A five-star attitude to service ensures this revitalised hotel in Bath achieves full occupancy every weekend, says Leyla Kazim
The Queensberry hotel considers itself to be one of the most beautiful in Bath. It has been owned by husband and wife team Laurence and Helen Beere since
2003. Master Innholder Laurence started his career in the hospitality industry aged 15, working his way up to operations director of the Clifton Group. When this was sold, he bought the Queensberry with his redundancy package and asked Lauren McCann, now general manager, to join him.
McCann has been in the industry for more than 20 years and has been general manager of the Queensberry hotel since 2007. Her career in hospitality began with an after-school job and went on to include studying at the Cranfield School of Management in 2006 and becoming a St Julian Scholar on the Master
Innholder Scholarship Programme.
The majority of the hotel's business is leisure. Guests are often couples enjoying a break or wanting to hit the shops, with 85% from the UK, mostly from London and the home counties.
Mid-week occupancy rates range between 75% and 90%. Fridays rise to 90%-95%, and almost every Saturday achieves close to 100%. "Weekends are our bread and butter," says McCann.
While corporate guests are the minority, the hotel still ensures its facilities cater for them. "The valet parking is a massive bonus in thecentre of Bath, and all the rooms have Wi-Fi and desks. In a chain hotel you could be anywhere in the world. We're full of character, but we still have all the things our corporate
guests enjoy," says McCann.
How does it stand out?
McCann prides herself on the fact her team are from a five-star background. "We approach everything we do as if we're a five-star hotel. From the meet and greet at people's cars to bringing them in and looking after them."
Once the hotel was acquired by the couple, refurbishment of the Grade II-listed property began immediately and was transformational. "It was very traditional and chintzy, with lots of china plates on the walls and strange ornaments," says McCann. "We ripped everything out and started again. We did it room by room,
as well as the restaurant, and it took about 18 months. We brought it up to 'boutique hotel' standard, and I would consider we were the first boutique hotel in Bath."
The majority of the marketing budget focuses on the Olive Tree restaurant, thanks to the highly competitive Bath dining scene, with little reserved for the hotel itself. "We have a high level of repeats and a lot of it is word of mouth - TripAdvisor does us great favours, most of the time," says McCann.
While McCann doesn't believe that social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook necessarily bring in business, they have helped with recruitment.
"When our head chef tweets pictures of the food, it helps us attract staff. When chefs see what we're producing, they get in touch," she says.
The hotel faces the same challenge as every other: trying to get customers to book direct rather than through third parties. "Unfortunately, they're a necessary evil," says McCann.
Online travel agencies make up 19% of bookings, with 60% via other methods and 21% through the hotel website.
Best business advice
Through her experience, McCann has come to understand what's important to look for when recruiting. "Historically, I've focused too much on skillset," she explains. "Time has taught me that the things you can't train are the things you should be looking for. Personality and attitude are the two most important
things - you can teach everything else."
A statement on the Queensberry hotel website reinforces their appreciation of good staff: "Without your people, however luxurious it may be, your property is just a pile of bricks."
Another thing McCann has learned from a management perspective is to be consistent with both staff and customers, regardless of personal issues.
"If you're having a bad day, as the manager, people should not be able to see it and worry about coming to you - I think that's really important," she says.
Continuing to improve the property is the agenda for the foreseeable future, with a bathroom refurbishment programme just beginning and plans to give the restaurant a facelift next year.
"It's one of those things that we as staff notice in the restaurant - the fact that it's looked the same way for 10 to 12 years - but the guests think it looks lovely," says McCann.
"For us, it's time to inject something new and fresh into it, while at the same time balancing that with money."
Spotlight on… the wine list
The wine list at the Olive Tree restaurant was taken over by Joss Rousanne when he joined as restaurant manager in January 2013. Rousanne, a Frenchman passionate about wine and with a background in high-end restaurants, uses the tasting menu as an opportunity to constantly showcase new bottles as part of the wine flights.
Instead of the traditional format of a wine list set out by region, the Olive Tree sets its out by characteristic. Lauren McCann says: "'Green and tangy' is a section, as is 'black fruits'. We might ask a guest what they usually drink, find the wine on our pages, and suggest one with similar characteristics. It's something the AA picked up on and liked."