Stuart Bailey, CHieF eXeCutiVe OFFiCer, Splendid HOSpitality GrOup
With more than three decades of international hotel management experience, Stuart Bailey, Chief Executive Officer at Splendid Hospitality Group, opens up to Can Faik about the brand’s future…
We met the man behind the eclectic group of hotels that range from budget to five star and how he is wooing the brands with big ideas and bold people development. Grabbing a coffee with this man is no mean feat, he works 20 hours a day, sleeps two hours a night and builds houses in his spare time. Splendid Hospitality Group has 18 hotels across the UK, with three additional hotels in the process of being built.
What was your background in hospitality prior to working for Splendid Hospitality Group?
I’ve been with Splendid since 2007. My career in hospitality started out at Trust House Forte and since then I’ve steadily worked my way through every discipline of the hotel industry. I became deputy GM at the age of 20 when I worked at Sarova Hotels before joining the Runnymede in Windsor. Then at 26 I changed direction and built my own business running hotels and pubs before selling the business at 33. Various roles took me around the branded circuit and in particular I was instrumental in the creation of the M4 cluster for Hilton before moving on to Macdonald Hotels and then Cola Holdings. I joined Splendid Hotels Group as it was then, in 2007 as Operations Director, then moved up to Managing Director before taking over as Chief Executive four years ago.
What does your current position involve?
Our business is very diverse, we own and operate hotels, QSR operations and we are a substantial developer. My role therefore is very much about understanding and interpreting strategy and creating and realising the vision for the business. On a day to day basis, I’m accountable for company developments, whether that’s new hotels, refurbishments, residential projects or our QSR business. The evolution and growth are continuous so I spend a lot of my time on the acquisition trial and identifying new opportunities. More recently, I’ve been heavily involved with significant developments for the company such as Hilton Bankside, The Grand York and Indigo York. We are currently developing a mixed-use development at Heathrow of hotel combined with residential and we are about to start developing a site outside Kingston and Park Royal which will be our largest residential project to date.
What do you enjoy most about your role?
It has to be the challenge more than anything else and the sheer variety that this role and this industry brings. Watching projects and processes go on to completion and then success is hugely rewarding. I get an unusual level of autonomy for a family owned business and that’s deeply satisfying, in a way I get to run my own business with someone else’s money but I’m damn careful with it. In all honesty, there isn’t one bit that I don’t enjoy about my role. I love and embrace the ebb and flow and there isn’t one part of the job that I wouldn’t do. I’m a monster for detail and love getting stuck in, I love working solutions to problems and working with our people to leverage different outcomes. It’s a great role.
What is your plan for the Splendid Hospitality Group in the UK?
We love the UK, we know it, we know it’s laws and we know how it works. We see the UK at the heart and the core of everything we do. Unfortunately, like UK plc, we’ve been through the temporary business paralysis of Brexit so we have been sensible about our predictions for next year. Therefore, our plans for expansion outside the UK will be considered once we know what’s happening after Brexit.
Have you noticed any particular trends in hotel interior design?
Yes, the biggest trend has been around technology in the last three years and bringing technology into the guest experience. Not just in the bedroom but in particular the welcome. Whether it’s a kiosk check in or keyless door entry, design is trying to make life easier for the operator but I’m not so convinced it’s making life easier for the guest. What I have noticed and what is key to our own brand development is how hotels went away from repetitive brands to hotels of individuality and personality and the creation of different spaces that teased the senses. Interestingly, over the last 18 months, even these properties are beginning to look the same again. Whether that’s because we are being inspired by each other, using the same or similar designers or we are all adapting to the customer demand cycle and what they want to see in a hotel. However, to stand out and interpret your surroundings and meet the needs of your target market, you need to be careful you are not copying someone else’s design as everything is beginning to look the same and that’s a risk to no longer be able to differentiate or be personal. Of course, during the last decade, hotels have become decluttered and their space is now about clean lines, fresh, open space and statement pieces of artwork.
For me though, a hotel has to bend to its area. It’s all about engaging with the location which is something we worked really hard to achieve for Hilton Bankside. It was about creating a brand that wasn’t easily recognisable as a Hilton which meant throwing away the rule book and bringing the influences of the outside in, we wanted to bring in the industrial feelings from the area and we’ve successfully managed to do that. Of course, the brand of Hilton still runs through the hotel, but it stands alone as its own personality with a very unique sense of location, heritage and community. The hotel was originally a perfumery, then a distillery, Bank of England monetary depository and then an empty warehouse. We brought all of those design elements into the building. We copied the concrete floor from a turbine hall in the Tate, we got really arty with the artwork in the restaurant, brought in fun and captured the essence of the area with the iconic fox. We’ve interpreted all of this into a new build design and interior but still allowing it to be fully functional at all levels. Our customers tell us it doesn’t feel like a regular Hilton but we still work and deliver on the Hilton brand values. Away from London our five-star property, The Grand York is a building of significance in the most medieval city in the UK which we’ve doubled in size and transformed. An amalgamation of old meets new we’ve carefully managed to connect the spaces to provide a five-star product with exceptional luxury and design.
We have the original old building with bedrooms with high ceilings with average size 40sqm plus with railway office doors harking back to when it was GNER head office and of course, exceptionally wide corridors. Last year we managed to add 100 rooms which are 34sqm with standard height ceilings with modern, stylish bathrooms but still complementing the building. The challenge was not to copy the existing building but create an offering that complemented it extremely well. On a different scale is Holiday Inn Wembley, a beast of a property adjacent to the largest stadium in the UK. Creating and developing a public area space which can work with the complexities of large events through to the average corporate traveller is not without its challenges, but we’ve created a fresh open space and used very modern materials to create a lobby culture for the guest.
The large open transitional spaces are a trend that is being brought into hospitality throughout the world. It’s created an excited opportunity for hotels and provided a new journey for the guest. We encourage use in our open spaces throughout the day from breakfast and meetings through to afternoon tea and dinner and of course it helps with service, being able to deliver so much throughout the day in one space. It becomes a transitional space that provides a unique atmosphere. They only work in certain areas and for particular demographics though. This arrangement wouldn’t work at The Grand York, they only work well in environments that are focused on corporate, conference and independent traveller guests with a local story and local focus behind it. Even the modern-day leisure traveller struggles with the open space concept as they still seek a nook to enjoy their leisure time with a book or a glass of wine.
How important do you feel hotel design has become when launching a new hotel?
Extremely important, it’s the key to the door. Hilton Bankside is testament to that, our restaurant in Bristol – Buttermilk and Maple and the Indigo York have really made the hotel design key to what we do. Again, it’s about us looking at the neighbourhood story, bringing in uniqueness to be launched successfully.
What exciting projects are on the horizon for you and Splendid?
We have been investing in bringing more experiential focus to The Grand in York and next year we will be launching the first in a series of Cookery Schools. We’d like to build and work with a university to build a true hotel school in the future, but this is just the first step in merging experience and education with our hotels. We also have a lot of new openings and refurbishments taking place. Ibis Styles Heathrow East is in development – opening Spring 2019 and we are just about to formally launch Leeds Mercure Hotel. We’ve just completed and launched Easy Hotels, Reading and we are sat on a land bank at Worcester Park and Park Royal awaiting the greenlight on construction. Of course, none of this is possible without the partnerships we create and develop. We work with a range of designers including RPW, DMA Architects, McKenzie Wheeler Architects, Matthews Mee interior design, Axiom Architects, Palmer Lunn Associates, and Twenty2Degrees and decide on which designer based on the hotel surroundings, market and feel.