Hotelier of the Year is an award for those who dare to be different, who have the courage to be innovative and the confidence to pursue their own vision, even when it goes against received wisdom.
Candidates for the award must have an excellent track record of motivating, training and inspiring their staff. A personal touch is essential - they should recognise a customer as a friend rather than a room number. They must also have an excellent eye for detail and be able to communicate their enthusiasm and vision outside the confines of their own hotel to the public at large.
A Hotelier of the Year winner has to understand how to harmonise relations between staff and customers. A good manager has to provide consistency of service and must always understand what his customers need to make their stay enjoyable.
The 12 previous winners are an extraordinary group: people-orientated, outgoing, respected and admired both in and out of the trade. They have become ambassadors for the hotel industry, and it will be a very special person who becomes the 13th to join their ranks.
"What I tend to look for is a hotel that reflects its manager, where the hotelier is the hotel," says Andrew Eliel, editorial director of Egon Ronay's guides and one of the judges of last year's Hotelier of the Year.
All past winners have been at the top of their profession and the torch, Eliel says, is being passed on. "If you look around in hotels today, past award-winners' trainees have already reached similar positions.
"It is not surprising that all the winners have come from top echelon hotels," Eliel says. "But it would be nice to see some nominations come from the middle sector. They don't get into the limelight so much and they might not come to the attention of the judges. So it is important that the industry promotes its own."
Last year's winner, David Levin of the Capital Hotel in London, exemplifies the qualities and achievements judges look for. In 1969 everyone thought he was mad to build a new hotel on Basil Street in Knightsbridge, especially one that was relatively small at just 60 rooms (since reduced to 48 more spacious rooms).
When the Capital opened in 1971, 27 other hotels also opened for business. These included the Inn on the Park and the Inter-Continental. Levin used his hotel's smaller size to full advantage, giving more personal service and attention to customers. He also had the courage to follow his conviction that a good restaurant could be the centrepiece of a small hotel at a time when hotel restaurants were seen as deeply unfashionable. Levin is renowned in the trade for recognising and patiently developing talent, especially his chefs: Richard Shepherd, Brian Turner, Philip Britten and Gary Rhodes.
George Goring, of the Goring Hotel in London, won Hotelier of the Year five years ago and says that winning spurred him on.
"It gives you confidence to go for it, to do the things you ought to be doing. Also it meant that I had to live up to it and I had to try harder. The award should go only to people with future potential, people who have a lot of giving left in them," he says.
Winning also made Goring do a lot of things outside the hotel. "It made me double my efforts and gave me the confidence to express my opinions, and made me feel my opinions were worthwhile." Two years after receiving his award, he was given an OBE.
Ramón Pajares was the second Hotelier of the Year, when he was general manager of the then Inn on the Park (now the Four Seasons Hotel) and has seen 10 winners follow him. "To win an award like that is a tremendous recognition of the effort that you have been making, above what would be expected," he says. "I felt that this recognised the value of initiatives I had taken and they were recognised by not just anyone but by my peers, my colleagues."
Pajares hopes the judges will continue to develop and recognise what is important today and not necessarily judge individuals as they were 10 years ago. "After all, the industry has changed and advanced, so managers have to be better. I believe that any deserving manager has to have a real understanding of training and development of staff. A winner must be a leader and must give people the opportunity to progress in the industry. A winner must be able to give people freedom to express themselves in the company and must allow them to make mistakes."
Former members of Pajares's staff are moving into senior positions in hotels around the world and many in the industry look to him as a mentor, coming to him to ask about any industry moves they are considering. This, he says, is a tremendous reward.
Pajares says the greatest significance for award-winners is in the all-important area of staff recruitment. "A huge number of people will want to work under someone just named Hotelier of the Year. There is also a tremendous sense of pride and satisfaction for your staff because they know you could not have got the award without them. It represents a combination of what you have done and the support you have had from your staff."