Combining historic grandeur with modern levels of comfort, a lively bar and restaurant and a central location, Edinburgh's George hotel is enjoying a new heyday. Aaron Morby reports
The George hotel, Edinburgh
Best Hotel in Edinburgh 2011, Scottish Hotel Awards
Need to know
The George hotel in Edinburgh mixes Georgian architectural grandeur inside and out with modern, stylishly appointed rooms.
The Grade II-listed four-star hotel is located in the historic heart of Edinburgh, just 10 minutes' walk from the Golden Mile and Edinburgh Castle, which explains why Principal Hayley Group couldn't resist snapping up the old InterContinental hotel seven years ago. A subsequent £20m phased refurbishment programme has transformed a once sleepy hotel into one of the jewels in PH Hotels' crown.
The hotel boasts 249 bedrooms, operates a separately branded restaurant and bar and has nurtured a thriving conferencing and wedding business.
Target market General manager David Welch has more than 30 years' experience managing hotels in Scotland's capital and keeps business brisk with a busy calendar of special offers and promotions.
As a prestigious hotel conveniently close to boutique shops, bars and restaurants, the George can count on a stream of leisure weekenders and business guests, keeping occupancy rates up at over 90% all year round.
"We are not at all seasonal. There is a constant flow of customers, whether it is couples coming for weekend leisure and shopping breaks or business visitors," says Welch.
Tempus brand The George does not just rest on period grandeur alone. Welch has pioneered the introduction of the Tempus bar and restaurant brand at PH Hotels. The Tempus bar offers a lively, cool metropolitan flavour to the hotel and is usually busy with city office workers enjoying cocktails after work.
"We led the development of the Tempus brand and we have created a lively destination bar serving cocktails and Champagne to a thirtysomething crowd," says Welch.
"A few guests have said it can be a bit loud, but we have created a fun and exciting atmosphere within the hotel that offers our customers another dimension during their stay."
Stewart Jarvie, a member of the Master Chefs of Great Britain, runs the Tempus restaurant kitchen, which is organised to cater for all tastes and dining experiences, calling on Scotland's extensive larder of ingredients.
It offers relaxed and informal dining throughout the day, from buffet breakfasts to à la carte lunch and dinner, costing around £22 for a two-course meal.
Business performance The Tempus restaurant and bar ring up about £2m in sales a year, adding to £8m takings from room hire. More recently weddings and conferencing events have thrived and contribute £1m and £1.5m respectively to hotel revenues. Since opening back in 2006, profits have soared two-and-a-half times and are set to grow further this year.
Events Welch says the hotel's grand King's Hall has driven its weddings and conferencing business.
"I believe it's the best event room in Scotland. It was built as the Caledonian Insurance trading hall in 1827.
"It was the heyday of the Empire, and we have created a venue that people are really wowed by. It's now a popular place for Edinburgh's high-society weddings and banqueting events."
From a standing start in 2008, the George now caters for 72 weddings a year and also finds room for student graduation events, which staff go out and sell to students at the city's universities.
"We like to think that if they have a good experience at the student prom, we will keep them as customers for life," explains Welch.
Staff culture Welch is a seasoned hotel manager with clear ideas about motivating his 249 staff.
"We don't want customers thinking of us as a big corporate hotel, and we don't want our staff thinking that way.
"There's no more Powerpoint and management videos. It's about getting the team together and agreeing what we are all striving for."
His cornerstones of building a good culture are focused on respect, fun, ownership and entrepreneurship.
"I started at the bottom, and I have always respected the people at the heavier or dirtier end of the business. Equally, you have to let staff know they really have a say in how the business works if they are to feel real ownership. We're not about creating managers who push; we want leaders who can pull the teams along."
Favourite supplier The George prides itself in its supply of Ballindalloch beef, which come from the oldest Aberdeen Angus herd in the world, directly descended from native cattle found in the north-east of Scotland.
Millers of Speyside rear the hornless cattle, which flourish in the lush pastures on the banks of the Spey in spring and summer and, in winter, are reared on feed containing by-products from the Scotch whisky industry.
"We believe it all goes into the beef, which is succulent and cut and aged how we want," says Welch.
"They produce a succulent, full-flavoured product perfect for the catering trade.
Spotlight on 50 Shades of Passion
Welch says the George hotel's line-up of special offers generates £400,000 in extra revenue a year.
Its latest innovation, 50 Shades of Passion, is inspired by the best-selling novel 50 Shades of Grey.
The playful two-night break is tailored for fans of the book and couples looking to spice things up a little.
Guests booking the £559 package are treated to a premium de luxe room, where chocolates, strawberries, scattered rose petals and massage oil help set the scene for an erotic picnic, with help from Christian Grey's favourite tipple, a bottle of Bollinger Grande Année Rosé.
Welch says paddles, whips and chains are welcome but not included. However, a £20 La Senza shopping voucher is included so ladies can treat themselves to a little something special to keep their "Mr Grey" entertained.
It is one of a host of eye-catching offers that keep customers coming through the doors.
"We have Scrumptious Sundays, Friday Fizz, Come Wine with Me and special event promotions," he explains.
"They tend to be great value for our customer because the add-ons are usually delivered at cost."