BHN Review: Power Breakfast at the Independent Hotel Show (IHS)

UK: Hosted by Zoe Monk, senior editor at Boutique Hotelier, the Power Breakfast at this year’s Independent Hotel Show (IHS) welcomed Robin Hutson of Home Grown Hotels and Justin Salisbury of Artist Residence to the vision stage.

When asked to outline the biggest change of the industry in recent years, it came as no surprise that the advent of technology and the headwind of recruitment were among the first topics to be discussed. What did strike extraordinary was an anecdote by Salisbury, who took over the family business around 10 years ago and recalled receiving booking requests by post – an ironic testament to the world in which we now live.

Before circling back to issues around personnel and staff, the conversation steered towards other tangible challenges such as that to do with development. Salisbury found the lack of cooperation with local authorities to be frustrating, explaining that they “don’t facilitate the process” due to large workloads. 

In contrast, Hutson declared this to be a fortunate situation due to the absence of scrutiny and pressure. He nevertheless emphasised that hoteliers “must be dogged and determined to get through the process” and that they need to “let the building dictate the planning”. 

A mutual view that the two panellists shared was their approach to buildings and design. Salisbury advised not to follow trends, adding that “design shouldn’t be perfect”. Similarly, Hutson confided that he “tries hard not to do the same thing” and went on to say that “individuality is branded by ethos”.

Yet in both cases, it was held that the pair’s heavy involvement in each of their projects was a limiting factor of development. The time and effort dedicated to sourcing the right fabrics and furnishings inevitably affects the parameters of any given plan. That said, it is precisely the intensity of engagement that paves for the individuality that Hutson touched upon. Even Salisbury remarked: “I don’t want to turn into a chain – that thing scares me”.

Hence emerged the next talking point: expansion and progression, with a focus on the preservation of independent spirit. Hutson currently oversees six properties under THE PIG brand, with a further two in Cornwall and Sussex along the way. “We can only take on one property a year,” he said, “and this proved helpful for retention. Promoting from within has helped us a lot for gradual growth”.

Similarly, Salisbury asserted: “We are very people dependent, as we must maintain a feeling of home growth”. Salisbury has four properties under his belt, with an upcoming Bristol location set to open in 2020. He added that “stories give us our sense of identity” and that these stories stem directly from employees. “Take the time to get to know your people. What are their dreams outside of their role? When you establish a link, then the work itself becomes clear,” he recommended.

The notion to recruit on personality than experience is a driving force for Hutson and Salisbury. “I’m looking for passion that tells me I want to invest in developing that person,” said Hutson, stating that ‘careers for life’ is “completely out the window these days”. The look towards a-typical talent pools is but one way to tackle the problem in London – what Salisbury described as a “beast”. He claimed: “People working in the industry know it is a great place to work, but people outside of this don’t (at least not the government, anyway)”.

As the discussion came to a close, final words of advice from either guest speaker centred on the creation of bespoke employment situations – whether this be establishing flexibility in the workplace or treating every team member as an individual. Though as much as the workforce is a hotly debated topic at present, the trajectory of the conversation itself lends to highlight the multifaceted network of the industry and its interrelated obstacles and triumphs.

The Independent Hotel Show is an industry event dedicated to the needs of luxury and boutique hoteliers. Held at Olympia London, registration for the 2020 edition is now open.

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