How did the idea of awards develop?
It came from a conversation I had five years ago with Guy Hilton, who was then the GM at the Hilton Metropole. He’d had some success in Newcastle with awards in association with the local Hoteliers Association. We agreed that it could work in Brighton.
Neither of us were precious about hosting it and decided the Hilton should host it because they had more event space, which meant they wouldn’t have to turn away any other bookings. We even agreed that we would not enter the awards.
We wanted it to be an enjoyable event for the hotel community but also aim to raise the bar in terms of standards across the city. It’s a great message for tourism if the city’s hotels are striving to make themselves better all the time.
The idea was delayed as Guy moved on to Gatwick, and the new GM at the Hilton, Howard Lewis needed to settle in at the hotel. Howard was keen, and the Hoteliers Association were happy to invest £2,000 into the project, so after quite a lot of hard work by the teams here and at the Metropole, the event took place in November 2014 and it was a very jolly affair.
The first event was very much an industry event, but the event seems to have embraced other businesses.
After year one, the business community, particularly in Brighton, really woke up to it being a good idea, and we started to receive approaches from people asking how to get on board. Then we had hospitality industry names such as Matthew Clark (drinks suppliers) and Laterooms realising that it was a good brand association. This year we have the event sponsored by Christie’s.
Is it correct that this year The Grand is both hosting and organising the event?
That’s right. Last year, it seemed rather ironic that we had come up with this idea and then we couldn’t win, so we asked the Hoteliers Association Exec to organise the event. They did a fantastic job and we had 350 people at the Hilton in November 2015, but at the end of the night the Chairman, Jeremy Ogden, said, “That was a massive job. We need to find a way to do this more simply.”
I sat down with my team and suggested that we should go forward with a proposal where we basically organise it, run it, deliver it and underwrite it ourselves. They were very keen, so we have taken on the job, though it is still very much the Hoteliers Association Awards. I anticipate that we will have 400-450 people here at that event on November 15th.
It’s still keeping its roots because it’s still a light-hearted affair, enjoyable for all. We’re not pricing it out of itself. It’s not there to make tens of thousands of pounds and the underlying message is exactly the same, that we are raising the bar of standards in the City. Entering awards is quite a cathartic and reflective exercise and the feedback from judges is very useful.
Has it built a stronger sense of community amongst hoteliers?
I’ve been in the City for six years as part of the hotels community and I think it’s as strong now as it ever was, and what is really noticeable is the connection between the large hotels and the small hotels, which at one point was quite disparate and separate. The meetings are really well attended. It’s nice that the 6-bedroom guesthouses are mixing with 340-bedroom Metropoles, and acknowledging that we are in the same business. We all have the common aim that we want to bring leisure and tourism to Brighton and Hove.