BTN Europe presents an overview of business travel and MICE predictions for this year
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Zoe Jenkins is the General Manager of the just opened Coworth Park Hotel in Ascot, England, the new 70-room five star addition to the Dorchester Collection of Hotels.
Coworth Park House is a Georgian building dating back to 1776 in 240 acres of grounds with two polo grounds and an equestrian centre.
What specific challenges are involved with opening a property like this?
Any hotelier launching a new property will tell you about the challenges they face in terms of liaising with the project management team, the designers, the builders, the contractors, maintaining budget, maintaining specifications to combine the latest of IT, guest requirements and legal requirements. Then there's the challenges relating to the setting up of a project in this location, which is out of town. Every opening has this business of reconciling all the wishes and desires and the visions of all the stakeholders, but for Coworth Park our location, which is amazing from a guest perspective presented us with certain challenges in terms of recruiting our team.
We believe that the team will be what will give us our USP, our service is our key differentiator. We have a fantastic physical product, but it will be our people who give us the edge on the competition. We have to have people with the right attitude. We are in the heart of the English countryside which doesn't appeal to everyone. People have to want to live out of here and work out here and have transportation. It's not like all the young people who work in hotels in London who are used to working in a four or five mile patch. But we spent a lot of time recruiting the right people and getting them here, which isn't a traditional area for a five star hotel. We currently have a head count of 220 staff from the grounds men and the equestrian operation to the kids club.
Why is it a good idea to have a hotel out there in Ascot?
The estate and the grounds are owned by our holding company, the Brunei investment agency and so we had a great opportunity to create a country house hotel. You have various different combinations of key ingredients to make it successful. You have got different styles - a mansion house offering rooms that are classically Georgian with a contemporary feel, a Courtyard to the stables where there is a different, rustic feel, Cottages which are family friendly. These different elements of the accommodation are attractive for people who are looking for high profile retreats and management conferences.
The complexity of that combines with the restaurants which mean we can make it a destination for non-residents because we are sitting in the heart of a very wealthy area where there are locals living in mansions that cost millions of pounds. We have one restaurant, which is very informal, and a fine dining restaurant, both of which are overseen by John Campbell, where we have the potential to achieve Michelin star status. The estate creates a whole inclusive experience for the guests, but we also have the ability to attract local residents, which will then increase the success factor and the return on investment and the profitability of the whole organisation.
Where will the guests come from?
From the inquiries coming through they are geographically from the UK. From Friday through to Sunday it will be families and weekends away and couples. From Monday through until Thursday we have lots of corporate and group inquiries. Next week we have exclusive use for a very famous car company for five days to launch a new car, with back to back meetings and dinners. We have the usual residential meetings and we will be popular for weddings, I would imagine. MICE would make up to 35% to 40% of our revenue. It's early days yet but I think it will be significant. We are set up to welcome people from around the world - collectively the staff here speak about 32 languages, I think.
Isn't the profile of a Dorchester guest different?
The Dorchester's weekend business is predominantly from the UK as well. During the week there are a lot of international guests because of its central London location and the business and corporate guests and group elements, so it's less concentrated than a country house hotel, certainly, because of that corporate business, but during the winter season with the Christmas packages it's strong on UK. For us at Coworth Park, the competition is from hotels like Chewton Glen, Four Seasons New Hampshire, The Grove, even Babington House on the leisure side for weekend visitors.
The running costs of the hotel must be astronomical.
There is a significant investment by the company both in terms of the physical product and the number of people we are employing, yes, but we have a targeted 10-year business plan and this operation has to be profitable.
You have an amazing equestrian centre and two polo grounds, but how many guests are going to come and ride ponies?
Some guests will be interested in the polo, to watch or participate in it, and next year we will launch a polo club in its own right servicing its own membership with the two grounds, and those members will have benefits and have access to the hotel for certain things. Then there is some demand for corporate events on the side of the polo fields, to come and watch games with outside catering during the season, which is August through until September. This is Berkshire and Surrey which is the heart of polo and polo-related activities. It is a stunning ground and gives our guests a different perspective and a different set of activities on site. But it is not just polo, it is equestrian, allowing people to go out and have riding experience in Windsor Great Park. And coaching and corporate days out are looking for different experiences, with polo master classes - the groups business like it and in the last few weeks we've done several.
You have no golf course, but have come to an arrangement with Wentworth Golf Club.
That's right. Wentworth is a fantastic golf destination in its own right, it is only five minutes down the road and we will be working together closely as business partners to offer our guests access to those facilities which otherwise they wouldn't be able to acquire.
Will you sell private memberships to the spa and fitness facilities?
We will, yes. The spa is a large spa with eight different treatment rooms, the gym and the Great Pool. There is a balance between offering a tranquil setting and services to our hotel guests and balancing it with membership from the local area.
And packages with the Dorchester in town?
We have town and country package on our website and there are requests for that particularly if they are going out of Heathrow - T5 is only 15 minutes away.
How do you market yourself abroad?
We have a network of Dorchester Collection PR and Sales offices around the world. We have our sister properties keen to market us, we are working members as partners of Virtuoso, and American Express as part of their international leisure programme.
And you are an eco property as well
We're not completely green, but eco credentials are high on our agenda in terms of procurement and it is one of our key strategies. To gain planning permission to build in the heart of the green belt we had to be very eco conscious. The spa was constructed out of natural materials - either natural or recycled, and we have some organic products and that along with some energy saving initiatives, the bio-mass fuel boilers, and our growing willow trees on site shows we are very eco conscious rather than completely green.
How is demand looking for the next six months?
It has been significant. We have had a good soft opening period and we are where we had budgeted to be. Now we have to build on that success for next year. We are spending a lot of time doing fam trips, working with all the key travel agents and the third party handlers and ground handlers to get their buy-in for them to be able to sell Coworth Park first hand. UK leisure is enjoying relatively strong growth at the moment compared to the other markets so I'm very optimistic