Claire Jones is the newly appointed managing director of Swinton Estates, a country club, spa and castle hotel in Ripon in North Yorkshire, which she joined in 2015. She talks to Katie Pathiaki about her love of hotels and why she is launching the Swinton Academy recruitment initiative
Where did you start your career?
My first job was with a leisure company, as an assistant to the directors, who had a large café-bar and entertainment portfolio. They were constantly expanding and acquiring new properties and I was fortunate to work alongside them and the architects to design each of the new openings.
What did you gain from this role?
I think it was this role that piqued my interest in commercial property development and every subsequent role has had some sort of development aspect. I learned that you have to watch the market, not just in your locality but further afield, to identify the new trends and be ahead of them if possible, and to be prepared to reinvent a brand if required.
Did you always want to work in hotels?
Yes and no. While I love hotels, I have enjoyed an incredibly diverse career, which has equipped me with skills for leading teams, developments and transformational change in any arena, from law enforcement to country estates.
What plans do you have for Swinton Country Club & Spa?
We are at the beginning of a really exciting journey. The concept brings together all of the activities and wonderful experiences the 20,000-acre country estate has to offer, under the one banner of the Country Club. Swinton is becoming a destination in its own right, synonymous with luxury, wellness, sporting pursuits and relaxation in staggeringly beautiful surroundings.
What inspired you to launch the Swinton Academy?
The hospitality industry is facing a huge challenge in terms of recruitment, and country house properties like Swinton Park are feeling this more than most, being in a rural location. We decided that our amazing facilities would provide an incredible training ground for young people. Our plan is to "home grow" the next generation of hospitality stars using the cookery school facilities, spa and hotel as our campus.
What is the biggest lesson you have learned over the years?
What is the biggest challenge facing the industry?
Recruitment. Solutions to automate systems simply do not stack up in a luxury hotel environment, where personalised service is key. Therefore we have little option other than to pay more in terms of salaries and agency fees while competing in an ever-decreasing talent pool.
What is something you want to see happen in the next five years?
I would love to see the appointment of a hospitality minister. As the UK's fourth-largest industry, I think we deserve a stronger voice.
Videos from The Caterer archives