1 November 2022, London Marriott Hotel County Hall
21 November 2022, Hilton London Metropole
12 December 2022, etc.venues Monument, London
Robert Cook, ceo of Malmaison Hotels, tells ABTN how the chain is holding up in what he says "has not been a good year" and how things might just be looking up
How are things?
Well, for business travel, Mondays and Thursdays have been poor. Tuesdays and Wednesdays have been strong and have held up rate, but we've had to discount Monday and Thursdays to bring in volume. Now those nights are growing in September, which is great, how it used to be. There's still rate resistance on those nights, but not to the level it was at. For the meetings business, it's still tough. We're smaller, so the big meetings and conferences have been regionalised or made smaller and we've benefited from that, but there's very little of it. It's not been a great year. Our meeting spaces have been used for social use far more proportionally than for business use. Plenty of weddings and birthdays, but the pure meetings business has been derisory.
Having a strong food and beverage offering must have helped.
Yes, you could eat in a Mal for £29 for two including a bottle of wine, and we sold dinner bed and breakfast packages which we'd never done before. And general F&B promotions attached to rooms such as the £25 for a Sunday night provided you spend £75 on a meal. Hotel du Vin did benefit from a bit of "staycation" this year, and our Scottish Malmaisons because of festivals and the Open Championship at Turnberry, and our Oxford, which is a destination and also because it's a destination itself being a prison, has performed well. I'd say we're cautiously optimistic. We've also attracted new audiences who now know we are affordable.
You've had a number of new openings as well.
Three in the last quarter last year and Edinburgh this quarter. We have no other plans for this year. It was always planned as a rest and take stock period, thankfully. Of the new openings, Aberdeen has performed well and above budget and all expectations, but Aberdeen is a micro-market. Newcastle and Poole have fared well but have definitely suffered from the spasmodic nature of booking patterns. Newcastle is one in our focus on working hard to get it to where the rest are. Edinburgh has done well and I'm confident it will do budget and July/August was exceptional for us, even with competition opening up next to us [the Missoni]. But we're only 47 bedrooms there compared to that hotel having over 100.
How have you reacted to these tough times?
We've grown our database by 200% online. We did it in various ways. We sponsored the Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen show on Sunday morning on Classic FM "I think therefore I Du Vin", and we captured data from that, 50,000 new profiles. We also used Donald Russell meats in the Aberdeen Mal steak house, so we extended the partnership. He's got the biggest online meat business selling to high end residential homes. Wouldn't it be great if we could talk to each other's databases, which has been hugely beneficial for both businesses. It's all added value stuff - capturing new data. We probably were arrogant thinking everyone knew who Mal and Hotel du Vin were, but the promotions we're run during the recessions also helped. The £29 menu went gangbusters for the first three months but then slowed down and that was as people migrated onto the a la carte after three months.
I don't know if this is the end or the beginning of the end, but September/October is looking very very strong.
What are the future plans?
We have the intention to rebrand the Golf Hotel in St Andrews into a Hotel du Vin, and we have to have it for the British Open next year. We are sitting on the Chester and Canterbury Hotel du Vin sites until the market recovers, but there's a lot more room for Hotel du Vins to open. We're actively looking for opportunities. There could be 25 or 30 in the UK eventually. Future sites for it would be Durham, Exeter, Chichester, Salisbury, university/cathedral towns, and I'd love one in Aberdeen.
The Pub du Vin [which debuted in Brighton] is something I'm very keen on but everyone in this market has got to stick with their knitting and with what really works. And smaller Hotel du Vins like Winchester with 25 rooms would be something we'd look at. The model going forward would be to look at hotels that haven't fared so well and which we could do something with. We've done it before in Cheltenham, Winchester and Tunbridge Wells and the Golf Hotel in St Andrews. The same for the Mal in Aberdeen, and Queens Hotel in Aberdeen. It is quicker to market, less expensive to do and the city knows it as a hotel.
For Malmaison, the expansion is more difficult in the UK. We could go to the likes of Southampton, Portsmouth and Sheffield with Mal, but that's not going to add the value to the brand, no disrespect to those cities. We still want a couple more in London, but the two brands have come to a juncture. So while Hotel du Vin could continue growing to 25 or 30 properties for Mal the opportunity is to take it abroad. There is a lot of owners looking for boutique brands and some hotels are looking for a boutique brand to sit inside their portfolio. Those are the discussions we are having now and they are very positive. I would imagine this time next year we'll have announced that we are doing a couple of properties overseas. We'd go wherever there are the opportunities with the right owner. We are a proven boutique brand which has worked in a space where other hotel owners have done less well.
Do you cross market between the brands?
Well we have a lot of corporate synergies between the brands, but both Mal and Hotel du Vin are very niche. We have our intranet site where employees, and then family and friends and eventually suppliers can log into the ten different brands including Searceys, Greens, Liberty or the De Vere Hotels. It will be the best deal you can get, and once it's gone it's gone. So last month I was putting in things like you could stay at Devonshire Gardens for £150 but you got two tickets for a music event. It's not a discounting tool, not for us at least. I mean Liberty might sell last year's fashions at a discount, but I've a different commodity to sell. But if you can add value to one of your best suppliers and one of their staff get two tickets for a U2 concert and a stay at the Mal, that's a nice thing to do.
How do you see 2010?
We are riding the storm pretty well. Sitting here today on a better cost basis without any derogation of brand or people and now we have to expand this business, both domestically with Hotel du Vin and Mal into new territories. 2010 will be flat, but tail end of next year the world should be a bit of a better place. It's all about timing, where do you hit the curve, and we just have to hit it right. To not expand them would be devastating for both. The last two years opening four or five a year, the energy in the team grows. We have spent CAPEX on a lot of our properties, on four or five Hotel Du Vins to keep them fresh. We came into the recession with great product and we'll come out with fresh product which means we can come out of the blocks first.