30 November 2022, Virtual
12 December 2022, etc.venues Monument, London
Business Travel Show Europe, presented by The BTN
Bespoke Hotels was founded in 2000 by Haydn Fentum and Robin Sheppard.
It is the UK’s largest independent hotel group with over 80 hotels in the UK and a further 85 worldwide, including 70 in India as a result of a partnership with Indian hotel operator Peppermint.
Tom Otley spoke with managing director of its new international division, Nick Turner
What’s different about Bespoke Hotels?
It’s a soft brand [so individual hotels keep their names] but it offers management services, so the majority of the 80 hotels we have in the UK are also managed by us. Those hotels made us a four-star brand, predominantly, and the property will be the main player within their local town or city.
What’s different is that bespoke offers management to these hotels – we are not just a sales and marketing organisation, though we offer that as well. We operate it to our standards, and though it’s flexible if it’s a five-star Chester Grosvenor or three-star property, we always want to be the best in the area.
We are no different to the hard American brands which have sold all their properties over the last decade.
Are these mainly leisure hotels?
No. Among the 120 UK hotels, probably 95 per cent have meeting and events facilities, and even where it’s fairly limited, such as the Hotel Gotham in Manchester which has picked up a number of awards this year, there’s still room for private dining, so a lot of business in the hotels is local or national corporates.
In the UK portfolio depending on location the corporate mix could be over 50 per cent for business travel and meetings, conventions. We have big hotels in Aberdeen where it would be nearer 60 or 70 per cent. In London Bermondsey Square it’s more of a 50-50 mix.
So why would a traveller choose you rather than a hard brand such as Marriott or Hilton?
A soft brand provides them with reassurance that there’s a golden thread of quality and consistency they will get. You also get the personality of an individual property.
Robin Shepherd and Haydn Fentum started the business as a provincial player. Successive contracts with large portfolios of properties as well as the ones and twos have made it the largest independent hotel group in the UK. Best Western tend to have independent managers. It’s a confusing situation for the consumer, since they are branded as Best Western but in fact aren’t managed by them. We are a softer brand, but we have the management consistency.
Tell us about the Indian expansion
Peppermint Hotels are similar to us over in India – they have a management platform as well. We had a good working relationship with the managing director and our ambitions over there with our local partner will be to reach two or three hundred properties since there’s such an opportunity for a quality British brand.
Again I think this is the benefit of Bespoke as a soft brand. The majority of the Indian properties will be “… by Bespoke Hotels”. The pipeline for India is good, and within it will be all the major cities, gateways and airport locations. It’s a good fit for the growing middle class in India. It’s a four-star brand and that’s what India needs, I think. Then if we have those properties over there, it stands to reason we will have millions of new customers looking at the website.
Are there other territories you are looking at?
It’s no surprise that the Middle East and indeed Africa makes good sense for us to look at next, since for Dubai the largest markets are both the UK and India. We are talking to owners there saying we can drive traffic into the Emirate.
We have just opened a new office in Dubai which will be called Bespoke Middle East and Africa. Our offices will be on the Palm Jumeriah next to the Fairmont.
We have a joint venture with a strong Gulf property and hotel company and there will be an announcement coming out very soon. At the end of next year we will have a new five-star hotel and residence on the Palm Jumeriah not far from the Atlantis.
We hope that will be the catalyst to growth throughout the GCC where again, primarily we will be managing the properties. The venture we’ve created in the Middle East will give us 500 people on the ground in Dubai, with real expertise, so it’s been a very exciting move.
In Dubai we are also looking at owners who have signed with the big brands but they are not performing so there’s a conversion opportunity. And the reason is probably because they have dozens of properties so they are maxed out on their ability to fill rooms. So we hope to pick up those disillusioned owners and help them. And they can call the hotel what they want rather than having an American brand on it. We will also pick up some residences, and we are talking with two towers allowing them to be a combination of apartments.
Will you have a loyalty programme?
We are working on various different options at the moment. The value of loyalty programmes is the only big play that the big brands have to stop consumers going down the Online Travel Agents Route. We want to go further, creating an app where you can book your room, book a room in the restaurant, a treatment time or a tee-off time. I’m expecting mid-next year for that. Instant rewards will be important, so you earn the rewards and they are instantly credited so you can redeem them in the restaurant.