Viewpoint: Changes for the better

02 August 2019 by
Viewpoint: Changes for the better

Both The Caterer and its spin-off publication Inside Hotels frequently show us the results of huge investment in properties to create wildly different experiences for guests. Just this year, as you may know, the Goring in London opened a new restaurant called Siren, along with a fabulous new bar, and last year Gravetye Manor in Sussex unveiled a splendidly expanded dining room with floor-to-ceiling glass to maximise the enjoyment of its beautiful gardens.

Not only do such schemes require nerves of steel given the expense involved, they also demand imagination. It is a rare skill to be able to come up with unique environments that will delight customers, before anything similar has been tried elsewhere. And, of course, there is a risk it will not be universally liked.

Wherever I've seen major refurbishments, the owners or management have told me "some of our customers don't like the changes we've made - they preferred it as it was." And yet those changes were absolutely necessary to keep up with the expectations of today's discerning guests.

Lots of our member hotels have made dramatic improvements lately and, as an organisation, we're not immune from the need to occasionally rejuvenate our own offerings. For this reason, we engaged a respected agency to carry out some research and suggest ideas to help us ensure that the way we present our brand appeals to a broad age range, and not just to our core customers - although, to my relief, the research reveals we weren't doing so badly with the under-forties after all.

At the Independent Hotel Show this year, for the first time, an award will be presented for "innovation" alongside the established categories. I think this reveals how, as an industry, we value people who are brave enough to do things differently or who stun the rest of us by demolishing a perfectly acceptable restaurant or spa in order to replace it with something greater.

Part of the magic is probably in knowing what to keep. The modest headquarters we inhabit in Wiltshire are modern and functional inside, but we still have the 200-year-old beams above our heads and an ancient stone mounting block outside the door, just in case anybody fancies arriving on horseback. These little features are the first things people notice.

Lacking much in the way of vision myself, I've tended to subscribe to the maxim: "if the clock ain't broke, don't fix it." But I'm clearly surrounded by people of a different cast. To them, it isn't enough for the clock to work properly: they will always want to show the time in some exciting new way, even if that means smashing the clock to pieces and starting all over again.

Peter Hancock is the chief executive of Pride of Britain hotels

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