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LOCKDOWN DIARIES: Positive reinforcements at Iconic Luxury Hotels, Farncombe Estate and Soar Mill Cove

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In the first in a new series, we speak to hotel leaders about their lockdown plans, the robust strategies they are putting in place and the innovations they are implementing to help prepare for post-Covid trading

Iconic Luxury Hotels comprises Chewton Glen, Cliveden, Lygon Arms, 11 Cadogan Gardens and newest addition, The Mayfair Townhouse. Lockdown meant that the new hotel was forced to close after just two weeks of trading, but the portfolio’s executive director Andrew Stembridge is confident that business will return strong.

Speaking to BH, he says: “Albeit very short lived we were really pleased with the opening of The Mayfair Townhouse. One of the benefits of opening when we did, was that it was a ‘gentle’ opening, which in hindsight looked more like a dress rehearsal… a very apt quote considering the history of Half Moon Street and its connections with Oscar Wilde. We were taken aback by the interest from our Iconic database, which delivered a really strong base of domestic business for December and of course we have been delighted by the incredibly positive response from the media. Although heart breaking that we are now closed, everything we have achieved thus far will stand us in very good stead for when we reopen, hopefully late February.

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All of our attention is now focused on trying to keep the furloughed members of the team motivated/engaged

“All of our attention is now focused on trying to keep the furloughed members of the team motivated/engaged, keeping in touch with our ever loyal database who are ‘champing at the bit’ to re-book and trying to second guess when we might be able to reopen so that we are ready for when this happens.

“All of the work we did last summer creating additional outdoor dining will stand us in good stead for when we reopen and all of our COVID secure protocols have become second nature.

“We also have The Apartments by 11 Cadogan Gardens, which are six new multi-bedroom suites which we are adding to the 11 Cadogan Gardens inventory at the same time.

“The 11 Cadogan Gardens project has been on the drawing board for the last 18 months and we are really pleased that The Cadogan Estate approached us to operate these new apartments alongside 11 Cadogan Gardens.

“The new apartments are diagonally opposite the hotel at 20 Cadogan Gardens, with direct access onto the gardens themselves and are literally a “stones’ throw” from the number 11. These six new apartments ranging from 1 to 3 bedrooms will be a great addition to the existing hotel which was awarded 5 red stars by the AA late last year and which became London’s only R&C property in 2019.

“The Apartments will open alongside the hotel when it is allowed to reopen post the current lockdown, which if we are being optimistic, could be late February. Although the impact of COVID was horrendous for the hotel, its leafy off-the-beaten-track location in Chelsea helped it outperform its competitor set and footfall in ‘Hans Bar & Grill’, 11 CG’s Restaurant was really strong thanks to extended al fresco dining on Pavilion Road, which has now been completely pedestrianised.”

Farncombe Estate in the Cotswolds comprises Dormy House, The Fish and Foxhill Manor. Andrew Grahame, chief executive spoke to Boutique Hotelier about the resort’s plans during this closure period.

He says: “Naturally we are disappointed to be locked down and feel that the financial compensation is disproportionately small.

“That said we are genuinely upbeat. We know that despite very high occupancies, Farncombe wasn’t the source of any Covid cases throughout the summer, but if we can’t guarantee the absolute safety of our team, which given the new variant we can’t, I would much rather they stay away and be 100% safe. Above all we are a family and nothing is more important than our safety.

“With busy hotels, attendance of training sessions linked to compliance will always be a challenge, but during the lockdown in 2020 we delivered 700 on-line training sessions bringing the team 100% up to date.  

“We are using the down-time wisely by accelerating our CapEx program. At Farncombe we are always improving the estate and unfortunately much of the work left to do would be hugely disruptive for guests and therefore with a high year-round occupancy, we haven’t had the opportunity to deal with some of the crucial infrastructure projects.

We are also diversifying our bedroom stock by adding interesting self-catered facilities across the estate for the 3-day/4-day/7-day market

“For example in November we laid a new 3km estate road in just three weeks, to do this whilst live, would have taken months and been a major inconvenience to guests who come to Farncombe to escape reality and not see a sea of high viz jackets!  

“Preparing for a post Covid world we are also diversifying our bedroom stock by adding interesting self-catered facilities across the estate for the 3-day/4-day/7-day market. This is also higher margin business as they are not serviced as hotel bedrooms are, which means ROIs are also high. We are also adding more wooden inventory which turnkey do require complex footings and landscaping which is very intrusive if done live. We will look to have the footings ready for new huts to roll-out in June increasing Fish inventory to 69 bedrooms. 

One other challenge is that high occupancies play havoc with our perfect room program and in my world a guest should never find fault with a bedroom, that’s our job, but when you can’t get into bedrooms for preventative maintenance the possibility a guest will encounter an issue increases. We have been through every bedroom and public area across all three properties to ensure every space is pristine, most recently re-carpeting the whole of Dormy House, imagine trying to do that whilst open?”

Keith Makepeace, owner at Sour Mill Cove Devon is focusing on keeping team morale high, positivity and a host of innovative ideas ready for reopening.

Speaking to BH, he says: “Positivity, positivity, and more positivity, which is hugely important for all especially the morale of our teams.

“We are looking at targeting the ‘ski wannabes’, the when-can-we-get-back-to-Chamonix crowd and I-miss-The-Piste brigade. During this shutdown, we are building The Devon Ski Lodge, ready to open in Easter. Picture hot chocolate laced with Rum, Gluewein. Raclette with Cornish Gouda, hearty game stews with dumplings and waffles topped with macerated berries and lashings of Devonshire clotted cream. All served in an open ended ski lodge with a warm glow the fires with (faux) skins and furry rugs to snuggle up to.

During this shutdown, we are building The Devon Ski Lodge, ready to open in Easter

“The digger is booked, marquee firm tying up final details and builder is set to go! My interiors team of darling wife and daughter are excited with the concept that they will bring to fruition with a stunning set piece.

“So for us, it’s about not bemoaning when can we open and what will life be like, but instead let’s really give business a run for its money and hit the ground running at full pace.”

Tags : farncombe estatehotelsIconic Luxury HotelsINDUSTRYlockdownoperatorsownerssoar mill cove
Zoe Monk

The author Zoe Monk

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