“The key thing to remember is that we are in the hospitality sector, not hospitals. We must remember that although our guests rightly expect to us to provide a clean and safe environment, they don’t wish to be constrained at every step. We must be both responsible and reasonable. On balance, however, we must provide an environment that engages positively with our guests so they choose to return.”
Group chief executive, Richard Moore had been in place just over a month when the full extent of the Covid-19 pandemic became clear. “It has been quite a baptism of fire,” he comments. “But in a strange and positive way it has brought the senior team together in short order. Without the crisis it might have taken longer.”
Passionate about customer focus – “Guests come first, second and third in my operating list of priorities.” – Moore much prefers the carrot to the stick approach with his business. “My job is to ensure that each and every member of the team feels valued, is valued and is trained and encouraged to be the very best they can. To fulfil their potential and exceed their own expectations.”
For the last three months, Moore has held a weekly virtual meeting with his senior management group, the General Managers, senior staff and anyone else in the organisation of the 21 hotels who wants to be included – with over 100 people on the calls. He emphasises that he sought contribution from all levels of the Q Hotels organisation. “Literally anyone working within a hotel or in a centralised role, furloughed or not, can take part in these virtual meetings,” he said.
“I’m determined to seek contribution from the whole team and leadership is put to the test under crisis. It has been an unusual situation but I believe we’ll come out of it in a very strong position to move forward and take advantage of the positives. For example, I’m sure that for many reasons, not just quarantine, millions more people will take their holidays in the UK this year. Staycation is going to be huge.
Over these last months we have carried out research and devised some amazing value, high quality packages under the banner of ’The Great British Breakaway’ to ensure that we are a key player in this expanded market, and the most attractive proposition for anyone wanting to escape and enjoy some leisure time. These special packages will be launched from next week.”
Q Hotels Group consists of 21 of outstanding upscale hotels in the UK, ranging from country houses, city locations, resort properties with amazing leisure, spa and sporting facilities including golf and tennis, to “away from it all” manor houses with expansive grounds on the edge of renowned beauty spots.
“Like everyone else in our industry,” Moore commented, “we had to listen very carefully to understand the direction of travel being suggested by Government. Now it is much clearer. Unless something dramatically changes we plan to open all our hotels to guests in England on Saturday, July 4 and in Scotland, Wednesday July 15.
“There are obvious financial consequences not just for us but for all our partners and suppliers.
“We are funding re-training and re-imagining every aspect of our business. Guests will expect a 100% performance from day one and rightly so. For many of our guests this will feel like the first day of freedom and we are committed to ensuring that their experience lives up to the expectation. Fortunately our investors have been unwavering in their support for the business and the management team. We are coming back and we are coming back strong.”
Before the virus struck, Q Hotels Group was preparing for growth. Moore sees the future having bright prospects while acknowledging the threats. “There are certainly going to be opportunities and we would welcome new hotels of the right size and quality with open arms. We are building one of the UK’s largest group of hotels. We are already the leading hotel golf course operator.
“One of the aspects of our business plan we have been concentrating on is how we develop a desirable and recognisable character for our brand without constraining the unique qualities of the 21 individual hotels. The dead hand of corporate correctness is not for us. We set operational standards to meet or exceed but a cookie cutter approach just won’t work for our character properties.”
Now more than ever, Richard is passionate about cleanliness, safety and maintenance standards. Having studied the various programmes available, Q Hotels Group has decided, for its unbranded hotels, to go its own way with a detailed programme under the name Clean+Safe. Every aspect of the programme will be independently audited by acknowledged industry expert ‘Shield Safety Group’. This will ensure that our hotels are listed on the ‘Safe to Trade Register’, available to local authorities.
“Inviting people into our hotels demands a degree of mutual trust,” he says. “We trust our customers to be responsible in respect of their own health and others, they trust us to provide a safe environment. We have set very high standards of cleanliness and safety, together with practical guidance for our teams on how best to implement.”
“The safety of our employees, guests and visitors is imperative and we have used the time while closed to explore the best way to move forward in preparation to open our doors.”
The Clean+Safe programme covers everything from ensuring any barriers are open at all car parks when guests arrive to a no-checkout policy when they leave. Unlike many other hotel operators, Q Hotels Group are determined to ensure the majority of facilities can still be used but there are comprehensive changes to the way they are run.
Based around Government guidelines, the new protocol applies to both front and back of house.
Some highlights include:
Audited cleaning regime
Hotel-wide cleaning to be to the highest possible standards and independently audited by industry specialists. TV remote control wiped with disinfectant, bagged and stickered as clean. All glassware, crockery, teaspoons removed and replaced with disposable items. Bedroom decluttered removal of bed throws and cushions.
Food and beverage
Breakfast individually prepared and served, not self-service. “Grab&Go” wrapped snacks and drinks stations. Order at reception. Room Service menu, limited but of high quality, popular bought in items such as Stone Baked Pizza needing only minimal preparation and service. Restaurants and bars may not be opened immediately but plans prepared to allow physical distancing in all areas including kitchens.
Leisure and spa
Emphasis on social distancing and cleanliness/hygiene protocols with particular emphasis on changing rooms, showers and toilets. In studios a minimum 10 minute window between classes to allow all equipment to be cleaned. Sports areas and activities where social distancing is not possible will remain closed.
One bather per 3m2. Saunas, steam rooms, hot tubs and spa pools will only open if social distancing is possible. Only one parent or carer allowed per child.
Courses are already in successful operation. Tee times every 10 minutes. Booking on-line or contactless. Shop access limited to one person per group. Buggies single occupancy or same family members only.
No-one in hospitality can claim to understand exactly what the future holds. Q Hotels Group, under the leadership of Richard Moore, have however like many, invested a significant amount of corporate time roll-playing as many different scenarios as they can imagine.
“We can’t see the future but we can try to be light on our feet and prepare to be flexible in our responses. Above all we need to seek sustained growth of income and profit, luckily we are well resourced, focussed and passionate about restoring our business to a new normality. We are taking the long view.”
By Richard Moore, who has over 30 years experience in the hospitality industry – most recently as area senior vice president UK, Ireland and Western Europe.