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September 2022, Virtual
September 29 2022, Virtual
ABTN speaks to Atanas Botev, general manager of the Radisson Edwardian's Hampshire and Leicester Square hotels, about how being green starts in-house, helping the homeless and good times for London hotels.
Radisson Edwardian has been pushing its green credentials recently - what have your hotels been doing?
We've submitted our entry to the Green Tourism Business Scheme - being bullish as always I'm going for at least silver. I've done a lot of things locally. We'll see in a couple of weeks what the outcome will be.
What did you have to do for the application?
It's a very straight forward process. Basically, we submitted all the initiatives we've been doing group-wide, and at the hotel, for the last 18 months. What we've done withour staff, additional training, awareness programmes, recycling, electricity and water saving initiatives, waste management.
What was one of the most difficult things you did?
The most difficult thing is always making people buy into the idea that we can make a difference, especially with front-line staff - making them understand that the little things we do on a daily basis make a big difference for the business. When we talk about responsible business people say, well, what difference can I make. But when you put it into the bigger picture it makes a difference. Take recycling for example, if the recyclable waste from 300 rooms avoids being sent to landfill.
How do you help them understand?
With us, responsible business starts from day one. During the induction process they see a presentation with all the things we've done so far in the group, and what their immediate contribution will be. After induction, they have departmental training, where again they are told what is expected of them, what the goals are. We also have an online training, which teaches them awareness of responsible business. A lot of the advice they receive can be applied at home as well, not just at work. We also have green boards at work, with the green act of the week, measurements of what we've done, and every month on our employer forum we discuss the green initiatives that are taking place.
It's not only about being green, it's social responsibility in general. We're working with a local charity, The Connection at St Martins in the Field, which helps homeless people get back on their feet. We work with them by offering a two-week placement for some of their clients. Somebody will come, we give them a uniform, and we treat them exactly the same as we treat the rest of our staff. Nobody in the hotel, except the heads of department, know where this person has come from.
We take between six and 10 people every month, for two weeks. They start as a new starter, alongside the rest of the team, and sometimes if there is a vacancy in one of our hotels in London we will offer them a job. We have taken on three people already, who have been very successful. We've managed to put them into work, which takes them straight away off the street. Many more have also had letters of recommendation from us, and have gone on to find jobs elsewhere. I've worked with about 20 people so far, and I'm extremely impressed. The will of these people to help themselves and go back into employment is just unbelievable.
So you don't think corporate social responsibility at Radisson Edwardian has suffered during the recession?
You don't need to invest a lot of money to become greener. At Radisson Edwardian, last year was the biggest year in terms of investing in green initiatives, simply because the return on investment is so good. It's not only energy saving lightbulbs, but also water saving devices that give you an instant return on your investment. There is training, which costs nothing if you do it inhouse - it's just making people aware of what's around them. I would say in times of crisis, when the economy is shrinking, one should think outside the box.
What about solar panels on the roof of the hotel?
I don't think we will ever go that far, simply because of the time it takes to recover the initial investment. At the moment, the majority of investments are focused on very short or medium-term investments - maximum 18 months. Also, the technology is not there yet, especially for older buildings like ours. The Hampshire is a listed building, built in 1900, so there's not much you can do with it. It was the first five-star hotel to open on Leicester Square, and is still the only one.
London's first W Hotel is soon coming to Leicester Square - it means rejuvenation for the area...
I don't know who is more excited, them or me. I am really excited that W is coming to Leicester Square. I'm not scared of the competition, because it is proof that Leicester Square is an up and coming area. It's not going to change by that much the available rooms on the square - close to 200,000 people pass through the square every day, so there is plenty of business for everybody. We want to see investment into the square, which will mean more premieres and events that will bring the right clientele.
How has business been recently? Statistics show London hotels are booming...
My question is, is it sustainable? Because last month was phenomenal. I get a report which tells me how my competitor set is doing as well, which shows hotels within a mile of me, and we all seem to be having one of the best months so far. We were very fortunate, even last year, as we maintained our occupancy - it's now around 90%, which is not much growth. But year on year we have seen a massive growth in rates for June - they were up between 10 and 15%. People seem to have the money to spend on hotels. I hope it continues like that, but there is a little caution, as we are still hearing bad news from outside London.
Have you seen more business travellers at the hotel?
I think business is returning to London, very strongly. The companies that introduced no five-star policies are slowly starting to relax, and see the value of coming back and staying longer. We are very much back into being a business hotel.
I've seen something quite strange, also. People are willing to pay high prices on the room, but the average spent on our food and beverage has dropped. It's either because there are more choices around us and people are spending their money outside the hotel, or it's because people are spending a lot of money on accommodation and don't have enough to spend it on food and drinks.
There is a definite tendency this year that people will spend less on food and drink inside the hotel - it's not much of a difference, say 8-10%, but overall the picture has changed. Last year, while our occupancy was quite high, our room rates were low, but people were spending on food and drink. Last year was a phenomenal year from the standpoint of our restaurants and bars. This year, it is the opposite. People will spend more on rooms, as this is what the rates in London are these days, and probably they have less disposable income left.