading private equity firm.

Date posted: 07 May 2024, 11:00am

Article length: 8 minutes

Benjamin Habbel is the Founding Partner of Limestone Capital, Europe’s leading private equity firm dedicated to investing and creating value in the experience economy with 1 billion Euros under management across its various platforms from the hospitality and real estate sector. Benjamin also serves as CEO and Co-founder of Aethos, a fast-growing luxury hotels group incubated by Limestone Capital, and is the only outside board member of Emerald Stay.

Maxime (Emerald Stay’s CEO) and Benjamin got to know each other on the board of Mövenpick Hotels back in 2017. Shortly after, Limestone Capital wrote the first check of Emerald Stay’s Angel investment round and have ever since been loyal believers in their vision, investing many more millions into the business. Today, Limestone Capital is Emerald Stay’s largest shareholder together with its original founders.  

This brief interview will allow us to gain insight into your vision of the industry and highlight the shared values between Emerald Stay and Aethos, as we stand and grow together within the same Limestone Capital family. Read our complete interview with Benjamin below.

Benjamin Habbel & Aethos, investor & Emerald Stay's sister brand

First, congratulations for Aethos’ recently announced €100 million funding round led by Limestone Capital. This goes a great deal in highlighting how well positioned Aethos is in relation to current trends in hospitality and travel. Are these trends the same that benefit Emerald Stay? Can you share what you like about the company?

Thank you for having me. The investment into Aethos is a testament to the confidence we have in the team and the direction in which the hospitality sector is moving. The trends benefiting Aethos, especially the emphasis on sustainable and more authentic destinations at international luxury design standards are the key drivers. Some of these trends are truly megatrends, where legacy businesses are struggling to successfully service a newly emerging clientele. That’s an advantage that Emerald Stay can also benefit from. Capturing this opportunity - here in the vacation rental segments instead of hotels - is what captivates me about Emerald Stay. It also helps that we hold relatively similar values as a company, especially our unwavering commitment to excellence. Emerald too provides more than just luxury accommodation; I know you ensure each guest's stay is unforgettable by focusing on the finer details and personalising the experience. The way you manage to integrate local authenticity and sustainability into the guest experience is really remarkable.

Benjamin Habbel & Aethos, investor & Emerald Stay's sister brand

Photo: Francisco Nogueira

As a serial entrepreneur with profound passions, convictions, and globally recognised expertise in hospitality and travel businesses, what recent trends have you observed in the industry that contribute to the current strength of our two brands?

There's been a noticeable shift towards what we might call mindful travel — a trend that both Emerald Stay and Aethos embody fully. Travellers are increasingly seeking spaces that not only offer a place to stay but also resonate with their personal values, which are often centred around protecting the planet and local cultures. This involves a move towards more sustainable practices, cultural immersion, and wellness-centric experiences. Through various initiatives that respect both local cultures and the environment, Emerald Stay and Aethos have found strength by catering to this new wave of guests. They're not just looking for accommodation; they're looking for an experience that leaves a positive impression on their body, mind, and soul.

How would you foresee the future of tourism and hospitality?

The future of tourism and hospitality is a positive outlook to begin with. More and more people around the world have the means to travel, to express themselves, to explore and grow their consciousness through new experiences. GDP growth in developing nations is promising, and hence completely new destinations are emerging to service the next billion in lifestyle travel. The top end of the lifestyle travel segment is booming in particular, with luxury hotels flourishing and growing at above-market rates. At Limestone, we are building a number of brands to service this clientele. And of course, Emerald Stay's offer also spans from the beautiful finca on Mallorca for a well-off family for a few thousand euros per week, to the extraordinary ski chalet with private chefs and cars that cost up to three hundred thousand euros per week and delivers exceptional, the unexpected, the true luxury experience. You are well positioned.  

Benjamin Habbel & Aethos, investor & Emerald Stay's sister brand

©PION Studio

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges for the industry?

I am a sceptical optimist, generally speaking. So I am very optimistic that the greatest challenges of the next decades, the replacement of entire job functions and skill sets through AI and robotics will not be as strong in hospitality. We are dependent on the human factor, in great personal service. AI will bring more positive to our industry than negative, as it will make exploration, booking, email & guest communication much cleaner, and leave room for the personal touch. We face other challenges, we have to navigate the path of growth, modernisation, and sustainability without compromising on quality or experience - all while making it financially viable to keep improving and updating hungry assets. There's an urgent need to balance growth with ecological preservation and local community support to move beyond the unsustainable mass tourism of the past.  

Emerald Stay’s baseline is “Experience The Luxury of Space”. Can you share what it evokes to you personally? 

For me, it's this promise of having not just physical space, but the room to think, work, and to spend quality time with my loved ones in the same destination. I have spent several of my work trips and family trips at Emerald Stay properties, always with larger groups of Limestone and Aethos colleagues, family, and friends. It was not just the beauty of the location but the spaciousness of the accommodation itself, allowing our family to come together without stepping on each other's toes, offering both communal areas and private nooks for solitude and work - as the new way of working remote and from anywhere has become a reality for many as myself. 

Benjamin Habbel & Aethos, investor & Emerald Stay's sister brand

©Francisco Nogueira

Last but not least, as Limestone’s Chief Executive Officer, what characteristics initially marked Emerald Stay as a compelling strategic investment asset?

The initial investment was easy. I met Maxime Friess - Emerald Stay's co-founder and CEO - and worked with him over multiple years at Movenpick. I followed the evolution of the company from a real estate business into an asset-light vacation rental business. The first check we did without Due Diligence, and solely on the trust we had in Maxime and his co-founder. I believe to this date that there is a strong need for consolidation in the space, and the fragmentation is hurting guest experiences, trust, and ultimately financial performance of the industry. We have invested a substantial amount at this point and look forward to seeing the growth story play out now at a large scale. 

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