The Grand Reopening | Andrew Stembridge on Iconic Luxury Hotels’ recovery
How has Iconic Luxury Hotels – owner of Cliveden House, Chewton Glen, The Lygon Arms and 11 Cadogan Gardens – found the last two weeks since reopening? We spoke with the Group’s Executive Director, Andrew Stembridge, on occupancy in both the country and the capital, and the challenges – and unexpected positives – to emerge post-pandemic, as well as how government can continue to support the hospitality sector.
How have the first few weeks of reopening been for the Iconic Luxury Hotel Group?
Business is very mixed with extremes at Chewton Glen – occupancy and rate up significantly YOY. In London occupancy is exceptionally low as we anticipated, however we are now forecasting 20% for July, which feels more encouraging. Even at Chewton Glen revenue will be down YOY and on budget as there are a number of departments that still can’t operate such as conference and banqueting. Big events such as ‘exclusive use’ parties and weddings are particularly important for Cliveden over the summer months. The summer months are also when we traditionally welcome most of our international guests, especially North Americans, and there is still virtually no activity from the USA. In terms of conversion it is too early to quantify the cost impact of additional cleaning, less efficient working practices and PPE, along with reduced capacities in our F&B outlets.
Having consulted with numerous other hospitality businesses we have decided to not pass on the temporary VAT reduction on accommodation, food and soft drinks to our guests. We are only 24 hours into this decision and there is definitely some push back from our customers on this – albeit a small minority.
The team have ‘bounced back’ from furlough much more positively than we imagined and have adapted to and embraced the new protocols positively. That said they are finding wearing face coverings and masks very tiring. Guests on the whole seem grateful that we are open and pleased that we have gone ‘above and beyond’ in our approach, however there is clearly a proportion that are somewhat bemused by the lengths we are going to, to protect guests and staff.
What are the current challenges?
The biggest challenge is still the quantum of decisions that need to be made without sufficient information to make them. Managers who would traditionally be empowered to and feel comfortable making decisions are now less confident doing so. The late notice of information from Government is a nightmare and the fact that receive the same ‘vague’ updates at the same time as our customers created unnecessary pressure. Government seem ill informed and many of their decisions don’t make sense; most of what we are doing is ‘box ticking’, as clearly a large majority of the public are not too bothered about ‘staying safe’ when they are left to their own devices in an uncontrolled environment.
And what are the positives?
From a commercial perspective the demand for staycations is helping enormously and now that restaurants and bars are open there is strong demand from local markets for dining out. The social distancing measures have pushed us to be more creative in F&B and we have launched a pop-up pizza restaurant in the kitchen garden at Chewton Glen, a gin garden at The Lygon Arms, and we have a Veuve Clicquot Airstream pop-up in The Astor Grill courtyard at Cliveden. Pavilion Road has now been pedestrianised and we hope to have more outside seating for Hans’ Bar & Grill, subject to council approval.
Operationally we used the lockdown period to catch up on some jobs that would not normally get done, which is great, and it has also introduced us to new more efficient ways of working, travelling less and using MS Teams more. The continuation of the furlough scheme + £1,000 bonus, the ‘dine-out’ incentive, and the VAT cut are all helpful.
What’s the response been from customers and your teams?
Most guests are pleased that we are open and that we have gone to so much trouble – although some would rather our staff were not wearing PPE. The team have been amazing and have embraced our new protocol however, as mentioned, they are struggling with masks.
How else can government and or local council help with aiding retail recovery?
They could help by ensuring that local shopping environments are as ‘appealing’ as possible.