12 December 2022, etc.venues Monument, London
Business Travel Show Europe, presented by The BTN
21 November, London Hilton Metropole
A few years back Thistle Hotels were the first choice for many UK and overseas business travellers travelling in Britain.Under the guiding hand of their then ceo Bob Peel, they had a reputation for being smart, even stylish but above all, for the travellers away from home, comfortable.
But after Mr Peel's departure in 2001, the crown slipped. Guests at Thistle hotels in the past few years a have noticed their drab, down at heel look more than anything else.
A new £100m re-furbishment programme is now well underway with the first hotels already sporting their new look. There is also a newish chief operating officer Chris Gillett who took up the reigns a year ago and is determined to restore the chain to its previous eminence.
He is candid about the hotels' problems. "I don't think there was much investment. Bob Peel left in 2001 and there has been no investment since," he said.
With the £100m – the largest in the brand's history - now being spent, three hotels have already been restored, two in London and one in Liverpool. But Mr Gillett who before joining Thistle in 2006 was managing director of Macdonald Hotels in Scotland, said the re-furbishment marked "the beginning of a major investment in the Thistle brand.
"Research has shown that it is synonymous with quality of service but in a few areas our product was a little dated and required investment."
But Mr Gillett has set his sights far wider than just re-furbishment. He is also aiming to give his hotel staff a new attitude to their jobs and more crucially to their guests."We want them to react to the customers. To develop a hotel, it is vital to have interaction with the customer.
"We want our staff to bring their personalities to their hotel, to greet customers like friends not as strangers so they are comfortable during their stay.
"We have a great bunch of guys here and a lot have worked through the adverse conditions and we are very proud that they have stayed," he sad.
The second area where Mr Gillett has trained his sights is in making the chain's 33 properties (they have 5,800 bedrooms and 293 meeting rooms) individual hotels.”Local hotels with local identities” is how he puts it.
For example, the Cardiff property, the Park Hotel will be branded that in large letters with the Thistle name and logo written in smaller letters underneath it. The hotels will also all have individual menus to suit their area. Scottish Thistles will sell
Scottish produce while the Stratford hotel will cater for its tourist guests with dishes like cream teas.
"It's a good brand and it would be foolish to scrap it but local hotels should be relevant to the local area,” he said
But Mr Gillett has also not forgotten that Thistle's earlier reputation was built on its business clientele. "This is predominantly our largest market. We aim to make it convenient for them to stay with us and our facilities easy to use. For example therewill be free wireless connections throughout the hotels.
"We want an atmosphere that is informal but upmarket. We don't want our staff to be stuffy but we don't want them too casual either.
"We have great brand awareness and we proud of it. We are determined to get back to where it should be," he said.