The recently promoted international director of member services at Relais & Châteaux talks to Katherine Price about how the luxury hotel and restaurant association is adapting to the new normal.
With your promotion and fellow Brit Anthony Torkington as general manager of Relais & Châteaux, is this a move to strong British leadership for a brand that has traditionally been regarded as French?
We've always operated in a way where we have French roots, but we have very global view on things and we adapt everything we do for the relevant markets.
We are at a very good place for the UK hoteliers because we do have a strong British representation in leadership. It wasn't necessarily planned out that way, but we do try and think global in everything we do.
Is the UK still a focus market?
Absolutely, the UK is one of our top markets globally. Our top markets are the US, France and the UK, not in that order necessarily, but in terms of where our guests come from, the UK has and always will remain a top priority. I will continue to oversee the UK and Ireland membership along with the growth in the role.
How do you foresee the recovery of the UK hotel market?
We're very lucky in the UK in that we have a very strong domestic market and we've seen that in our hotels. I can't say the same for other regions around the world. There are exceptions to this, of course – city centres are different – but most of our members are in the country. Business had been relatively good over the last few months, so we're positive.
Do your members hope for further support or changes?
It's hard to predict the future in the current times. Consumer behaviour is changing daily, and the guest booking window is shorter and shorter, so it's hard to predict how one month would look like from the last. But at Relais, everything we're doing is constantly adapting. We have forums with our members globally, and we had Zoom calls every week where the entire general manager and ownership were invited to join and share best practice on how to adapt during the closures and reopenings.
We've started doing these calls every two weeks – we call them ‘member optimisation calls' – but the idea really is for them to network and share. That's the beauty of Relais: we have some of the best and leading hoteliers and restaurateurs in the world. We'll continue to adapt and listen to them. Everything we do, the end goal is member satisfaction and giving them what they need as times change.
That's the beauty of Relais: we have some of the best and leading hoteliers and restaurateurs in the world
What else are your members seeking from you, and what are you doing to support them?
We're there to support members in any area of business we can, for instance, when the first lockdown happened, we knew that one of the first things everyone's going to be thinking about is how do I put across the fact that I am Covid-safe? What sanitary measures can I have? So we developed a partnership and supported members with that.
We run HR forums where we get our HR directors together to talk about topical items such as employee wellness. We do the same for sales and marketing. The way we do sales and marketing has changed considerably now – where most of our members were looking for international guests in the past, now we're having to focus on domestic, so we're trying to help them from a sales and marketing perspective.
We also run chef forums and look at what challenges they're having. We use the power of the network, of getting the different business units together to assist one another. We'll continue to run these forums for sure.
What other plans do you have for your new role? Are you making any changes?
Anthony and I are really focused on thinking more transversely in the sense that everybody is stretched at the moment, so we're asking where can we save time, where can we be more efficient, where can we add more value to our members? My one goal is member satisfaction, so we're adapting the business as we need to, to give our hotel and restaurant members what they need.
Are you holding your November conference this year?
Virtually, yes. It takes place in a different country every year and unfortunately we won't be going to Copenhagen as planned. It will take place on 17 November.
How will that work?
There will be two different sessions, a morning and an afternoon session, so all members can join depending on time zones. I can't say too much as there are a whole lot of surprise elements! There are some formalities that we have – we'll still be doing our trophies – but we'll have a little bit of fun too.
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