12 December 2022, etc.venues Monument, London
Business Travel Show Europe, presented by The BTN
21 November, London Hilton Metropole
Simon Scarborough is General Manager of Flemings Hotel in Mayfair. Founded by Robert Fleming in 1851, it now occupies six interconnecting Georgian Townhouses bordering Half Moon Street and Clarges Street in central London, and is privately owned. It has just completed a multi-million pound renovation
How is the market at the moment?
The London market is the strongest market in the UK, and it's doing very well. You still need to be on top of the situation with your guests and make sure you are looking after your corporate market but there is business out there and more confidence as well. I think London is a special case around the world in that it can recover more quickly than other cities around the world. The first quarter last year , every hotel in London was struggling, I think. But from April onwards we had a phenomenal year in terms of revpar (revenue per available room) and I think that was booking the trend around the world. Now it might be because we are a small niche place, independent and can react very quickly to things, but this year is looking very good with significant increase in rates.
Because you've refurbished?
Yes, it is because of that as well, a lot of people are becoming aware of us who weren't aware before, and then there are those who like what they see and are returning. And we've pitched ourselves just below the top end of the market. We aren't cheap, but we are competitively priced for what we give. If you want to stay in Mayfair in a beautiful property with great service we are a good place to stay in. Our competitive set is local, so The Goring, The Stafford, the St James Club, the Athenaeum. The old set, most of them quite small, most of them under a 100 rooms and we have a few more, 129 rooms but we fit into that boutique style because of the style of place we are. People are always surprised when we say 129 rooms including 10 apartments.
Those other hotels have also modernised themselves.
Yes, many of them have. The Goring has that lovely tradition and is a lovely place but does have twists, and the St James Club is very contemporary now. The Stafford is how Flemings used to be but it does have some very modern apartments and the same with the Athenaeum that is quite contemporary in parts. Dukes is still very traditional but we all trade on our tradition and having been around for a long time and their history, but the contemporary style is what people want. They want something new and lush and opulent but still love it if you don't forget where you've come from. What we've done in Flemings is very bold but it hasn't turned off existing clients and it has attracted new clients.
What are your main markets?
The principal market is local corporates. Mayfair is a very affluent area and a lot of companies come in here to book. The second biggest market is the US, and that's 50 corporate coming from the US and 50 per cent transient. And then because it was difficult at the beginning of last year I redirected the sales force to go to a lot of European countries: Germany, Switzerland, Sweden and France are all good key markets for us.
How do the fluctuations in currency affect you?
They do affect you but then you have to make sure you are pricing yourself correctly, and we have good computer systems where we can do daily pricing and fluctuate our rates we can still pick up business if you are switched on enough. They affect you but it's how you react to it.
How do you market yourself in the US as a small independent?
I personally go about five times a year. We have a director of sales in the States who has been there for three years and used to be a sales manager here in London and used to fly to the States a lot. It's an awareness of going to see agents, and we do a lot of international travel for a small company. We do go to the big cities but we also go to the smaller cities that you wouldn't necessarily fly from but there are lots of small agents that are top end that no one else goes to who send people.
What about marketing organisations?
There are positives and negatives. We find it most cost effective to do it ourselves. I've also got greater control and trust in my own team rather than giving it to another organisation, even if they do a good job. We are also currently with Luxe - a US GDS company who are very strong in the US and have a very big sales force and a very good vice-president of sales. They have a very good president of sales called Rosalind who is very proactive all over the world and promotes us very strongly. She also has very kindly opened lots of doors to see the top end of agents so we work together with them and develop relationships.
What profile are your guests?
They are currently 45 upwards but we want to move this to 35-45. But we are pleased that we have clients that are over 50 or 60 that still like the way the new Flemings is, but we are trying to mix our age groups, not forgetting where we've come from but moving on.
Do you have a loyalty programme?
We don't have a formal programme but we recognise them in the sense in the way they are greeted, the personalised note from me and being invited for drinks during their stay. If somebody is flying frequently and wants to rack up points with airlines and hotel chains they don't stay with us, but if they like being treated in a certain way then they would stay with us. I do Wednesday night drinks from- 6-7pm every night and anybody's welcome to come and join me in the bar at that time, and we invite outside guests as well. It's a nice mix of people and we make it very informal.
Does the lack of a loyalty programme cause problems with corporate accounts?
Well if rewards are the principal thing they are looking for, then perhaps, and some people when they are travelling want the familiarity of a brand so they know what to expect. But people stay with us because we have individuality, they are remembered, they are walked to their room and it's just like coming home. If you travel a lot, international travel isn't that much fun. Guests who stay in our suites we stock food in the fridge they like, their favourite newspaper or magazine and small touches so when they come in from work they can take their shoes off and eat the food they want and remember which rooms they like and if they want beans on toast in the room, regardless of the fact it's not on the menu, let's service it. Another guest likes Irn Bru in the room and can't get it in Mayfair so we make sure it's in the room. The big thing is what international travellers want is to be recognised, have as much informality or formality as they want, be checked in efficiently, get to their room, get straight onto the wifi and relax in the bar so the whole process is seamless.
Also, guests who come from Australia and the far east always land early and we are very good that if their room is not ready we have a room for them to shower and change, go to sleep, give them breakfast. If you stay in the larger chains they would say check in time was two o'clock, but that's what we're good at and people don't forget that.
Mayfair has lots of restaurants, so how do you make money with yours?
We are fortunate that Mayfair does have a lot of restaurants, but some people want to be able to relax, maybe even only have a sandwich in luxurious surroundings. And we aren't aiming to compete with restaurants and turn the tables three times at lunch and three times in the evening. The bar initially was done to enhance our rooms and Flemmings but we now have a destination restaurant and bar.