“Look after people and everything else falls into place,” says Tim Smith, verteran hospitality partner, when quizzed about the lessons he has learned throughout his 20 year career in the hotel industry.
Formerly managing partner of HVS sub-Saharan Africa, he has now joined Valor Hospitality’s global business development team, describing the transition back to the UK hotel market like “returning to an old pair of slippers”.
Despite his latest career change taking place to the backdrop of a global pandemic, Smith is hopeful about the future of Valor and says he will be “disappointed” if the number of hotels operated by the company does not increase significantly over the next three years.
It’s a bold statement to make in a year that has presented unparalleled challenges to the hospitality industry, so how does he believe he can steer Valor through covid and beyond?
What is the main difference you have noticed between the UK and African hospitality industry?
In many African countries service is part of the culture, not something that is taught. They almost have an inbuilt mantra of: “I may not have much but I will share it with you and I want to make you happy”. There is also a level of pride and happiness among every level of job in African hotels and I think that is from the way general managers treat their staff.
That level of happiness and hard work is apparent in how staff treat guests. I think sometimes in developed economies we forget we are in a service industry, if we can bring that back and encourage it I think we will be doing well.
Is there an opportunity for growth in the hotel market?
Anyone who says that there is an opportunity for growth in the hotel market has more than a “glass half full” kind of attitude. For many people in this industry there is a long way to go before they can begin to think of expanding, and I think that every single general manager and hotel owner in the UK needs to sit down and really understand their business moving forward.
That being said, there are markets that many hotel owners have previously overlooked. For example, in our hotel in Harrogate, we have seen the local staycation market growing at the moment.
That is because people just want to get away, and if you look after them well with a reasonably priced deal and a bit of a ‘wow’ experience, then maybe hotel owners can tap into this new market and find a new customer base.
I think there is an opportunity for hotels to expand their food and beverage facilities also, and while Zoom calls are great I think there will be a great space for hotels to host informal meetings.
How has Valor managed staff worries?
Communication is everything, and remember to do that with your ears rather than your mouth, to understand what is really going on and impacting people on a day to day basis.
Inevitably there has been some reorganisation and we had to let staff members go. Without a doubt, those have been some of the most difficult conversations to have, but the way you handle people at the best of times should be the way you handle people at the worst of times.
There have been moments when general managers and all members of the senior team have received a nervous phone call from staff, a lot of those have come before and after government announcements, but the key in handling staff worries is always maintaining a good relationship and being able to have honest conversations.
Sometimes being honest with staff is all they ask for so admitting that you don’t know what the latest impact of Boris’s latest statement will be, and being considerate of their emotions, shows you are working as a team, and people appreciate that.
How can management step up in a time like this?
Hotels are not busy at the moment, so there is no excuse for general managers not to have time to sit down and have a coffee and learn about people and their staff members.
I was in one of our hotels yesterday and the general manager took the opportunity to sit down with one of the junior bar staff just to try to get to know him a bit better.
I think for staff members if somebody with the title general manager takes the time out of their day to not only learn about them and how they are doing in work, but also hear about their day, then it makes them feel special. If you do this then the whole team benefits.
What is Valor’s game plan to recover from this?
Now more than ever it is important to have experienced management who know how to run a hotel and are empowered to make decisions.
I feel there will be a lot of people who are beaten up by the market now in need of a proper change of hands and new management. That is where the opportunity lies for a company like Valor to grow, because we can take on those struggling properties in need of TLC.
What’s in the pipeline for Valor?
We are looking at an increasing number of opportunities for the UK, Europe and Africa, and currently working with brands who are having difficulty with their assets. I think we are going to be incredibly busy appraising opportunities for new hotels to join the Valor portfolio, because people believe in trusting what we do and we are not afraid to disclose bad news when we have to.
Through this practice, they know where they stand and can plan for the future financially. We can give them an honest estimation of what the next 12 to 18 months looks like, allowing us to move forward together.
I think it will be an incredibly busy time for us and I will be disappointed if the number of hotels operated by Valor does not increase significantly over the next three years.