A long day in the life of a hotel GM

With 18 years experience working for Jurys Inn behind him, Andy Gray is now general manager of a UK property that recently joined the Israeli-based Fattal Hotel Group. He shared his priorities in a recent Q&A

As general manager at Jurys Inn Watford, Andy Gray transformed the hotel’s customer experience and sales performance. Now he hopes to do the same at the Leonardo Royal Southampton Grand Harbour, a city centre hotel with 173 rooms and suites. The property only recently became a Leonardo Hotel, which is a relatively new entrant to the UK hotel market. It sits within the fold of Israeli-based Fatal Hotel Group and Swedish firm Pandox AB, an established European hotel property investor. Fattal and Pandox partnered to acquire Jurys Inn in the UK in December 2017 when they signed £800-million agreement.

EyeforTravel found out what Gray’s priorities are as he enters a period of transition for a hotel used by both business and leisure travellers.

EFT: What does an average day look like for you? 

AG: I am new to the hotel here, so I don’t have an ‘average day’ as yet. Since joining the hotel nearly three months ago it has all merged into one long day.I think I have learned more in this short space of time than in any other period of my career. It has been about trying to absorb the history of the hotel, the patterns and trends while learning what works and what doesn’t – what has been tried in the past and what hasn’t. There are not really enough hours in the day at the moment – exciting opportunities such as this one, to make a positive impact on the environment you work in and on the people you interact with every day, do not come around too often!

EFT: What do you see as your top priorities in your new role?

AG: My aim is to:

  • Focus on customer service and the guest journey
  • Improve team morale and instil confidence within the team
  • Create a culture and identity in the hotel that’s in-line with the Leonardo Royal Hotel brand values
  • Provide the team with new tools to excel in their roles
  • Ensure that all of the above happens so that we achieve the overall priority of delivering on the company’s financial targets

EFT: There is a lot of competition out there. What are you doing to stand out and do you have any top tips?

AG: The most important thing is to get buy-in from the team for how they want the hotel to be – if they provide the ideas it is easier to make the changes. Listen to guests when they are providing feedback and communicate with them on a human level. Make sure we know who our guests are, what the demographic is – only then can we deliver on their needs.

My top tip is not to forget the basics – people want to feel welcomed, looked after and that they belong – that is relevant for guests and the team alike. Work should be enjoyable, and we should try not to overlook the fun aspects – especially during tougher times. A positive environment leads to a sense of pride in what you are delivering – it is easy to focus on what we have done wrong when, in reality, there are more things we do well. Keep highlighting those.

EFT: Customer experience is increasingly important, and people are increasingly online. How are you planning to meet these needs?

AG: There are a number of new technology areas that we are experimenting with as a company, such as online check-in, an app for room service, tailored packages based on guests’ previous stays. However, it’s still true that the majority of people we welcome into the hotel still very much prefer human interaction and it is all too easy to forget this with all of the technological advancements the industry has experienced over the last five to 10 years.

EFT: Do you have a social media strategy? 

AG: As an individual hotel and especially as a group, social media is an integral part of our marketing, customer service, day-to-day activities and overall business plan.  We use social media to showcase our special offers, group and hotel celebrations and landmarks and to communicate our brand values. Our customer service department use social media as a tool for assisting guests with upcoming bookings, any changes they might need or any special requests they have.

EFT: To what extent do you work with different parts of the business such as RM, marketing etc? 

AG: I interact with all aspects of the business at various points of the day, every day. It is very much a team approach to ensure the future success of the hotel. To do this it’s vital that all elements of the business are working as one with a clear vision and that communication is ongoing and evolving throughout this.

It’s vital that all elements of the business are working as one with a clear vision

EFT: Do you aim to convert customers that have come to you through an OTA into future direct bookers? How? 

AG: Communicating with them on arrival and departure about our direct website and the benefits of joining our loyalty program has worked well in the past. We also offer a discounted percentage off first direct bookings.

EFT: How important is your MICE business and is there any overlap between business and leisure? 

AG: It is vital to this hotel and historically the periods in the past where the hotel has flourished have been when both leisure and business have worked in tandem. A successful MICE hotel will almost feel like two hotels in one and acts as a seven-day business.

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