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As you step through the door of one of London”s newest hotels The Hoxton, you could be forgiven for thinking you were on the set of the latest Harry Potter film. The lobby is adorned with mock stag heads on bar-coded placards and a roaring log fire acts as a centrepiece. Suspended from the ceiling, paper eagles posed as if in mid-flight lend an air of surrealism to the environment.
The Hoxton Hotel is the first hotel from Sinclair Beecham, who made his mark on the food world in the eighties by co-creating London-based sandwich chain Pret a Manger. Now he”s making his mark on the hotel world through The Hoxton, which opened its doors in London in early September.
His development of Pret a Manger was simple: open one at a time and make them work. It”s also his take on his new hotel business. And yes, there will be more hotels rolling out across the UK. It”s just a matter of when and not how.
”I”m working on getting this hotel fully finished first,” he reveals. ”I”m a perfectionist and there”s a whole list of snagging issues to deal with”not only with actual design and decoration, but with things I want to continue doing to The Hoxton.”
Plans for development include self-service check in machines. ”I want to eventually automate the check in process. Of course we”ll still have receptionists to facilitate that but it would be an added bonus if we could have a small area where guests type in their name and a booking number and then a key card pops out. I”ve had a look at some machines that I thought about installing but the technology isn”t quite there yet.”
Staff training is emerging as a big issue and Beecham is hoping to roll out a significant training scheme for all client-facing representatives. ”They need more experience but on-the-job training is working well so far.”
The Courtyard”the outside dining area”requires further insulation and Beecham wants to convert it into an area that guests can use in all weather. ”All of this has got to be sorted first before we consider opening any more hotels, but I envisage in about two to three years time I”ll be ready to open another.”
He”s also passionate about the aesthetics and reveals he is hoping to commission sculptor David Wynne to fill a gap in the lobby, which currently houses a coffee-table selection of books for guests to borrow. ”David has said he wants to do one final large sculpture and if that”s the case, I want it to be in the Hoxton”s lobby.”
The costs are rising but Beecham”s not worried. ”The investment and development is crucial to achieving a great hotel.” He reveals that by the time he”s satisfied with The Hoxton, it will have cost ”17.5m ($32.7m).
Built on the site of a former car park the hotel is only a few doors away from the local Express by Holiday Inn, which prompts a question about competition. It”s fair to say that the two hotels aren”t competing for the same clientele and Beecham believes he”s not stolen any guests who would otherwise have stayed at the Holiday Inn. ”I think the brands are aimed at different target markets.”
And while The Hoxton doesn”t yet have a star rating it”s not something that director and general manager Stephen Lloyd believes is necessary. ”I think it”s outdated and outmoded and doesn”t mean much in the age of boutique hotels. They tend to stand apart in their own brand.
Jeans versus Suits”Let Battle Commence
Although the hotel has started its life as a destination primarily for business travellers, the majority of guests relaxing in the lobby and the courtyard dining area don”t represent your usual business travellers.
Beecham is confident his master plan to create a relaxing and informal business hotel is paying off. A large area of the lobby holds a table full of arty books that guests can borrow and read in front of the fire and guests are encouraged to make full use of the ground floor.
Beecham explains his jeans and t-shirt wearing guests as ”an eclectic group of young, energetic business people.” Expecting to enter a business hotel and finding twenty-something Londoners milling around may be off-putting for your average business traveller arriving weary off a long-haul flight. And there is a certain danger that with the hotel”s self-proclaimed ”easyjet-style pricing” that many guests may end up using the hotel as a one-off base for a raucous night on the town.
If this is the case the demographic looks unlikely to change and the jeans-wearing brigade may prevail. But Beecham believes that this demographic will evolve into a mix of business travellers and trendy individuals and he assures me that one month on from opening there have been no drunken rock-star antics and ”I don”t expect any,” he says. ”Our guests are young professionals and if they want a great value price for their hotel room in order to enjoy a night out, they have to be quick about it.”
The Easyjet-style pricing is an innovative offer for a hotel. A select few rooms are available at a starting price of ”59 ($110) and prices increase slowly for the next batch of rooms thereafter. The Hoxton”s had a great deal of PR and Beecham took a leaf out of Ryanair CEO Michael O”Leary”s book and launched the first ever batch of rooms for sale at the bargain basement price of ”1. The strategy has ensured a high occupancy rate for the first few months, with very few rooms left available as a result.
But how does the man who co-created sandwich chain Pret a Manger end up in the hotel business? Developing a hotel can be tricky at the best of times, especially when you”ve barely any other hotel experience than as a paying guest. Beecham admits he was lucky in having the pioneer of the One Aldwych hotel as a friendly voice among his original development team.
Beer & Bedrooms
Attention to detail is Beecham”s most obvious trait and throughout our meeting he barely sits still, choosing to check on progress of receptionists and ensuring a waitress gets off the telephone quickly and continues serving thirsty patrons. The hotel”s restaurant, also situated on the ground floor, is rented out to a concessionaire. The Hoxton Bar and Grille does not come under the hotel”s management, but is a chief lure for day visitors who”ve come to look around the hotel.
”I don”t think a hotel should ever operate its own restaurant,” Beecham reveals. ”You can”t have the same team of people selling beer and bedrooms.” However he does agree with selling snacks and bedrooms. The reception desk plays host to a newsagent style built-in shelf where cans of Coke and KitKats await purchase. But woe betide you if you expect room service from the front desk.
”Mini bars are notoriously expensive,” says Beecham. ”So we simply don”t have any in-room mini bars. There is a fridge where guests can store their own food and drink if they choose and we provide a couple of bottles of free mineral water.” Cans of Coke are about 50 pence from the front desk and so are chocolate bars. Half a bottle of Bollinger is ”16 ($30).
”I”m not providing great value rooms and inexpensive food and drink and then having my staff run it up to rooms free of charge. But I don”t think that”s unreasonable,” he responds.
Room service aside, Beecham”s plans can”t really be faulted. He”s cottoned on to a potential market and publicised his venture well. The hotel is upfront about what it offers and what it doesn”t and if guests are quick enough, a good deal can be found. The Hoxton can be found on few late availability websites but for exactly the same price as if rooms had been booked directly with the hotel.
While the streets of Hoxton may not be prime business traveller territory, the hotel is relying on its image and brand to lure business travellers. Beecham”s enthusiasm for the hotel rubs off on his staff and with the extensive investment he and his team have ploughed into the venture, he”s not about to watch it fail.
The Hoxton Hotel”Fact File
The Hoxton Hotel boasts 205 rooms.Guests are given a free Lite Pret breakfast every morning of their stay.Half the hotel”s guests are business travellers, the other half are tourists. About 10-15% of all guests come from the US. All rooms are the same in terms of style and layout and are 20sq m each. (215sq ft). There are no suites, penthouses or VIP areas available. All rooms are the same. The hotel has 7 meeting rooms, available for hire, which can be converted into private dining rooms. There is no concierge service, but the hotel is re-considering this.All rooms are non-smoking.The hotel has a deal with a local gym. Guests of The Hoxton can work out for ”5.Director and general manager Stephen Lloyd was previously director of operations at InterContinental and prior to that he was at Holiday Inn and The Grand Plaza.