What inspired your choice of a career in hospitality, particularly in the luxury sector? Which do you consider as most rewarding but also, are there any challenges?
At the age of 17, I was asked by a family friend to jump-in and help them with a dinner party as their caterer had cancelled last-minute. It was a thoroughly rewarding experience, so much so that I chose that weekend that this would be my career of choice. What was, and still very much is, particularly appealing to me in the luxury sector of our business is the level of personalisation and the attention to detail that ultimately differentiates luxury from upper upscale. While expectations of the luxury consumer have changed and evolved over the years, the level of attention and personalisation still lies very much at the heart of what travellers expect.
Are there major differences between managing a resort versus an urban hotel?
The most noticeable difference is the length of stay – in a resort environment, a longer stay provides for a fantastic opportunity to engage on a deeper level and, ultimately, create those emotional bonds that drive loyalty beyond reason. Expectations also tend to be higher in a resort, as guests want to ensure they can take the most out of their down time.
How would you define luxury when it comes to hospitality? To what extent luxury relates to lifestyle?
This is a question I get asked often. To me, luxury in the hospitality industry is quite simple – time. It can relate to reducing transactional processes during a guests journey, allowing them to utilize their time at the hotel in the most meaningful way, or facilitating engagement between associates and guests that allow us to curate their stay holistically around their expectations. I strongly believe that giving back time to a guest is the ultimate luxury.
Beyond a professional education, which are the skills a successful manager should command?
Leaders need to be sources of inspiration – when you inspire someone, you ignite creativity, passion and perseverance in them. These qualities, ultimately, drive success.
In all your positions you have dealt with a most diverse team of various nationalities. Is there a recipe for creating a united and motivated team?
Diversity is what makes our profession so vibrant and I have had the privilege of working in multicultural environments. I have always come back to the realisation that human nature has no cultural borders. We all want to belong to something bigger, to be able to grow and reach our potential, to be able to make a difference and to be understood. I strongly believe that transparency, genuine care, humility and understanding form the basis of a motivated and aligned team.
You have worked for luxury hotels of different brands. Besides a product and aesthetics, to what extent staff should also reflect the valued of the respective brand?
It is crucial that associates have an understanding of the power and value of a luxury brand. When I am interviewing a candidate, I will always ask them with what (luxury) brand they associate themselves with and why. As a property leadership team, we spend much time in discussing how best we can transpire brand values, horizontally and vertically – a luxury hospitality brand’s success is reliant on how its associates consistently bring the brand to life every single day.
Your professional experience is marked by several ‘firsts’ – two very early W Hotels properties. Tell us more about shaping a new luxury brand.
The introduction of a new brand into an established market is a time filled both with excitement and, quite often, trepidation. When we opened W Istanbul in 2008, the first W to open in EAME, much focus was placed on how the values of a predominantly US-centric brand could be brought alive in Turkey. We needed to be disruptive whilst being (culturally) sensitive and relevant to the destination. At the same time, we did not want to dilute W’s DNA. Much of the learnings we had from W Istanbul were used for future openings within the wider region. The DNA of a luxury brand should never change – this is the foundation the brand was built on. The brand, however, needs to organically evolve over time. Nowadays, we see many luxury brands challenge their relevance and re-invent themselves to match changing lifestyle patterns. This especially holds true for some of the more traditional luxury brands.
Recruiting, motivating and retaining staff takes multiple factors.
In your present position, you are managing a heritage property and you have been orchestrating the careful renovation and restoration of the property. Tell us more.
The Hotel Bristol is truly a landmark heritage hotel, having weathered 2 world wars in the last 119 years. We are blessed to have an owner that understands the importance of preserving its legacy whilst upgrading the facilities to meet expectations of the modern traveller. A number of renovation and restauration projects have been undertaken in the last 5 years, notably a full renovation of our Bristol Spa, the renovation of the Conference & Banqueting facilities, the restoration of Café Bristol and a full bathroom renovation, which will be completed by May of this year. 2020 see us introduce a new bar concept (replacing the current Winebar) as well as undertake a cosmetic uplift of the Lobby, all to be completed by June. With the completion of these projects, we continue to build on the rich legacy of the Grande Dame, as we affectionately like to call her.
How important is for any luxury urban hotel to attract local patrons? Is the right mix of guests a means of validation?
Hotels have a deeply-rooted place in society, very often acting as the catalyst that brings global denizens and locals together, whether it be for business or leisure. Interactions between resident guests and local patrons are vital in creating an indigenous experience that transpires beyond the food & beverage offering. Café Bristol, for example, has long been an institution that attracts both locals and travellers alike and much of its success over the years can be attributed to this balance. Currently, close to half of our restaurant and bar patrons reside locally – the Spa attracts an even great local clientele. Having a balanced guest mix not only provides for a more authentic experience for resident guests but allows the hotel to grow its awareness in the local market.
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