BTN Europe presents an overview of business travel and MICE predictions for this year
ExCeL London - 24-25 February 2021
Andrew Mosley took over what was basically a run down training centre and turned it into an award winning deluxe hotel and conference centre. He tells ABTN how it was done.
The property of which Andrew Mosley was made general manager was not so much a hotel as a residential training centre.
But QHotels which bought the Dolce Training Centre near Winchester in southern England in 2005, had great vision for its new acquisition. Four years and £14m on, the renamed and re-furbished Norton Park has 14,000 room nights a year and two national awards under its belt.
Mr Mosley was involved right from the start of this major project. He recalls his arrival at the Centre: "It was not really a hotel in those days. It was being run as a residential training facility. It was starting to grow but there were three to four arrivals a day and the coffee service was a machine in the lounge."
The property was expanded from 90 bedrooms to 185, the meetings facilities were completely re-designed to create 14 rooms, ranging from the Norton Suite for up to 350 people to the small Hunton 1 room for six people.
The sixteenth century Manor House, standing separately in the property's 54-acre grounds, was also re-styled with four meetings rooms to create an exclusive facility for private events while a new bar, restaurant, reception room and entrance were built.
"The Manor House is available for exclusive events with our staff to look after you. We have had blue chip companies which have hired it meetings when they want to get away from and have as few distractions as possible. It's a perfect fit for that," Mr Mosley said.
"We have built our new entrance around a glass foyer which has given the hotel a proper focal point. Every hotel needs that. We have also re-done the car parking area and landscaped the park around the hotel.
"It all took two years from start to finish, from the start in October 2005 to the completion of the landscaping in October 2007. But the main stage of the work was done between 2006 and 2007."
Mr Mosley said all his staff was involved and even customers - the hotel continued to trade during the changes -were brought in. "We needed to get the right people aboard before we did anything else," he said. "People who would understand what you were trying to achieve and who could see the vision and understand the process ahead and what it would eventually look and feel like. I think that in anything you do, the most important thing is to get the right people in place.
"Secondly, you have to have a clear strategy, to know exactly where you are going and you stick to that strategy. If it goes horribly wrong, you can change it but if it is just a wobble, you just keep it on the right track or everyone will become confused, the momentum will be lost and then it will be difficult to pull it back.
"Even the guests were involved. We had a model we could show them so they could see what they would be booking. I can give you many examples of taking guests around the building site. And after that they placed their conferences with us."
At the HRS.com Hotel Excellence Awards, Norton Park scooped two of the top prizes for Excellence in Business Management and Excellence in Meetings. For the first the judges cited a "fabulous, comprehensive entry" showing excellent business management and the "total dedication" of the general manger.
Mr Mosley said: "We underpinned our application with how we had managed the process of re-furbishment. You can create a brand but there is a whole lot more to it than that. We were recognised in the way we managed the process, our investment in training our staff, the system we used to cope with the changes, our PR to our guests and for taking everyone on board."
The second award was for the being the first hotel to go above the AIM Bronze Standard when it won the AIM Silver Award in 2008. "This award was a great plus for us especially in the conference market as it sends a message to say that we are serious," he said.
Norton Park is now pitching for conferences of 100-120 people for two to three nights, not only from the business market in surrounding cities and towns like Winchester, Andover and Basingstoke but now from further afield.
"Some areas around this region are undersupplied with conference hotel and the businesses seem to be happy to switch to us. But generally speaking they are small meetings.
"We are looking for business from a wider region and as there are not a lot of properties like this around, we are therefore quickly getting ourselves known to key buyers in the trade."