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December 2016

Jonathan Stapleton on turning The Royal Crescent into a five AA red star hotel

The historic Royal Crescent Hotel & Spa in Bath was awarded five AA red stars in September just four years after it was bought by Topland Group. General manager Jonathan Stapleton spoke to BigHospitality about turning the hotel around and how the industry can secure its future postBrexit.

The Royal Crescent won five AA red stars this year, how did you achieve this?

When Topland bought the hotel it needed huge investment on the physical side, so they put in around £5m to bring the hotel back to its splendour. But while you can put a map on the wall, a hotel is actually all about its people. So when I walked through the door just over two years ago I said we’ve got 368 things we need to do to get five red stars, and the journey will take us 18 months.

What were some changes you implemented?

The first and most important thing was to get people on board with the vision, and to break that down in to bitesized chunks. Our mission in the first year was to go from good to great, and the second year was to turn that in to a consistent level of experience. If you’re going to get five red stars you have to be great at every point of interface every day. That sounds easy but it’s not.

So getting staff on board was key?

Absolutely, it’s about giving people accountability. The team must know what the bigger picture is and where their contribution lies, so they can work together to make sure no guest slips through the cracks. When I walked in two and a half years ago the staff were working in silence, and I’ve pretty much found that in every hotel I’ve worked in. Staff can’t work in silence, there needs to be a connection between departments.

How do you think Brexit will impact the future of the UK hotel industry?

I am concerned. There’s a shortterm benefit with more overseas tourists coming over to take advantage of the weak pound, but for most hotels outside of London around 80 per cent of our business is from the UK market. I think we’re getting poorer as a nation, and we’re getting poorer as a result of Brexit. So if people’s property value is going down and their pay packet is worth less, that’s going to impact the UK hotel industry.

We employ many people from Europe. I’ve already had three or four staff leave to go back to their own country because they don’t feel welcome here anymore, and that’s a real issue.

The advantage of having a balance of UK staff and those from different countries is that they bring not only the cultural experience but a strong work ethic, and that benefits other people in the team. The Government needs to reassure all those people that are here that they are welcome and can stay.

Many hotels are struggling to recruit UK staff, how do you think the industry can encourage more people to consider a career in hospitality?

The country, not just the industry, needs to stop rewarding people at the top. We need to put more time and money in to rewarding the people who actually matter the most, which are the ones serving the customer. It’s an inverted pyramid. As general manager I consider myself to be the least important person in the building, and if there’s a pay rise to be given it should be go to those who serve the customer directly.

You’ve worked in hotels for over 40 years, how has the industry changed?

I think we’ve become more businesslike, which is a good thing, but we’ve got to get back to being more personalised about what we do. We should be spending more time with our people and our customers, and less time absorbed in paper communication.

I believe in flat organisations, I hate hierarchy and don’t see a place for it. The decision making process has been taken away from the people who should be making them. It means people cannot make decisions because they are not allowed to, and that has a negative impact on the customer, whether it’s in a restaurant or a hotel.

The Royal Crescent building is 250 years old in 2017, are you doing anything to celebrate?

The hotel has only been open since 1973, but it’s part of the historic building. We’re going to celebrate from May to October next year by making the anniversary part of everything that we do. For example, we’re creating a special bottle of limited edition Bath gin which we’re bringing in to our spa by creating a massage oil, and will have a gin panna cotta in our afternoon tea.

What’s next for The Royal Crescent?

We have a terrific brand at the Royal Crescent, and now it’s received recognition it’s about building on that. When our team comes to work each day we need to be asking ourselves how we can get better at what we do, as that’s what will keep us ahead. It’s not easy but that is our motivation, continuous improvement and consistency.