Better Busines: DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel & Spa, Chester

28 June 2013
Better Busines: DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel & Spa, Chester

Need to know DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel & Spa Chester occupies a 14th century manor house set in 12 acres of landscaped gardens, with a further 28 acres of surrounding fields.

Originally a Corus hotel in the 1970s, the property was bought in 2006 by a consortium led by Sanguine Hospitality. Back then it only had 99 guest rooms, but an investment programme by the hotel development company brought the hotel up to 140 guest rooms. In February 2009, Sanguine entered into a franchise agreement with Hilton Worldwide to operate the hotel under its full service DoubleTree by Hilton brand.

The franchise agreement allowed the hotel to retain its individuality, while becoming attractive to a new audience thanks to the

Hilton HHonors guest loyalty programme and DoubleTree by Hilton brand touches such as the warm chocolate chip cookie that's presented to each guest who checks in.

"The big thing is global recognition," explains DoubleTree by Hilton Chester general manager Brian Connor. "When we took on the franchise, there were only two other DoubleTree hotels in the country, but people immediately recognised that it was part of the Hilton Worldwide group. With that comes expectation and it was instant. There was a minimum 10% increase in occupancy levels pretty much overnight."

The hotel offers modern comforts with contemporary decor complemented by an English Heritage-listed conservatory. A conjoined club and spa, which has close to 2,000 members, has facilities including a swimming pool, indoor and outdoor hydro pool, thermal suites, 10 treatment rooms and a bar and lounge area.
"We also have two restaurants," adds Connor, "our own Brasserie and the Marco Pierre White Steakhouse Bar and Grill, Chester."

The Brasserie serves seasonal, locally sourced food. Produce such as Formby asparagus, Wirral watercress and Redpoll beef are regulars on the menus. The popular Marco Pierre White steakhouse serves a wide selection of fish and meat from the grill along with classic English puddings.

Target audience Its location on the outskirts of Chester city centre and its easy access to the M53 mean the hotel appeals both to leisure business seeking to experience historic Chester and to the weekday business trade.

"We're lucky in Chester because we have some huge brands around us like MBNA Bank, HBOS and Unilever, which keep us ticking over during the week," Connor says. "Some 60% of our midweek occupancy is corporate."

The hotel's leisure guests come from across the UK. "Weddings drive much of the weekend business, and the hotel also benefits from spa break guests and hen nights," Connor says.

Marco's drives external business at the weekends too, most of it from the local market. Meanwhile, club members get a discount in the hotel and its restaurants, and with up to 9,000 visits a week, it is a large potential client base.

How does it stand out? The hotel's varied offering and its inclusion in a global hotel enterprise mean the business is not reliant on any one sector. "We have quite a mix of guests," explains Connor. "Spa breaks, corporate, wedding guests, etc. The hotel offers something for everyone, and that varied offering helps keep us strong both during the week and at weekends."

To drive business during quieter periods, the hotel can plug into both DoubleTree brand and Hilton Worldwide enterprise-wide promotions and rate sales.

The hotel participated in the company's Any Weekend, Anywhere sale earlier this year, which succeeded in driving business during traditionally slow booking months.

Meanwhile, it has the advantage of being part of an internationally recognised brand.

"There is the online presence, brand expectations and brand loyalty as well as Hilton HHonors loyalty programme and the many distribution channels available," Connor says. "There is also the reservation system whereby all calls are answered 24 hours a day."

Marketing Being allied to a global brand substantially extends the hotel's reach. "There's a huge marketing machine that we can harness," explains Connor. "Much of our business throughout the week is international."

The focus on branding, with DoubleTree by Hilton over the door and Marco's steakhouse, along with the club and spa, means that guests tend to stay longer and spend money within the business.

"We have invested in the spa, restaurant, and banqueting and rooms, which together make a great business," Connor says. "The marriage of brands works for us. The DoubleTree by Hilton brand is a conversion brand that drives business."

The hotel has particularly benefited from Hilton HHonors, which immediately makes it stand out, particularly for business guests.

"The HHonors programme is huge," Connor confirms. "HHonors members drive about 40% of our business from a bedroom perspective. It's a strong programme."

From a staff perspective, the employees gain from the Hilton Worldwide association too, according to Connor. "There's a culture that goes with the DoubleTree brand that includes real reward and recognition," he says.

The team at Chester also have the opportunity to pick courses from the Hilton Worldwide University, an online system which allows employees to choose approved course to further their careers.

"Although there is a lot of training going on, they're not robots," Connor explains. "They're empowered to do what they need to and have the freedom to use their initiative. That's part of the training. "

Future growth Having built the business to 140 guest rooms, Sanguine is now planning further development of 85 guest rooms, an extension of the brasserie to accommodate the additional volume, the addition of a rooftop terrace and will landscape further acreage.

Brian Connor's revelations

Favourite hotel Rookery Hall in Nantwich
What book has inspired you? Leadership And Self-Deception: Getting Out of the Box, by the Arbinger Institute
If you weren't a hotelier, what would you have been? A carpenter
Describe your business in five words Global brand upscale Chester hotel

Spotlight on franchising Being a DoubleTree by Hilton franchise provides the four-star hotel with a global profile, enabling it to associate itself with all the qualities of a Hilton Worldwide brand in the eyes of potential guests. According to Connor, the Hilton connection is vital to the business's success. "The distribution channels deliver 50% of the accommodation across the year," he explains.

Simon Matthews-Williams, chairman of Sanguine, says the brand also aids in accessing capital. "In terms of an investment profile it's crucial," he says. "Banks like global brands. They also particularly like franchising, which is a more flexible model than the brands managing the asset for you. "These days we wouldn't open an unbranded hotel."

But Matthews-Williams advises that just putting the name above the door isn't enough. "You have to work with a brand, you can't just expect people to come in," he says. "You have to be clever to maximise the opportunity."

Facts and stats

Occupancy 83%
Average room rate £75
Turnover £8.5m
General manager Brian Connor
Bedrooms 140
Staff: 200

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