The failure of the Eton Group was appalling. When I sold the business to JJW in early 2007 it was making £5.3m EBITDA. It was extremely profitable. It all went wrong when JJW used its cash to prop up other companies.
I regret selling my hotel group to JJW now. Eton was bought out by Westmount a month ago and it’s now in good hands again. I’d like to see them spend money on capital investment and get it back to where it was before I left.
There are very few transactions in the marketplace at the moment, largely driven by the poor environment and economy that we’re in. Banks haven’t been taking a realistic view of values, but over the course of the next year or so I expect there will be opportunities that arise, driven by the reality of the marketplace rather than holding assets at values of before 2007.
Von Essen is an interesting company. It’s difficult and to some extent slightly ill conceived as it operates in the worst-hit sector of the market – leisure. The group has been starved of capital investment over the years. With these investments you firstly have to put a lot of money in, have a lot of faith in the economy growing and track what commercial values will be.
The budget hotel sector can be fairly pedestrian in terms of attractiveness. It has served a very good and necessary market but it’s not particularly exciting to stay in. I see a gap in the market there.
Technology in the industry has improved massively in the past few years, but hoteliers have to be careful. They need to make sure their tech provides a service and is user friendly. If so it can be a brilliant and useful bit of kit in terms of adding value in hotels, and is particularly what the younger guest is looking for.
Food is definitely the worst aspect of budget hotels. In the budget end there’s major scope for improving and being innovative.
Our greatest resource is the people that work for us. I know that’s often said but it’s often the biggest asset overlooked. If you don’t take time and effort to train you will fail to extract the best out of your greatest asset.
There’s a lot of lip service paid to investing in staff, more than in reality. The switched-on operators are aware that the biggest asset any business has is its staff, but there are a lot of people that don’t look after them in the way they should do.
It’s a young and mobile group of people that work in the hotel industry, which means you’ll always be training staff for someone else. But there’s nothing wrong in that. As they’re so young, unless you’re able to offer them opportunities with you, they’ll move onto something else.
The imported labour are brilliant at their jobs and quite often better and take more pride in it than Brits. I know many good British people working in management and staff positions in the hotel sector that are great, but we have a very cosmopolitan market and that is something to be proud of and worked on.
I put my success down to hard work, the ability to drive a workforce, and getting the timing right in the decisions I make in terms of acquisition and development costs. They are all parts of the puzzle of putting a good business together, having a good business plan and being able to operate it.
I love the creativity of the hotel industry. I’ve largely worked in management and development and I’ve found it’s a business you can really make something out of.
Hoteliers should avoid being greedy during the 2012 Olympics. In the overall it’s a very short time frame and we’ve just got to really work on ensuring that what we’ve got becomes a tremendous export opportunity to show the world just how great the UK is.