Chris Rouse, general manager of the Turnberry hotel for 20 years and former Hotelier of the Year, has died at the age of 76. He had been suffering from dementia.
During his tenure at the helm of the legendary Ayshire hotel on the west coast of Scotland, Rouse was renowned as the consummate hotelier who held the highest standards and was passionate about inspiring the team he built up around him. He oversaw the property during an extensive refurbishment and remodelling of what is now a five-red-AA-star, 157-bedroom hotel, and in the process won a clutch of awards for the property including the 1993 Catey for Hotel of the Year. He was named Hotelier of the Year by The Caterer in 1996.
Born in 1941 and brought up on the edge of the Peak District, Rouse studied hotel and catering at the College of the Fylde, Blackpool, and entered the industry during the early 1960s as a trainee manager for British Transport Hotels (BTH). He worked for BTH in Paris, Wiesbaden and Madrid, before returning to the UK as assistant manager and house manager at Gleneagles hotel, Perthshire, taking over as deputy general manager in 1969.
During the 1970s, Rouse undertook a number of managerial roles at the Old Course hotel, St Andrews and the Welcombe hotel, Stratford-upon-Avon, before being appointed to Turnberry as general manager. He was made a director of the hotel, which overlooks the Isle of Arran and Mull of Kintyre, in 1993.
Rouse led the hotel through its change of ownership from Orient-Express Hotels to Nitto Kogyo in 1987 and immediately set about persuading the independently-owned Japanese group to invest £20m to transform the hotel into a world-leading luxury spa resort with conference facilities and championship standard golf courses.
Central to Rouse's style as a hotelier was his focus on customer satisfaction. "We have to put ourselves in our customers' shoes and anticipate their needs," he told The Caterer in 1996. "It's easy to be defensive when a problem arises and say ‘ah, but….' The client's not interested in our problems. If we get it wrong, we do so with a smile and put it right as quickly as we can."
Rouse was a member of the Scottish divisional committee of the British Hospitality Association, west of Scotland committee of Institute of Directors, UK committee of Leading Hotels of the World, founder member of Connoisseurs of Scotland, Royal Academy of Culinary Arts and Master Innholder.
Following his retirement in 1998, Rouse took time to enjoy the leisure interests he had for a long time put on hold including golf, reading, light classical music, deep-sea fishing and collecting wine.
Among many of Rouse's former colleagues and other former winners of the coveted Hotelier of the Year accolade who paid tribute to Rouse was Richard Edwards, former general manager of the Chester Grosvenor hotel and the inaugural winner of the award in 1983. "Chris was an old school man, his standards, for both employees and guests, were set high. He expected and asked for perfection, an aspiration he transmitted to his personal life - he was hospitable to a fault."
Terry Holmes, executive director at Red Carnation Hotels and 1985 Hotelier of the Year described Rouse as "a legendary and unforgettable general manger" who was a passionate member of the Master Innholders.
"He was always great fun to sit next to at any industry function. To know Chris was an privilege, to be his friend was an honour."
Harry Murray, chairman of Lucknam Park and 1986 Hotelier of the Year, met Rouse more than 50 years ago at BTH.
"I am deeply saddened by his passing and my thoughts are with his family and in particular his two sisters. Chris was a consummate hotelier, a true Master Innkeeper who demanded the highest standards from his staff without compromise."
Founder of Malmaison and more recently the Dakota and Dakota Deluxe brands and 1993 Hotelier of the Year, Ken McCulloch, said: "Chris was a proper old school hotelier, who employed the most amazing and consistent standards."
Peter Lederer, former chairman of Gleneagles, who followed Rouse as Hotelier of the Year in 1997, described him as "a great leader, manager and inspiration".
"Around the world there are people who owe their training and start to Chris. At Turnberry, his style, attention to detail and personal touch were legendary but he also saw the bigger picture. He was a huge supporter of British and Scottish tourism. He would the first to sign up for a roadshow in the early days and was a founder member of Connoisseurs Scotland. Chris was a true professional and I was proud to be considered a friend."
Peter Bates, who has enjoyed a global sales and maketing career in hotels and is currently based in New York as president and founder of Strategic Vision, said he first met Rouse shortly after he arrived at Turnberry.
"For me it was my very first consultancy assignment and together we worked to find new market sectors, improve markets that were already successful and reposition the resort. His enthusiasm and introduction to selling Scotland made me jump at the opportunity a few years later to move to Scotland myself when Gleneagles Hotels was formed. However, Chris was much more than a great hotelier, he also had a great understanding of the golf industry and how to navigate Turnberry through the golf "corridors of power" to make sure Turnberry was always featured.
"Working with the R&A to ensure Turnberry maintained its place on the Open Circuit and working with important influencers such as Mark McCormick from IMG to bring the best of golf to the western coast of Scotland. In later life, he was the chairman of Connoisseur Scotland [now known as Luxury Scotland] and led the charge in bringing the luxury message to international markets."
Michael Purtill, general manager, of the Capital hotel, London, worked with Rouse at Turnberry from 1995 to 2000 when he was operations manager. "Chris was a truly great hotelier and a kind, generous and thoughtful man," he said. "He inspired many people to become the best they could be and earned the respect of all of his team and through his passion for service he drove us all to focus all our energy on delivering the best possible experiences for our guests.
"Chris's attention to detail was phenomenal, and under his leadership Turnberry was a truly spectacular hotel."
Sara Jayne Stanes, chief executive of the Royal Academy of Culinary Arts, said: "Chris was a very active honorary member of the Royal Academy of Culinary Arts for many years before he retired. He made a significant contribution to our welfare in the style and spirit of hospitality at its best. He was a true hospitality leader.
Rouse died on Saturday 3 March in a nursing home, where he welcomed visitors in the lobby as though they were hotel guests until six months ago. He is survived by two sisters.
Videos from The Caterer archives