Hospitality and story-telling: Boutique and Lifestyle Hotel Summit 2015

UK: More than 200 industry professionals gathered in London this week for the fifth annual Boutique and Lifestyle Hotel Summit.

UK: More than 200 industry professionals from as far afield as Italy, Sweden, Canada, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, the US and Ireland gathered in London this week for the fifth annual Boutique and Lifestyle Hotel Summit.

Held at The Montcalm Marble Arch, the event began on the other side of London with a hotel tour taking in South Place Hotel, The Hoxton and the M by Montcalm – where delegates enjoyed a cocktail reception and a speed business card swap.

The Summit kicked off on day two with a welcome from host Piers Brown who set the scene with some thought-provoking statistics, including that the US boutique and lifestyle hotel sector is predicted to grow by at least five per cent per annum until 2019, and that he expects the European market to show similar growth.

Piers then interviewed motorsports supremo David Richards – former world rally champion, Formula 1 team boss and now boutique hotel owner. Richards set out his philosophy for his Idle Rocks and St Mawes hotels in Cornwall: “They have to be a reflection of us – small boutique hotels need to be true to the owners and their values. The biggest challenge we have faced has been getting the right staff. We wanted to employ local staff, and to attract the best people to the property we have needed to show ambition.”

Moving from Cornwall to Sweden, but retaining a nautical feel was the next session, a case study of two adjacent but very different hotels in Umea, Sweden, presented by Erik Nissen Johansen of design form Stylt Trampoli. Nissen warned of the dangers of pandering to trends when designing hotel interiors, promoting the use of a building or an area’s history to tell a story that would never be out of date.

As well as the buzz in the room, the event created a real impact on social media, with the hashtag #BoHoSummit, trending at number seven in the UK at one point in the morning.

A breakout session on managing a hotel conversion or refurbishment was chaired by Gerard Nolan of Gerard Nolan & Partners who said that it is becoming increasingly difficult for small independent hoteliers to find the right sites for their properties. “Boutique hotels have traditionally been owned by entrepreneurs but the big brands have come flooding in to the market recently.

Peter Banks, managing director of Rudding Park is Harrogate said it is essential for hotel owners to “get to know who pulls the strings in your area – politicians, councillors, planners and so on. It’s also very important, when works are going on, to be deeply personally involved. Get to know your builders, be on site every day, and know what is happening.”

Banks also warned that “design and build contracts are a disaster for hotelier, as the builder will be doing the job as cheaply as possible and the owner is left holding the baby when he needs to apologise to a guest when there is no hot water”.

When making FF&E decisions, banks said hoteliers should put the guest at the heart if every decision – “ask yourself about every element: does it add value for the guest?”

In a panel on sustainability chaired by Chris Burgess of Considerate Hoteliers, Nick Rayner of EPR Architects emphasised how much progress has been made in building efficiency, saying “it’s becoming increasingly hard to distinguish between a well-designed building and a sustainable building”.

A further breakout on adding the boutique hotel touch to pubs kicked off with moderator James Hacon of Elliotts saying that inns with rooms marked the very start of the hospitality industry and that things have come circle with the recent tend for upmarket pubs with rooms.

Dan Brod, of the Beckford Arms, said it’s vital to remember that “the design of your rooms is less important than the atmosphere and welcome on offer downstairs in the pub. Guests at rural pubs with rooms want to tap in to the local feel of the property.” He added that “instilling your hospitality ethos in to your staff is the biggest challenge in this business”.

Other sessions at the Summit covered branding, investment, the role of the general manager. Look out for further news and reaction from the Summit next week.

www.boutiquehotelsummit.com

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