BHN sits down with Mario Ovsenjak, general manager of the luxury boutique Hotel Gotham, to talk about adapting to changing guest and employee needs and how this is shaping the hotel experience.
• Earlier in 2023, the owners of The Gotham changed hands. What does this mean for the team and future plans for the brand?
Although the physical entity changed ownership, this has not resulted in any operational changes for Hotel Gotham Manchester. Indeed, this sale will assist with investing into developments of next two Gothams, in Newcastle and Bristol, where works are progressing in earnest.
• Traveller behaviour and spending trends reveal a preference for experiences. How do you define and measure the success of a guest’s stay at The Gotham?
Around 80 per cent of Gotham’s guests come to us for an experience. Gotham is more than just a hotel – it is a place to stay in some of the quirkiest yet luxury surroundings available, a place to sample food and beverages like no other, a place that can whisk you around the city in our Bentley Flying Spur, a place where you can dance the night away to a big band live music night, or just sip on unique cocktails on our rooftop terraces. And once you fall in love with all of the above, you are enticed to become a member which opens the door to all more.
The simplest way to ascertain what our guests enjoy is the amount of packages booked, such as the Gotham Experience.
• How do you adapt and evolve your guest experience strategies to meet the expectations of the modern traveller? Which is stronger – amenities or services?
Having a ‘finger on the pulse’ of the latest trends and expectations is key. It is very easy to sit back and rest to successes of the years gone by, but that would be equal to moving backwards.
New technologies, new markets, new expectations, and many other factors need to be taken into consideration when compiling a particular offer. Other than exploring the latest traveller trends, the key here is to have an input from your senior team and as many stakeholders as possible. Different life experiences will bring a different set of ideas to the table. The aim is to create an offering that will be recognisable, unique and interesting.
Amenities versus service? It has to be a healthy balance between the two, but the best amenities in the world will not give desired guest experience if the delivery is not perfect. Good old fashioned hospitality will always leave a great impression.
• What trends in the hospitality industry do you believe will have the most significant impact on guest experiences in the near future, and how are you preparing for them?
Other significant directions of travel continue to be in sustainability, technology, and overall corporate-social responsibility. Hotel (and the leisure industry as a whole) cannot stop on eliminating plastic straws – we must do more and strive to deliver on the guest experience whilst looking to minimise the environmental impacts of doing so. I am in continuous conversations with manufacturers and providers of latest solutions in this regard, so that I can look what improvements this Grade II-listed building can accept in order to be greener.
Technological advances are almost impossible to keep on top of, so being ‘on trend’ is a big part of my medium-term strategy. AI is developing at frightening speed; I need and want to learn more on how AI can further enhance the guest experience.
Finally, adding to the environmental efforts, there must be a wider sustained commitment to the community. Charitable donations are great, but it’s not the only way to give back. Community groups, educational visits, mentorships, apprenticeships, feedback and communications with the local government are all important ways of contributing to the society.
It is my belief that the modern traveller will appreciate a quality offering and service provided by the combination of latest technology, great people and organisations who show wider responsibility.
• How is your role as a general manager evolving in response to changing guest and employee needs?
Whilst the overall accountability has not changed much, the differences between my role today and the one I’ve been trained in are evident.
Guest interactions are fast paced and require more urgency, greater creativity and agility. In terms of looking after employee needs, it is important to understand individual expectations for each of our colleagues. For example – a team member who has an ambition to build a career in hospitality will have different requirements than someone who is looking for a low responsibility work during the school hours. I see it my role to understand those differences and to encourage my senior team to offer guidance, counsel and mentorship on all matters affecting our colleagues, and to offer assistance wherever possible.
Additionally, looking after one’s mental health and wellbeing is becoming more prominent, so engaging with organisations and professionals who can offer a qualified support if needed is something that I would encourage all of my peers to consider.