James Stewart is the general manager of the new 43-bedroom Bowood Hotel, Spa and Golf resort in Wiltshire, which forms part of a Grade I-listed park owned by Lord and Lady Lansdowne. He spoke to Gemma Sharkey about the launch
Caterer Tell us about Bowood
James Stewart The main house and 2,000 acres of land have been in the Lansdowne family for 250 years. Lord Lansdowne inherited it from his father in 1972 and opened it up to the public in 1975. We currently receive around 150,000 visitors a year and hold concerts for up to 20,000 people. It's been Lansdowne's vision to create a hotel ever since he inherited the property and he always wanted to develop the community aspect of it but the time was never right to go about it until 2007.
Caterer Given the size of the estate, why is the hotel relatively small?
JS We wanted a manageable amount of rooms for personal, private and corporate groups, and to be able to look after guests' needs on a personal level. We're joining the Pride of Britain consortium in August, and for it to accept us means we're on the same level as places likeCalcot Manor [in the Cotswolds], although I think we have more of a ‘destination' aspect too.
Caterer What were the main challenges?
JS Organising the design team and the structural engineers. The end product had to be developed to the highest quality, and be sympathetic to a Grade-I English heritage building. Conservation and local planning were key, as well as green elements. We've created a biomass plant, which will enable us to produce our own energy from woodchips, generating our hot water and heating. The spa also has a cedar roof so that it blends in with the surroundings.
Caterer Did you have any staffing issues?
JS We didn't really because we're using the existing business team working for Lord Lansdowne. Most of them worked for the previous marquess for an average of nine years. As for the new team, we got our executive housekeeper from the Bath Spa and the reception manager from Von Essen's Ston Easton Park in Somerset, meaning we're putting high calibre people in key positions.
Caterer What will the food offerbe like?
JS We'll have a 64-seat restaurant with a theatre kitchen. Head chef Chris Dawson will use produce from the garden and locally sourced ingredients. We're aiming for two or three AA rosettes.
Caterer So what will this hotel offer that others can't?
JS There isn't another hotel in the South West like this - it's like a mini Gleneagles - and we're offering value for money with transparent pricing: dinner, bed and breakfast for two people will be £180, which is £10 to £20 below our competitors. Plus, it's a lovely place to work. I genuinely smile every morning when I come into work and the team feels the same. Watch this space - we're aiming for AA hotel of the year.