Overall ranking: 26 (new entry)
Hotelier ranking: 4 (new entry)
Officially launched as a new brand of urban lifestyle hotels in November 2016, Principal today comprises 10 properties, headed by the flagship 334-bedroom Principal London, which opened its doors to guests earlier this month following a £85m refurbishment. The financial might of American private investment owner Starwood Capital Group, which has created the brand from a disparate collection of hotel portfolios accumulated in recent years – namely Principal Hayley Group, Four Pillar Hotels and the Town House Collection – has been enhanced by the inspired appointment of David Taylor as chief operating officer. While Starwood has injected the wherewithal to reposition what had previously been an under-invested collection of properties, Taylor has provided the creative nous to make it happen. Principal sits under the umbrella of the Principal Hotel Company (PHC) alongside country house sister brand De Vere.
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Originally from the West Midlands, Taylor entered the hospitality industry as a trainee in 1995 at the Hyatt Regency hotel in Birmingham. After working his way up the ladder via Jarvis Hotels, Forte Hotels, the Great Eastern hotel (when it was operated by Conran Restaurants) and Sofitel St James, Taylor hit his stride on being appointed the opening general manager at the original Hoxton hotel in Shoreditch. He remained there for five and a half years before taking on the same role at the London Edition which, at its launch in 2013, was only the second property in the lifestyle brand from global hotel giant Marriott. Working with the ground-breaking talents of Sinclair Beecham at the Hoxton and Ian Schrager at the Edition has been a hugely influential backdrop to Taylor’s current role at Principal.
Shaking up some of the UK’s most iconic city centre hotels has been an enormous task, but one that Taylor has taken on board with relish. Many of the properties in question, such as the former Palace hotel in Manchester and the George in Edinburgh, had fallen into the doldrums in recent years, with dreary design, uninspiring food and indifferent service. In the first instance, Taylor formulated Principal’s DNA in conjunction with key individuals, namely Sean Wheeler, who joined from the Dorchester Collection to head the transformation in the people culture, and Simon Willis, one-time creative and communications director for Sir Terence Conran, as brand director. Together they drew up Principal’s brand values – generous, warm, intuitive, distinctive and local.
While the fabric of each Principal building has seen significant improvements, major investment has also taken place in revenue and IT systems, with the front of house transformed with fresh interiors that enhance the original designs of the Victorian or Edwardian hotels. A variety of interior designers have been used to ensure that this is no cookie-cutter brand.
For the same reason, each hotel works with different local food and beverage operators to provide a distinct experience in each property. Hence, at the Principal Manchester, the Refuge Public Bar & Dining Room has been a run-away success since its creation in partnership with Luke Cowdrey and Justin Crawford, the owners of the city’s Volta restaurant. At the new London property (once the Hotel Russell), a unique vibe has been created by Australian chef Brett Redman and American-born fashion stylist turned restaurateur Margaret Crow in Fitz’s, described as “a sumptuously hedonistic cocktail bar” and the neighbourhood-style Neptune restaurant.
Five hotels (London, Manchester, York and two in Edinburgh) are now officially part of the Principal brand, with a further five in Cardiff, Oxford, Leeds and two in Glasgow being transformed. Two further properties, currently under development, will join the brand in Birmingham and Liverpool.
Taylor, the recipient of a Master Innholders’ Scholarship in 2009, has already come a long way since starting the process of creating the Principal brand in 2015 and there is no doubt that he has got the owners of regional city centre hotels on their toes.
There is no guarantee how long the owner will remain on board – Starwood is believed to be looking to offload the entire PHC portfolio for more than £1.2b – but what is certain is the seriousness in which as much value as possible is being injected into the hotels, with a total investment in excess of £200m. Taylor’s enhancement of that value cannot be underestimated.
How Starwood’s new Principal brand will shake up city centres nationwide >>