2004's Hotelier of the Year has been playing host to some of the world's most influential leaders. As director and general manager of Gleneagles hotel in Auchterarder, Patrick Elsmie was responsible for making sure this month's G8 summit went smoothly. While some hotel managers might have balked at the logistical and security nightmare, Elsmie simply rose to the challenge.
Speaking to Caterer in August 2005, Elsmie described it as an absolute honour. "It was a privilege managing a hotel that hosted such a major event," he said (Caterer, 21 July 2005, page 42).
It's that ability to pursue business opportunities and to tackle big issues that sets Elsmie apart. In the aftermath of 9/11 he persuaded Gleaneagles owner Diageo to go ahead with a 59-bedroom extension despite an inevitable short-term fall-off of US visitors, who until then had accounted for 22% of guests.
Ever resourceful, he made up for the shortfall by concentrating on the domestic family, leisure and short-break markets. Since Elsmie took up the position at Gleneagles in 1999, UK visitors have increased from 75% to 85% of guests. He has also drummed up new business among Russia's wealthy elite. In fact, each year, more than 60% of guests are new customers.
As with all past hoteliers of the year, his achievements are tangible. Staff are high on his list of priorities. One of his successes has been online recruitment, which attracts up to 400 applications a month. Not only does the Gleneagles website list the jobs on offer and give information on the local area, benefits and training, it goes the extra mile by providing a panoramic image of the staff accommodation.
Elsmie has instilled a strong customer-service ethos into his staff by creating two teams who serve both guests and "internal customers". Front-of-house staff are named the "guest services team" and back-of-house the "service delivery team". His argument is that chefs rely on staff to serve their food to the diner, so really his customer is the waiting staff - he has a service contract with them.
What's interesting about the Hotelier of the Year award, however, is that winners come in all shapes and sizes, and a good hotelier isn't defined just by the fact that he or she runs a five-star establishment. Robin Hutson, winner of the 2003 accolade, was the founder of the ground-breaking Hotel du Vin chain and was recognised for being visionary, original and successful. One judge described him as being an "out-of-the-box entrepreneurial player". Another noted that "he's created a sense of individuality in an era of big brands and conformity".
Hutson himself has strong views on what makes a good hotelier. After winning his accolade he said: "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."
So when you're considering whom to nominate, bear in mind that the judges won't just be looking for somebody who has made their hotel - or hotels - successful. They'll be looking for a hotelier who gives something back to the industry through developing their staff and who doesn't perceive themselves as so important that they no longer have to get involved in the details.
Indeed, Hutson has described being Hotelier of the Year as being part of a small, elite club - "but one in which everyone is very humble, with no crowing".
1983: Richard Edwards, then at the Chester Grosvenor, Chester
1984: RamÁ³n 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
By Rosalind Mullen