BoHos winner interview: Nassar Khalil, Dunalastair Hotel Suites

Nassar Khalil, Dunalastair Hotel Suites owner and director of hotels and leisure at Henley PLC, talks to BHN about winning the BoHo for UK Country & Coastal 21-50 rooms.

• What does it mean to Dunalastair Hotel Suites to have won the BoHo award for UK Country and Coastal 21-50 rooms?

“We are most delighted and following the launch of Dunalastair, the hotel has now won a number of awards. We were also Boutique Hotel of the Year at the Scottish Hospitality Awards, we won an award at the Prestige Hotel Awards and we were shortlisted as finalists at the International Hotel and Property Awards, but the one that stood out the most was the BoHo for me thus far. The reason for that is that it is one of the few awards that we’ve won that isn’t decided by a panel of judges. It is decided by actual independent guests who have stayed, experienced Dunalastair’s guest journey and gone through the motions from booking it to check-out.”

“It is so significant to know that my guests whether it be through feedback at the hotel or voting for an award such as the BoHo meant that this is actually an award bestowed upon us by the very people we are in business to serve and not some sort of obscure panel. It meant everything to us as it is a clear statement of approval from our guests on our offer, standards and the guest experience itself. The way in which the BoHo was awarded meant it carried some exceptional significance above some of the other awards that we’ve won.  We are thrilled and very honoured to have won the award in this category.”

• Can you explain what sort of refurbishments took place last year at the hotel?

“The entire property was fully refurbished. We left the outside fabric of the building and the rest of the inside was redone, from the walls to the floors. We were obviously sympathetic to the nature and history of the building so whatever we did had to be in conjunction with celebrating this amazing property. We inherited two buildings which became one large hotel and created a link lobby that forms part of the restaurant with glazed walls that view onto the Shiehalion mountains and the waterfall. Everything in the building was renovated to a five-star standard. This was not cheap as the attention to detail in the design meant we spent just shy of six million pounds.”

• How do you effectively market your location in the Scottish Highlands as an attractive proposition for customers?

“That’s an easy one for us. When I travelled to the likes of Cornwall and Devon, I went in the knowledge that I was never going to find a full-blown high-end boutique hotel so I settled for a clean, fine bed and breakfast. With that in mind, I wanted to create something that is so unique and different that you wouldn’t get it anywhere else and so for us, it’s an easy sell. You have high net worth individuals who want to go to the Highlands to shoot and play golf and want to detach from day-to-day work but they can’t find hotels in the area they want to be in where there is tranquillity and an ornate environment with nature that does not compromise the comfort and luxuries of a five-star hotel.” 

“We provide a platform and a base that no one else provides in that area of Scotland. We stand tall and distinctive in what we provide and therefore attract the most discerning guests you would expect. High net worth guests and families stay at Dunalastair because they appreciate design and exceptional service in a comfortable environment they can be themselves in. We attract away day business groups from hedge fund companies and luxury car clubs for a few days and shooting parties from all over the world so providing the day-to-day luxuries is second nature at my hotel. It’s a no-brainer to us to create a base where you have all these amazing outdoor pursuits by providing the missing piece of the puzzle. A five-star home away from home hotel to complement the picturesque beauty of the area.”

• You have a variety of suites at Dunalastair Hotel Suites but how do you cater for different demographics to stay at your hotel (families, corporate groups, couples etc)?

“Part of the design of the hotel is to provide flexibility, independence and transparency for all guests. What I mean by that is we provide at least six room types whereby if you are a couple staying at this five-star hotel and your budget is £120 a night, we don’t want to exclude you from that luxury bracket. You would go for one of our superior rooms, which is still luxurious, and these come with all sorts of extras such as Carrera tiled bathrooms, customised bathrobes, slippers, homemade shortbread butter cookies, fresh milk and mineral water etc. The only difference is rather than having a massive suite with a sitting area, you have a room which is still cosy and a lot larger than many five-star rooms in London and we cater for that price bracket.” 

“We have many family rooms with more space, two rooms, sitting room family suites, suites that are interconnecting etc, so families can enjoy all Dunalastair has to offer. We offer all of these various flexible arrangements so our guests have a broad choice appealing to various segments of the market share. Families, couples and the single traveller can all be comfortable. We can make arrangements for larger and smaller groups to accommodate numerous travel intents. These groups sometimes want a certain arrangement so we’ve designed the suites to ensure the flexibility is there and we don’t ever turn down business.”

• How do you get your customers to relay their feedback to you directly?

“As you would expect in any five-star hotel, we have special feedback questionnaires in every room that they are welcome to fill in at any time. When we do our turndown service, refreshments are provided as standard and we replenish guests’ aromatherapy toiletries, mineral water, fresh milk, shortbread cookies, teas and coffees. We provide a second questionnaire in there because we always want to hear what our guests say but also when our guests leave, they receive an email two or three hours following check-out, thanking them for their stay, recognising how many times they have stayed with us, if they are regular and we always send them to a feedback link too.” 

“Feedback is precious as it is the best way of helping us evolve with guest expectations. We also encourage them to express themselves publicly on platforms such as TripAdvisor and social media and we welcome feedback, however positive or otherwise.” 

• What are your future plans with regards to possible expansion?

“Now that we are getting busy, there are major plans to add a spa and additional suites including five chalets to the side of the grounds of the hotel which would have glazed walls in front with views onto the waterfall. They would be even larger duplex suites.”

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