Julia Hands: Hand Picked Hotels unlikely to grow much larger than 20 venues

By Peter Ruddick

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Hand picked hotels, Property, Hotel

Julia Hands, founder of Hand Picked Hotels, has said she does not want the collection of venues to grow much larger than 20
Julia Hands, founder of Hand Picked Hotels, has said she does not want the collection of venues to grow much larger than 20
Julia Hands, the founder of Hand Picked Hotels, has told BigHospitality she does not expect the four-star country house hotel collection to be much larger than 20 venues so the business manages to keep its family-run feeling.

Earlier this month it was announced that the Kent-based company had agreed to acquire the 131-bedroom St Pierre Park Hotel & Golf Resort in Guernsey​ which will become the 19th hotel in the group once the acquisition is complete.

Speaking to BigHospitality last week, the chairman and chief executive officer revealed she was unlikely to make a large number of further acquisitions.

“I had always said I didn’t want to grow beyond around 20 hotels because we are at heart quite a small company. I know all the general managers and a large number of the staff and so do my directors," she explained. 

"We feel very much like a family – I think once you get beyond a certain size you lose that family feeling," she added.

Geographic gaps

There are currently 17 hotels officially listed as being part of the Hand Picked Hotels collection including Norton House Hotel & Spa in Edinburgh and Hendon Hall Hotel in London.

New properties do not become part of the group until they are renovated and meet the minimum brand standards which the company sets each of its venues. 

Hands acquired Bailbrook House in Bath in the first half of last year but the 78-bedroom property will not become part of the collection until September following its multi-million pound conversion from a three-star conference centre to a four-star hotel.

Although Hands, who founded the collection in 2001, is keen not to damage the integrity of the group she revealed she was always on the lookout for new venues.

“We do aim to achieve a good geographic spread across the British Isles without large gaps or dense clustering. The remoter parts of the country – Cornwall for example – we would find difficult to manage because we do like to visit our properties regularly.

"We do still have gaps like the west coast of Scotland where we would like to find a suitable property to partner with Norton House," Hands added.

“I have always kept an eye on what comes onto the market and regularly view potential acquisitions. It is actually quite difficult to find the right property in the right location.

"We have had a few false starts with properties which purported to be on the market but which were in the end withdrawn which is a waste of time and money.”


The former lawyer's husband, private equity financier Guy Hands, reportedly injected fresh funds into the company this year in order to reduce its level of debt.

Hands admitted the last few years had been tough for hoteliers but explained she and her team had worked to invest in the estate and pro-actively market the brand so the company was in a good position to take advantage when the operating environment improves.

“The past five years have undoubtedly been challenging with lower average rates and significantly higher costs and this is especially true outside of London. I don’t think the market is getting any worse and occasionally there are glimmers of hope that things might be getting better.

Hand Picked Hotels benefits from operating hotels across the country - its regular guests are likely to have an individually-styled property with consistent brand standards within easy reach wherever they are in the country.

The disparate nature of the estate does make it challenging for Hands and her team of directors however. Each year they take a two-month road show across the country to pay every hotel a visit.

The hotelier admitted her role has changed the more the group has grown: "As my head office team has developed I find I have more time to spend on certain things – like expanding the group and looking at new hotels – and less on things that I used to do like proof-reading the Christmas brochures," she said.

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