The ways of the world have changed since the COVID-19 pandemic. On an individual and industrial level, every process has been changed to comply with the safety standards to avoid contracting the virus and any of its variants that might arise in the future. The industry that must take the most care in following these safety regulations and guidelines is the hospitality sector, which comes most in contact with its clients.
Keeping in mind its duty and necessity, one of the hotels that has transformed the way it used to operate to make it safer is The Athenaeum Hotels and Residences.
In the following interview, Bernard Murphy the Group Managing Director talks in detail about the values of the hotel and how it is doing everything possible to make the guest experience in their hotel the finest.
Please brief our audience about your hotel, its USPs, and how it is currently positioned as a leading name in the hotels and hospitality industry.
Of course, we would say our hotels are special, but genuinely we do uniquely approach the role of hospitality. And indeed, we give an individual experience at all the hotels we own. We are a family business, and that comes across with individual attention to detail and hospitality.
The Athenaeum Hotel and Residences are part of the family-owned RTL Group which also includes The Grove ‘London’s County Estate’ in Hertfordshire and The Runnymede on the Thames, a modern hotel set on the banks of the River Thames in Surrey.
The Athenaeum is a long-established but recently re-furbished hotel with a large number of regular guests who see it as their home from home when visiting London. It is one of the very few hotels in the city with a view across Green Park into the gardens of Buckingham Palace.
The apartments are popular with many celebrities – those who regard their privacy as sacrosanct rather than those seeking attention. Similarly, our guests appreciate that this is a quiet area of London, and the hotel oozes peace and tranquility. In a word, it is relaxing.
Set in a 300-acre estate, the Grove Hotel, our London Country Estate, combines luxury with the highest standard of sporting facilities and an immense spa. It is also an outstanding conference venue.
With its walled garden and recently renovated glasshouses, much of the produce for the restaurants is homegrown. There is a specific Asian Corner that caters to the very regular pop-ups we host. We also have an incredible award-winning and championship golf course and our beach.
The Runnymede is a modern riverside hotel on the banks of the Thames just ten minutes from Windsor. With an award-winning ‘Guinot Crown Elite’ Spa, two superb restaurants, and even a jacuzzi on the jetty, this is a superb place to de-stress for a few days before exploring everything the area has to offer.
We position ourselves as a unique and individual experience. Yes, we have the heritage, the back story, and the F&B offering, but it’s the staff and the service which make the hotels – that is what we specialize in – that unique touch that makes every stay memorable.
Tell us more about your offerings, through which you have ascertained your stronghold within the hospitality space.
The offering across our hotels is so exciting as there is always something going on. That could be a series of cinema showcases or popular film nights at The Grove, an exclusive Whisky tasting at the Athenaeum, or a jacuzzi experience on the Thames at the Runnymede; the teams at the hotels are very creative and always thinking from a guest perspective – ‘what would you love to do during a hotel stay’ – and then they deliver it to the highest possible standard.
So, we have a lot of pop-ups – chefs from around the world; the most exciting brands and experiences showcased at our hotels; live performances; interesting people for guests to meet from the world of music, theatre, film, food, fashion, and design—we want our guests to be entertained and maybe a little bit awed—if that’s what they want. Or to be quiet – to walk in the Royal Parks, paint, take a breath, relax, rejuvenate and just ‘be’ in our wonderful art-filled and inspired spaces.
Brief us about the leadership team at The Athenaeum Hotels and Residences.
As a team, across our three hotels, we have been lucky to attract some of the best talent and most visionary individuals in the business.
At the Athenaeum Hotel and Residences, we have an incredible General Manager, Joanne Taylor- Stagg, who has been recognized by the industry for her work, vision, and passion. With over 25 years of experience, Joanne was recently recognized for her dedication to her team, business, and wider hospitality industry and was awarded Manager of the Year at the 2021 Cateys.
We also have the fantastic Sharon McArthur, Director of Food & Beverage at The Athenaeum Hotel & Residences, who has been shortlisted in the 2021 Hotel Cateys for Food and Beverage Manager of the Year. And of course, still, with the Athenaeum, we have local legend Jim Gardner Burns who has been a loyal doorman at the hotel for over 26 years and is a friendly face our long-term guests have come to know and trust.
The Athenaeum is a ‘family’ unlike any other hotel in London. We all work together, pull together, and care incredibly about the guests who come to stay in what we regard as our home hotel. It is so very special to have the recognition that my colleagues are achieving in what they do day-to-day as part of their lives and the loves of this hotel and this industry.
Over at the Runnymede, my goodness, Craig Spencer is a shining light for anyone who cares about hotel and hospitality. He has worked across a variety of positions at the hotel over many years and is now the Executive Manager leading the way for the entire team.
And at the Grove, we are so delighted that Joanna Barnett, who has been with us for nearly nine years now as Director of Events and Food & Beverage, has just won a scholarship to Cornell University. Anna Darnell, who is our Resort Leisure Director, oversees the Grove spa, golf, and leisure, has been with us for over 16 years. We are delighted to have trained these colleagues and managed their career progression as part of our family values attitude to running the business.
But so, you know, on this question of specific people, it is everyone pulling together, caring together, wanting to make a difference together that makes a great hotel.
Being an experienced leader, share your opinion on why adopting modern technologies is necessary for the hospitality industry and how you have leveraged these technologies to deliver your offerings?
Like most of the hospitality industry, we have perhaps been a little slow to adopt the latest technology – but that is changing fast. Of course, our focus will always be on our guests and the service they receive, but we are looking at every area of the business to see how we can improve performance.
To be successful, we need to ensure that where this impacts our guests, it enhances their experience. For example, we have an App for ordering food in the restaurant, but of course, for the more traditional, we also have waiters to take an order if that is preferred. We can also send a ‘key’ to a mobile phone, so there is no need to check-in or check out.
As I reflect on this, I know that we need to do better. We were plodding along, and Covid has made us change our way of working. We are daily reviewing how we work and adopting new ideas to help us give a better service and a better guest experience – which is what we are all about. The future of hotel and hospitality will be intelligently using technology to give our guests the best and most fulfilled experience they can have.
Considering the COVID-19 pandemic, what challenges did you face, and how are you currently sustaining operations while ensuring the safety of your employees?
The Covid Pandemic changed so many things. We recognized from the start that we needed to protect our staff as well as guests. We were early adopters of a Safe and Clean policy that we have in place today to ensure everyone in our hotel environment is as safe and protected as possible.
All of our staff have now been double jabbed, and we test everyone twice a week. We follow and often exceed Clean and Safe Government Regulations. We have health and wellness counseling for all members of staff across our hotels, and we are supportive of employees and their wider families during this time.
What would be your advice to budding entrepreneurs who aspire to venture into the hospitality space?
I’d advise any entrepreneur planning to go into the hotel and hospitality industry to spend a huge amount of time thinking about the processes. If you are starting with a blank sheet of paper, then designing and running a hotel is a complicated business and one that needs to be addressed.
Like a swan, it should appear serene and untroubled on the surface of whatever is happening behind the scenes. This means lots of roles–playing, putting people into complicated and even confrontational situations to understand the mechanics of what can happen and seek resolutions. Also, by taking advantage of new tech, make sure not to have lots of people doing things they don’t need to.
And people are the key to success. They need to be the best, but they also need to be deployed in a new thinking way – only have people doing things that add value. I also think there will be more consideration for local communities and local social conscience, plus of course sustainability and the environment. So, anyone starting needs to be cognizant of all of this. I’d also advise them to prepare to be good neighbors and invest in the local community. This both develops goodwill and helps with recruitment.
How do you envision scaling your hotel’s operations and offerings in 2022 and further?
We have several planning consents at both the Runnymede and The Grove where we have land available for development. (Obviously, that’s not the case with the Atheneum in Central London). We’ll have more bedrooms and new exciting guest offerings. We are talking to our customer base and involving them in plans for what the hotels will look like in three years.
So far, we are finding that most people are planning for less office time and more time in collaborative outside spaces and experiences. Such things as team building are going to be important. In a way, we can be a third space for people alongside home and office working. It’s beyond zoom meetings, important though they have been. Above all, we think that people actually want to have some fun and we are keen to help them do that.
About the Leader
Bernard Murphy has been the Group Managing Director for Ralf Trustees Ltd since February 2019. He first became the Interim General Manager for The Athenaeum Hotel & Residences in May 2018 to oversee the completion of a multi-million refurbishment and repositioning of the hotel prior to transitioning into Group Managing Director for the luxury group.
- F&B MANAGER OF THE YEAR: Winner – Sharon McArthur: crowned F&B Manager of the Year at The Hotel Cateys 2021
- HOUSEKEEPER OF THE YEAR: Shortlisted – Juris Dubrovskis
- CONDÉ NAST JOHANSENS AWARDS FOR EXCELLENCE 2022 for Best Service
- CONDÉ NAST TRAVELLER’S READERS’ CHOICE AWARDS 2021: Voted Number 33 in the Favorite London Hotels category.
- THE INDEPENDENT HOTEL SHOW AWARDS: ‘The One to Watch’ in the GM of the Future Award – Juris Dubrovskis
- THE INDEPENDENT HOTEL SHOW AWARDS: Independent Hotelier of the year – Joanne Taylor-Stagg