Andrew Swindells is general manager at London’s Park Plaza Westminster Bridge hotel, which, when it opens next year will be the largest new build hotel to open in the capital. He has worked in hospitality for more than 30 years including 16 years at the Hilton Birmingham Metropole.
I have always been very comfortable dealing with large numbers of people at events. When I left college I worked in service management for a company that provided catering for race courses in the south east and we might have to serve 8 to 10,000 people at each race course on each race day, so I learned very early on how to deal with large numbers of guests at one time.
Dealing with members of the royal family or senior politicians is a dream. I’ve met many of them including Princess Diana, and they were always very nice and polite. It’s the entourage that can be a bit hard work.
I was working at the Brighton Metropole when the Labour party held their annual conference in 2001. It was two weeks after 9/11 and Tony Blair had announced he was going to stand shoulder to shoulder with George Bush, so everyone was very nervous about hosting the conference that year. You have to be a very calming influence on your team and encourage them to come in and work to their best ability when they are concerned about what might happen.
I’ve never opened a hotel before. You could say Park Plaza is mad employing someone who’s never done one before to manage the biggest hotel opening that London’s ever seen, but for me it’s all about the planning. If you plan and know what needs to be done but are prepared to be flexible if problems arise, you’ll be ok.
You could be a full-time administrator in this job. I could spend all day behind a desk responding to emails, but you have got to be disciplined and make sure you get out there and run a business.
Anyone coming into the industry needs to have a head for business as well as hospitality. It’s the hospitality industry, so you have to be able to make people feel welcome, but to really succeed you need to understand how to run a business and not only understand the profits but also the revenue management aspect which has become so complicated now.
The internet has had a big impact on every aspect of the hotel industry, from guests being able to book rooms, view a hotel or even write instant reviews. The fact that people can book a room instantly online now when they are anywhere in the world has had a major impact on the way we do business. That accessibility didn’t exist 10 years ago.
Guests have become far more discerning over the years. They know what they like and what they want. People eat out and stay in hotels more frequently than they did 20 years ago and so they are getting more and more difficult to please, which is great because it becomes a challenge for us to meet those needs.
I’m probably one of the easiest guests to please, because I’m extremely forgiving. Working in the industry makes you more understanding about the challenges staff in the industry face.
Cleanliness of a room, location, friendly staff and a good restaurant within a hotel are what I look for when I go away. It can be a budget hotel, but as long as the room is clean and comfortable and the staff are friendly I’m happy.