Speaking at the Independent Hotels Show at London Olympia last week, were Justin Salisbury, co-founder of the Artist Residence group; PJ Kenny, general manager of the Hoxton Holborn; Will Ashworth, managing director of Cornwall’s Watergate Bay; and David Timmis, managing director of Aubrey Park Hotel ‒ chaired by Tom Bell, editor at British Hotels & Inns by Alastair Sawday’s.
A relaxed welcome
Making local residents welcome into your hotel was seen as a quick route towards ‘authenticity’ (the sense that the hotel is really part of the community), a profitable way to keep the hotel busy even in low season, a great way to boost your business’ database, and a means to improve the visibility and inclusivity of your brand.
Salisbury at the Artist Residence, said: “We want to create a relaxed and open environment. It’s all about inclusivity and the vibe and the ethos of the organisation. At the end of the day, people want great food and drink, hospitality, and service. If you provide that day in, day out, people will come to you.”
Kenny at the Hoxton Holborn, which has a reputation for attracting local people to hang out in its open-plan lobby, said: It’s not just a hotel or a café or a restaurant. It’s all that, in one.”
The Hoxton is well-known for its quirky design and inviting interiors, with Kenny adding: “From a bed, to a wall, to a piece of art, right down to the magazine that sits on the coffee table, it’s about establishing your brand so that the people who walk through the door are the people you want.”
Inclusivity and informality
Ashworth at the Watergate Bay, which has just opened a new hotel in Yorkshire as part of its collection Another Place, said: “We are building our new place around locals, and keeping it incredibly informal. We like it to feel like you’re staying in a friend’s holiday home, with great Wi-Fi, and good coffee. It has to feel inclusive, because it’s about encouraging people to come in and embrace the atmosphere. This authenticity also helps [hotel] residents too, so it’s win-win.”
To a similar end, Watergate Bay operates come events that are specifically targeted at locals, especially when it comes to the hotel’s facilities – such as the ‘Swim and Dine’ package, which let locals know that the hotel’s pool and restaurant were both open and welcoming to non-hotel residents.
Ashworth said: “We aren’t afraid of packaging things together. We try not to major on that as it doesn’t quite fit with our brand, but we needed to let locals know they could come in when it suited us, so we do some things that are slightly more formulaic.”
Timmis, at countryside hotel Aubrey Park said: “It’s also about maximising the space you have, and trading in as many markets as you can. In the afternoon, we have a meeting space and offer coffee and free Wi-Fi, and we also set up a ‘Ladies Who Lunch’ regular event to get people through the door for lunch. Our customers enjoy the high-end rosette dining we offer, as well as the more informal dining.”
Timmis added that local networks, and meeting members of the community, was an integral part of running an independent hotel.
He said: “I’d never met a parish councillor before coming the Aubrey Park, but now I know everyone! Independent hotels are about being proactive and getting involved.”
Top 5 ways to make your hotel locals-friendly
- Keep your space informal and make sure your hotel entrance is welcoming, not intimidating
- Make the most of your public spaces, and offer free WiFi, and coffee, if not more
- Really focus on food and beverage, and make your restaurant or bar standalone if possible
- Employ local people and make sure the atmosphere is friendly and inclusive to everyone
- Give guests a reason to come to your hotel, such as a great lunch, regular event, or loyalty offer
Atmosphere and friendliness
Employing friendly staff and establishing a great restaurant or food and beverage offer were also seen as good ways to boost local trade, the panel agreed.
Several said they had hired staff simply because of their friendliness, rather than any specific hotels experience – including the Hoxton, of which 90 per cent of staff were not hotels-trained when they were hired, Kenny said.
Salisbury added: “There is resistance for people to go to hotels for food and drink, so we have restaurants that stand alone, that you wouldn’t necessarily know was part of the hotel. It has to be genuine and authentic, and create something people actually want. We are the opposite of corporate. Our staff were maybe not at all trained in hotels [when we first hired them], but they are just nice.”
Timmis agreed, saying: “It’s about real engagement; knowing your locals, and talking a language our customers relate to.”
Ashworth concluded that creating a place with an attractive price point that could attract locals as much as visitors was “hugely important”, because it “layers on authenticity”, and reassures guests that they are “getting a genuine experience, which is, in our case [at Watergate Bay] genuinely Cornish. Word of mouth especially has established us as a great place to hang out.”