TALK: Peter Hancock Pride of Britain Hotels

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Pride of Britain Hotels boasts an extensive portfolio of 48 luxury hotels across the UK, with a presence in a range of core markets from country house retreats to stylish boutiques in the capital. Boutique Hotelier caught up with chief executive, Peter Hancock, over lunch at Luckham Park in Bath to find out exactly what the consortium does and how it works to support its members

What defines Pride of Britain Hotels?
Pride of Britain is a non for profit consortium with a relatively small number of hotels, which we predominately market to the UK consumer. I work closely with the owners and managers of each of our hotels to determine the group’s next steps and ways we can better help the hoteliers. It works well and I’m very happy to be guided by them all.

We’ve had some tremendous strokes of luck and our hoteliers are very committed to us, sticking with us through the recessions. We keep the group limited to a maximum of 50, which helps us to ensure our resources aren’t spread too thinly.

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We still look out for new hotels which we’d like to approach to become members. They will then go through a process of being inspected by a member and if that inspection is favourable, then the board will be asked to recommend them or not. If they do, it then goes to a ballot where the existing members can vote. If it doesn’t tick enough boxes, isn’t financially sound, then it won’t be recommended.

Mystery guests will visit each of our member hotels each year to carry out a full report as well, which is seen by the chairman, David Morgan-Hewitt, who is managing director of The Goring. If it’s terrible we might revaluate the hotel and extreme cases they will be asked to leave.

Hotels will pay us an annual fee to be part of the group and for that we provide a range of services. In 2013, reservations made through our website totalled 5.4 million, and this year we are on track to see 9 or 10 million. Saying this, our telephone bookings are still very good as well; we make around £30,000 – £40,000 a month and the average booking per person is worth around £600.

Does the group have set criteria that each hotel must follow?
There isn’t a written criterion that the hotels must adhere to. We worried that if we did that we could end up eliminating a hotel we really liked. A hotel can apply to join and then it’s the members who decide whether it will be let in on whatever benchmark they choose.

Ideally we’d like to get a nice spread of hotels around the British Isles; at the moment we have both hot spots and deserts where there aren’t any at all. We are light on hotels in Scotland and I’d like to approach a few more there. I think we drove a few Scottish members away with the policy we adopted that we focused entirely on domestic marketing, and saw us scaling back on international activity. I think this is starting to turn now however as hoteliers this end of the market realise that the UK is the largest market of the lot and has so much potential.

What is the best part of your job?
I get satisfaction from making progress and getting together with the members to tell them of our successes. It’s the most rewarding part letting the general managers and owners know what we’ve achieved and receiving their approval. It’s a job that is never done; all we can do is fail a little less each year and keep on growing.

In your view, how is the hotel market performing right now?
The upper end is continuing to do extremely well; it’s a good time for luxury hotels and consumer confidence is returning. I think in the mid market you have to be very creative to do well and I worry about the great swathes of provincial hotels which are not quite the cheapest, but also not quite the most luxurious. Unless you are the best or the cheapest then you have to work much harder.

What have been some of the highlights of career?
One of the most dramatic things that’s happened to me in my career was being made general manager of a hotel and country club out of the blue, because my predecessor was a drunk and got the sack! I was the only one who knew everything; I was the youngest there but was placed in charge!

Who are your idols within the hospitality industry and who do you look up too?
I look up to all the members of Pride of Britain, many of whom are legends in their own right. Our chairman, David Morgan-Hewitt is an extraordinary hotelier and Paul Milsom is someone I have huge respect for too.

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