Hoteliers must strike a balance between cutting edge, contemporary design and timeless tradition, says Pride of Britain chief executive Peter Hancock
As a practitioner in the murky field of hotel marketing I sometimes feel like that creature in the Doctor Dolittle story with a head at each end. The “pushmi-pullyu” it was called.
That’s because one is always striving to show off the best features in a collection of hotels which includes both cutting edge, contemporary design and timeless tradition. Let’s face it, if your property was once home to the aristocracy or started life as a medieval place of worship you would at least mention the fact – history and heritage are among our trump cards where tourism is concerned.
At the same time, the last thing we want is to be labelled “old fashioned” as that implies a failure to move with current tastes and so great emphasis is placed on newly constructed spas, bathrooms that have been expensively updated and even the way staff are now dressed in tune with the times.
Years ago I recall Jonathan Wix talking about his latest venture at the time, 42 The Calls in Leeds, and he spoke with passion about “the juxtaposition of old and new” meaning the marriage of modern art and building style with antiques and classical fabrics. It worked and was part of a trend that is still in progress, much to the delight of interior designers and architects the world over.
Pairs of pokey rooms continue to be knocked into suites while eBay takes care of the obsolete televisions and furniture now discarded by hotels wishing to put their recent past behind them.
Perhaps that is the key? What was fashionable in recent decades is now old hat – think of Cliff Richard or the Ford Capri – whereas any connections that go way back are a good thing, hence the many references on hotel websites to royalty and famous poets who imbibed at them.
Even ghosts still seem quite popular. Whatever is new must be very new, fit for a gadget-savvy generation and cool to look at, although pristine glass and chrome do go rather well with marble, a substance much favoured by the Romans. Would they have approved of avocado plastic baths, so trendy in the 1970s? I suspect not.
I have been fortunate enough to stay at many of the best hotels in this country so am witness to the great investment some have made in top of the range audio and TV equipment, Wi-Fi connectivity, air conditioning and superb lighting. For all that, I have to say the most glorious atmosphere I’ve ever encountered in a formal setting was a room entirely lit by candles and where the music was provided by a wizened harpist.
And you can’t get less cutting edge than that.