Grant Hearn on learning from supermarkets, beating Premier Inn and making Travelodge better value

By Peter Ruddick

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Premier inn, Hotel

In an exclusive video interview with BigHospitality, Travelodge chief executive Grant Hearn has revealed how he plans to learn from the growth of supermarkets as he leads the budget hotel operator following its turbulent recent past. 

Speaking as the hotelier announced his new ambitions for Travelodge in London,​ Hearn said he was putting the last two years behind him and wanted to make the brand the best value hotel company in the country, not just the cheapest.

"Any day that I get to spend more time with Travelodge employees than lawyers is a good one," he revealed. "Those sorts of things are history for us now, we are well beyond that."

Competitive

"We have a very clear agenda," Hearn continued. "We have got to make our product competitive with Premier Inn. We are going to continue selling that product at a better price than they do because we are very good at controlling costs.

"There are a number of things we have got to do: we have got to have a consistent product, we have got to access customers who have used us in the past and who have a certain image of us and we also have to pick up our service because our people have had a very concerning time over the last two to three years," he admitted.

The top man at Travelodge first joined the branded budget hotelier in 2003 and served as the chief executive until 2010 when he moved up to the executive chairman role. However less than two years later he was reinstated as CEO​ after Guy Parsons left the business.

The game of executive musical chairs was kicked off after the board requested Hearn re-take the helm as the company underwent a significant financial restructuring. Under his leadership, Travelodge entered a Company Voluntary Arrangement (CVA)​ and control of the business passed from a Dubai-based private equity firm to three new lenders.

The deal saw its debt slashed to £329m and forced the operator to offload around a tenth of its hotels causing concern to its staff who had endured an uncertain period while the restructuring was agreed. It was announced earlier this week that deals for 38 of the 49 properties have now been agreed​ - jobs are expected to be secure. 

Premier Inn

What has been consistent during the turbulent years for Travelodge is the continuous rivalry with Premier Inn, a rivalry that has at times been both vocal and bitter. Hearn, who has spent time with Premier Inn's parent company Whitbread, showed no signs that the feud was over.

"I think there is a lot of focus on the rivalry between Whitbread and ourselves. I think they focus on us a lot and have been quite disrespectful about us in recent years," he claimed.

With the continued success of independent budget hotels or small groups, the UK launch of a number of brands which have been successful in the US and Europe amid swirling rumours of a new budget concept from Whitbread, you could be forgiven for thinking Hearn would be concerned about the space in the market for Travelodge.

However he said that independent hotels still accounted for 60 per cent of the market and suggested that both Premier Inn and Travelodge could follow in the footsteps of UK supermarkets such as Tesco and Sainsbury's and significantly grow the market share of branded operators.

"Neither of us (Travelodge and Premier Inn) is really at 10 per cent of the market yet, while Tesco is at over 30 per cent, so there is a long way to go in terms of growth."

Ruling out a significant growth in the importance of F&B, Hearn said the company, which is rolling out a new bedroom design, was more concerned about Travelodge's strategy and future plans than new and smaller operators. 

Related topics: Business, People, Hotels, Venues

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