Hotelier of the Year 2004

24 January 2005
Hotelier of the Year 2004

The winner of the Hotelier of the Year Award 2004 is Patrick Elsmie, director and general manager of the Gleneagles hotel, Perthshire, Scotland.

What the judges said:

  • Robin Hutson, 2003 Hotelier of the Year: "Patrick is the consummate hotelier, doing a very difficult job and doing it successfully. Gleneagles is a huge hotel in the middle of nowhere. Patrick is literally creating every roomnight."

  • Nicholas Rettie, managing director, Great Eastern Hotel: "Patrick is unfailingly courteous and well mannered and thus represents our industry extremely well to the outside world. The fact that he is an avid motorcyclist really means there is no contest!"

  • Ricci Obertelli, global development director, Dorchester Group: "Patrick makes his job enjoyable through innovation."

  • Albert Hampson, business manager, AA Hotel Services: "The quality of service and hospitality has really come together in the past three years. Elsmie has used exceptional marketing, built a brand-new wing, and brought in Andrew Fairlie's restaurant."

  • Harry Murray, managing director of Lucknam Park: "Patrick has an eye for detail, attention to quality and a passionate caring for guests. He leads his team in a very difficult operation."

  • Dominic Walsh, business reporter, the Times: "Patrick has strong business acumen. He's clearly had to appeal to the home market and he's done that with great marketing skills, creating a range of packages."

Award Criteria:

  • Exhibits strong attention to detail
  • Is willing to impart knowledge to staff
  • Has an exemplary business track record
  • Has the personal touch with guests
  • Is totally dedicated to the industry

A world-class career After crab fishing in Alaska to finance a trip down the West Coast of America, Elsmie studied hotel management at Oxford Polytechnic. His first jobs were with Richmond Gate Hotels, running the bar at a local golf club, and at the Rank Organisation, as assistant manager of a large Heathrow restaurant. In 1977 he bought a one-way ticket to Hong Kong, where he stayed for seven years, meeting his wife, Pat, while there. He worked first at the Excelsior Hotel and then the Mandarin Oriental, with whom he relocated to Bangkok. After two years in Thailand, he moved to the St James Club resort in Antigua for one year, before becoming resident manager of Gleneagles in 1986. Four years later he moved to South Africa where he opened a golf resort. Elsmie returned to Scotland as general manager of the Old Course Hotel in St Andrews, and in 1999 moved to Gleneagles.

Sponsor: The Hotelier of the Year award is sponsored by Louis Jadot

What's it like to win?

Robin Hutson, Hotelier of the Year 2003, on the trials and smiles that come with the role:

It was a total surprise to be chosen Hotelier of the Year. But I was delighted. One of the worst things was giving the acceptance speech at the Hotelier of the Year lunch last December. I was absolutely petrified. At that kind of event you can't just fall into some ad hoc ramble. I also gave a speech at the Master Innholders' conference in January. This is part of the deal for the Hotelier of the Year, I'm told.

One of the nicest things about the award was the recognition from my peers. I had a whole batch of letters from people congratulating me, and that was great.

During this year so many people have mentioned the award, either as journalists writing about it or through recognition from people in the industry. It's like belonging to a small, elite club, but one in which everyone is very humble, with no crowing.

I think a good hotelier is someone who really listens to what the customer wants. It's easy to keep doing the same thing, but what really marks a winning formula is one in which customers lead the way. A good hotelier is also one who can really develop a team. The 100% employee has yet to be born. Sometimes you have to identify and match the strengths of one person against the weaknesses of another. We have a lot of young and home-grown talent and it's important to bring people along, so that they stay with you and don't leave you.

I'll be sad to see my trophy go to someone else and sit on their mantelpiece. Being Hotelier of the Year has been a wonderful experience.

How do you see the hoteliers of the future?

The job of the hotelier is increasingly difficult as the market grows more competitive. We asked some former Hoteliers of the Year to tell us what they think the future holds.

Gordon Campbell Gray
Hotelier of the Year 2002

I worry that the individualism of the hotelier will be lost in the future.

The bigger the company, the less autocracy a hotelier will have. It is important to maintain an environment where individual hoteliers can thrive and don't have to run a hotel by a manual. It is the managers who make hotels special. They need great originality and passion. We are in the kindness business. A lot of our decisions are based on kindness between our staff and our guests. If we treat our staff kindly then they, in turn, will treat our guests with kindness.

Where people go wrong is in not thinking their concepts through. A concept has to be 100%. Anyone can create the first half of a concept. The challenge is in making it complete, in putting that second half in.

George Goring Hotelier of the Year 1990

The future Hotelier of the Year will have to be one of two different kinds of people: mercenary nomads, who are prepared to work for several large different corporations during their career, or dedicated visionaries with talent and charisma who run their own businesses.

There will be three developing problems:

  • Middlemen - parasites who deliberately set up business to step between the hotelier and his customers, performing jobs that the traditional hotelier should do for himself;
  • Volatile large national and international corporations, which are very much here today and very much gone tomorrow; and
  • Political intrusion and political correctness in health and safety; racial and sexual discrimination; employment and insurance legislation; increasing government nannying - for example on smoking, drinking and obesity.

Ramon Pajares Hotelier of the Year 1984

Leadership qualities and skills will be increasingly important, including, among other things, the ability to use specialists in areas that a general manager (who is usually a "generalist") cannot reach effectively.

Martin Skan Hotelier of the Year 1991

The hotelier of the future will have to operate with more and more red tape, and with hands tied more firmly behind his or her back.

Sex discrimination, disability discrimination, not to mention racial discrimination and general employee rights will prove a tremendous challenge. These issues will take up more and more time at the expense of guest relations and promotion. To be honest, I'm glad I'm at the end of my career in the hotel industry, and not just starting out.

Harry Murray
Hotelier of the Year 1986

The hotelier of the future will require a passion for hotelkeeping combined with the ability to meet customers' requirements. Customers have more choice, and they want value for money and a service that exceeds their expectations. Customer response must be the prime pressure in every aspect of the business.

The hotelier of the future must be an inspirational leader, who has a clear vision and the skills to create a highly motivated and passionate team with high self-esteem. He must also listen to his managers and staff, support them and develop their skills. To achieve these objectives, he must delegate and be a good communicator.

The challenge for the future will be to develop a strategy that meets the requirements of the customers, creates an environment where staff can achieve their own aspirations and rewards, and meets the needs of all stakeholders.

Ron Jones Hotelier of the Year 1988

These are the challenges facing managers of the future:

  • Security, international and domestic
    Heighten awareness, employ constant vigilance, incorporate safety and security in planning and design.
  • Heightened competition
    Travel widely and visit, test, assess and learn from the competition. Take the trouble to learn a couple of languages. Constantly update managers' own training.
  • Staff shortages
    Initiate more effective training, and develop empathy with staff at all levels and a concern for their future.
  • Changes in guest expectations
    Monitor the market; check out the competition; innovate.

Ricci Obertelli Hotelier of the Year 1995

We are moving towards a more "global" business. This will apply to country house hotels to a much lesser extent, but the industry is moving rapidly towards a 24-hour day. We have to look at the usage of space in our hotels, and hoteliers increasingly need to consider space in the way a retailer does.

Technology, particularly the internet, will play a huge part. Marketing on the internet will be critical. There must be an understanding that the clients are also an investment for us and the investment is not only in the bricks and mortar. The reality is that our clients will continue to be more sophisticated, so we need to deliver a service that exceeds their expectations at all levels. However, some things will not change. Interaction with people and establishing "relationships" with clients is still fundamental.

Peter Lederer Hotelier of the Year 1997

The challenges will be around the following: vision; values; changing markets; getting the basics and details right every time; innovation; and environment. All require great people and constant development. So tomorrow's Hotelier of the Year will require big ears, an open mind and fast feet.

Past winners:

1983 Richard Edwards, then at the Chester Grosvenor, Chester
1984 Ramon Pajares, then at the Four Seasons, London
1985 Terry Holmes, the Stafford hotel, London
1986 Harry Murray, then at the Imperial hotel, Torquay
1987 Eion Dillon, then at the Copthorne Tara, London
1988 Ronald Jones, then at Claridge's, London
1989 Grete Hobbs, then at Inverlochy Castle, Fort William
1990 George Goring, Goring hotel, London
1991 Martin Skan, Chewton Glen, New Milton
1992 Dagmar Woodward, then at the Mayfair InterContinental hotel, London
1993 Ken McCulloch, then at One Devonshire Gardens, Glasgow
1994 David Levin, the Capital, London
1995 Ricci Obertelli, the Dorchester, London
1996 Chris Rouse, then at Turnberry, Ayrshire
1997 Peter Lederer, Gleneagles, Auchterarder
1998 Nicholas Rettie, then at the Metropolitan, London
1999 Nick Ryan, the Crinan hotel, Argyll
2000 Peter Crome, then at Chewton Glen, New Milton
2001 Karen Earp, Four Seasons Canary Wharf, London
2002 Gordon Campbell Gray, One Aldwych, London
2003 Robin Hutson, Hotel du Vin
2004 Patrick Elsmie, Gleneagles, Perthshire

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