How has the first year been for Amaris Hospitality?
I’m pleased with where we’ve got to in a year. We have taken the portfolio of hotels we were given by Lone Star and evaluated which we want to keep for the longer term. We’ve disposed of a number of hotels and are taking on more. We’ve also taken 23 hotels and are in the process of transferring them from one brand to another, so we moved them into Jurys Inn or Mercure. We’re also moving three to Hilton – we’ve done two ( Dublin and Edinburgh) and the last one (Glasgow) is due to complete in September.
We’re also renovating some Accor hotels at the moment and we’re hoping to complete all of that by the end of the year.
With each hotel we’ve tried to find the right brand for the right location and then provide the right investment in that property to make it right for the brand they operate in as well as focusing on having a great management team and excellent customer service. It’s a combination of these things that will help build the company's future success.
Prior to this role you worked on one brand - Jurys Inn. What are the pros and cons of working with multiple brands as opposed to one?
The pros are that you can put a different brand on a different hotel, for example, the Jurys Inn brand DNA is very clear: It has to be in a city centre or a conference destination or airport, whereas others are in more rural locations and more leisure orientated, which would work better under Mercure than Jurys Inn.
It also allows us to appeal to a far broader range of international customers, so a brand like Hilton with a strong awareness in North America, Asia and the Middle East allows us to generate a different type of distribution into those hotels than we may have before.
The cons are that there are complexities we never had before. Before [when solely Jurys Inn], we owned the brand, we owned the properties and we managed them. We controlled every aspect of our business. Now we still own the hotels and in the case of the franchised hotels, we still manage them, but we engage a lot more with a third party now, so it becomes a more matrix type structure where you’re dealing with more people and you can’t make such a quick decision as you could if it’s your own brand and your own hotels.
Would Amaris Hospitality ever launch its own hotel brand?
We see Amaris as more like the International Airlines Group in the airline industry. It’s effectively a holding company which owns companies that have brands, so in effect our retail brand is Jurys Inn, or franchised hotels, Mercure, Hilton or others. There are certain stakeholders where the Amaris brand is relevant – our employees, investors and community dealing with us on a business basis - but we don’t see Amaris as a consumer-facing brand.
We own the Jurys Inn brand already, which is effectively our own brand and 50 per cent of the revenue comes from them. If we expand any brand it will be Jurys Inn.
Amaris employs over 5,400 people at 73 hotels under eight different brands, how do you build a staff culture across your business, if at all?
What we try and do is have principles that apply across the business. We think that an engaged and motivated workforce is critical to the success of the business. We also think that having an experienced management team is very important, so we are investing heavily in things like attracting, retaining and developing people.
We are also launching a graduate recruitment programme so that people will be able to work across all Amaris brands, not just one. We think that every hotel in the company should have a strong employee recognition programme. It might be different within each brand, but there should be a focus on those things. We have annual surveys of employees on how they do and how they engage with their brands too.
At the end of the of the day good customer service can only come from engaged employees so having a focus orientated towards that is hugely important to the success of the business.
What are your predictions for the industry post-Brexit?
The post-Brexit period this summer has been strong and better than we anticipated. How much of that is currency related though, I’m not sure, because the currency window is between 30 and 60 days, so bookings were already high before the vote. There is a strong domestic demand this summer, which is good, but as we look forward it’s a bit uncertain.
The impact of Brexit is unknown at this point in time. In cities like London, Edinburgh and Dublin where currency and leisure travel is more relevant, I think will be positive next year.
It's more difficult to predict the impact on corporate travel into next year. There’s multiple schools of thought on that. One is that it’s not all doom and gloom, but in fairness to everyone it’s too early to say. July and August are not indicative of what it’s going to be like in November and December. The sector is strong and if there is even some relative movement next year I think overall, the industry will be ok. It will obviously rely on what happens with the UK economy and if we can get that into growth, but I think if we can do that the outlook is confident.