As Jumeirah Carlton Tower celebrates its 50th anniversary, general manager Derek Picot tells Janet Harmer how the hotel has maintained standards and predicts what the next half century might look like
How has the Jumeirah Carlton Tower maintained its position as one of London's leading five-star hotels over the past 50 years? Primarily it is due to investment, which has always been forthcoming from its different owners, allowing the hotel to evolve in both look and style.
For instance, when the hotel opened in 1962 there were 315 rooms. Now there are 211, as a result of the number of suites increasing today to 35% of our total inventory. Other new additions include the swimming pool on the second floor and the health spa suite on the ninth floor.
The other key reason for the hotel's success is the staff. To run a luxury hotel, you have to have longevity and over 40% of the staff have been here for more than 10 years, which makes an enormous difference to the continuity of service which guests love.
What has been the hotel's secret in retaining staff? We reward our staff well and provide them with benefits. Service charges are distributed to all staff across the hotel. Anyone with more than five years' service receives five weeks' vacation. We also allow staff to take off an extra day to take part in charity and voluntary activities such as cycling to Brighton in aid of the British Heart Foundation or getting involved in cleaning up the Thames.
Staff are also kept fully engaged in the hotel's development by encouraging them to give their thoughts about new initiatives such as a new menu in the Foyer. Building a strong community of staff who work well together ultimately benefits the guests.
What will the next 50 years bring for the Carlton Tower? It's difficult to say as it all rather depends on the longevity of the building. If you were creating a luxury hotel from scratch today on this site, you would probably do it very differently with larger bedroom and greater space utilisation.
While the ethos of the staff will remain the same, it would be helpful to create better relaxation areas for them and in the long term introduce more flexible working to encourage a greater number of women into the hotel.
Over the years we have seen a shift in the ethnicity of the staff. At one time we relied very heavily on an Afro-Caribbean workforce, now we have a large number of East Europeans. I would like to see more people from within the UK coming to work for us.
Jumeirah took over the running of the hotel 10 years ago. What has the company, best known for its properties in Dubai, brought to the Carlton Tower? As one of the world's top luxury hotel groups, Jumeirah brings the very best in products and delivery of service to the hotel. The company has very exacting standards and has been able to maintain those standards up until now as it is relatively small, with just 12 hotels around the world. But the group now has plans to grow to 50 hotels within five or six years, so it is going to be more difficult to ensure those standards remain in place.
Each hotel opened by Jumeirah aims to become iconic and connected to the location in which it sits. So although the hotel has an Arabic name attached to it, this property has many quintessential British elements. The Rib Room, for instance, which has been an enduring success for the hotel, is very British. We will be relaunching the restaurant in September following a facelift, but the menu will largely remain the same as it has such a loyal following.
What are the key elements of the Jumeirah service? Responsiveness and sensitivity are key. Our guests are paying a high price and expect a world-class service which represents value to them. For instance, it is not good enough that we provide a turn down service - we have to do it in a particular way, if required. One guest asks that we do turn down at sunset, which can be tricky as the times changes by about three minutes each day - but responding positively equates to luxury for the guest.
The ability to know when to engage and when to hold back is essential. For example, dealing with first-time guests is a huge challenge as, of course, we would very much like them to come back. If we discover a guest is interested in tennis, then we would go out of our way to suggest locations to play the game nearby and offer to get tickets for Wimbledon. Thoughtful service works - 63% of our first-time guests return to stay within a year.
How do you ensure you remain attractive and relevant to younger guests? It is very important to attract a younger clientele all the time to sustain the business. Technology is important for the younger age group and for us that means the 35 to 45-year-old market. So by the end of this month, all rooms will have an iPad. Social marketing is essential in engaging younger customers and we now have a full-time member of the marketing team who spends all day on Twitter and Facebook. For golf fans, we've introduced a golf simulator in the health club.
You arrived at the Carlton Tower in 2003. What are the key attributes you have brought to the hotel? The role calls for visionary leadership and I hope I have been able to communicate the company's vision on strategy and profit to every member of the team. Our success over the past eight years, though, is not mine alone. While I verbalise, enthuse and motivate the team, the staff are the ones who deliver the world-class service.
During my first few years here I concentrated on ensuring the quality demanded by Jumeirah was in place and in adjusting the balance of international business. During Hyatt's tenure, 60% of business came from the United States - now it is around 25%. The rest of our guests are divided equally between the UK, mainland Europe and the Middle East, which represents a much better balance overall.
What does your role as regional vice-president of Europe for Jumeirah Hotels entail? I'm responsible for the two Jumeirah hotels in London - the Carlton Tower and the Lowndes hotels - and the development of two hotels in Europe. The Frankfurt hotel opens in August 2011 and the Majorca property will follow in February or March next year. By the end of this year, with openings taking place in the Maldives, Shanghai, Abu Dhabi, Kuwait, the British Virgin Islands and Marrakech, the company will have 20 hotels worldwide.
I'm also looking at opportunities for opening other Jumeirah hotels across Europe and am usually on a plane every couple of weeks on my way to look at potential sites. As a new brand to each city, it is my job to persuade owners that we would be able to produce a better revenue stream than the competition.
Jumeirah is keen to open hotels in Paris, Vienna, one or more Italian cities and Scotland. We would also be happy to open another hotel in London. Despite all the new hotels here, occupancy in the city has not yet reached capacity.
derek picot cv
2003-present General manger, Jumeirah Carlton Tower, London, and regional vice-president, Europe, Jumeirah Hotels
2002-03 Regional general manager, Le Meridien Piccadilly London
1999-02 Regional general manager, Le Meridien London Heathrow
1995-98 Regional director, Le Royal Meridien King Edward, Toronto
1986-95 General manager, Sheraton Park Tower, London
1980-83 Executive assistant manager, Kuwait Hilton
highlights of half a century at the carlton tower
1961 Commissioned by the Cadogan Estate and designed by Michael Rosenauer, the Carlton Tower opens as the tallest hotel in London with 18 storeys. Its room rates range from £5 for a single room to £12.50 for a suite. Owned by the Hotel Corporation of America (HCA), it was the company's first overseas venture.
1970 The owners decide to change the hotel's name to the Sonesta.
1971 Sir Trevor Chinn, founder of Lex Motors, buys the hotel from the HCA.
1972 The name change is judged to be unsuccessful and is reversed to the Carlton Tower.
1975 Shots are fired at the hotel by the IRA. Fortunately, the table by the window in the Rib Room was placed at a right angle to the window and the bullets passed between diners with no injuries.
1977 The hotel is sold to the present owners, a Jersey trust, and Hyatt take over its management, making it their headquarters for Europe and the Middle East.
1980 The hotel's Chelsea Room restaurant, under executive chef Bernard Gaume, is awarded a Michelin star and holds it for eight consecutive years.
2001 Hyatt's contract ends and the Carlton Tower comes under the management of Jumeirah.
2011 The Carlton Tower is voted on to the Conde Nast Gold List 2011 as one of the best hotels in the world, as it celebrates its half century.