Alex was appointed Chief Executive Officer in 2016, with responsibility for all commercial and operational aspects of the business. Previously, as Managing Director and Chief Operating Officer, Alex led the operational team through a number of acquisitions, delivering superb results. He joined Kew Green as a General Manager in 2004 having earlier worked in a number of GM roles across Holiday Inn and Marriott hotels. Alex has big ambitions for Kew Green and believes in keeping great customer service, investment in people and strong returns for investors at the heart of his leadership.
Can you tell us a bit about your background and how you came to your current role?
My first job was in the hospitality industry at the age of 13 as a bottle boy at my local hotel; following this I undertook training at Le Meridien Hotel in Dubai before undertaking a degree at the University of Bournemouth. I then took a job at Swallow Hotels. I’ve actually never resigned from a role!…The Marriott group bought Swallow Hotels where I became Director of Sales and I then took my first GM role at the age of 26 at a Marriot Courtyard Hotel, which was then bought by Kew Green.
I became COO two years ago and then CEO following the acquisition of Kew Green by HK CTS Metropark Hotels Co Ltd. I think this shows there is a real development path for those that work at Kew Green; internal promotions are key for us. Three out of five of our Ops Directors have come up through the ranks from internal positions.
What do you find most challenging about your job?
We’ve grown rapidly since 2001 and think a challenge associated with this is ensuring our culture is instilled into the properties we buy and isn’t diluted as we expand both in property and people. Ultimately we need to ensure we’re always delivering on great customer service, as well as shareholder returns.
Almost everyone will use a hotel at some part of their life and one size certainly doesn’t fit all. We continually innovate to make sure our hotels are catering to all facets of consumers. People’s expectations are a lot higher now than previous years; they see what used to be luxuries, such as branded hotel restaurants/an on-site Starbucks/Sky and broadband, as hotel staples.
There will always be the unexpected challenges we can’t plan for too – for example Brexit.
What is the best part of your job?
I would say seeing people grow, by a million miles! We have our Greenshoot Development Programme in place, which was launched in 2013. Green Shoots is targeted at team members and is designed to help them attain a first-time supervisory/management role. Our industry is one of the few out there where it’s straightforward for people to work their way up from entry level positions to directors.
What do you see as the most important elements in developing your hotel brand?
Ensuring brand standards are consistent across all hotels and ensuring our individual brands, such as the Marriot, Hilton and Holiday Inn are amongst the best in Europe. Our employees work for Kew Green but they need to understand how individual brands should be represented.
What are the key issues for the sector at the moment?
I would say firstly cost pressures – the national living wage is increasing, and the devaluation of the pound has ensured food prices have risen.
Secondly, we need to consider where our workforce will come from post-Brexit. From a more general people perspective there’s the challenge of recruitment into the category as a whole. Our industry can have connotations with being seen as suitable for those at college for example, through entry level roles, but there’s a wide variety of sectors that need to be staffed such as finance and revenue. We want good people to come and work for us and we need to spread the message that the hospitality industry is an attractive one.
Thirdly, I think keeping up with how quickly technology moves is a challenge for us all. The airline industry, for example, has embraced this through enabling travellers to check in for their flight on their phone or computer before they get to the airport. It won’t be long until we see online check in our hotels.
Have you noticed any hospitality trends emerging this year?
I think food and beverage is really growing in importance – for example, we’re growing our portfolio of destination ‘concept’ restaurants in our hotels such as Stock Burger in Brighton (burgers and craft beer), Cow on the Hill restaurant in Bromsgrove (steak) and our Jin restaurant in Liverpool (Chinese). People have got increased expectations of what hotel restaurants should offer now, and we need to make sure we’re catering to these needs.
Secondly, I think the industry needs to make sure it’s open to the growth of Chinese travel to the UK and be ‘China ready’. We need to make sure we have offerings suitable to their needs, for example, having translations in Mandarin.
Thirdly, people don’t just pay with their Mastercard or Visa anymore – we need to be ready for people using Apple Pay, which is growing hugely.
What makes a great hotel?
Ultimately it comes down to people, and great service. It’s coming away from a hotel stay remembering the people that worked there, who have gone above and beyond to make your stay the best it can be. Aside from this, amenities such as a power shower and a great bed – as you spend most of your time in a hotel asleep! – and, as I’ve said before, a food and beverage offering that’s an experience.
In general, how do you think the hotel industry is performing at the moment?
Well! Our group is having a good year. Of course, there are always challenges for us to manage, for example, cost pressures, but on the whole the future is bright. Emerging markets such as China are providing us with new opportunities and increased numbers of tourists and demand.
How do you see the future for the hotel industry?
Technology is clearly growing in importance – we may even see robots checking people in in the future!
But in my view, people will always have a place in hospitality; if you look at the airline industry, some people prefer to check in online but others want the human interaction of checking in at the desk.
From Kew Green’s point of view, a lot of the time our hotels are chosen as the pilots for new initiatives that make guests’ experiences as rich as they can be; whether it’s for a new food and beverage concept or new technology, we’re known for being a good environment for trials. This is important, as people will continue to look to hotels for an experience, and not just a bed for the night.
What are your plans for the future?
From a personal point of view, to lead the company and ensure we continue to grow. We’ve set out to be the leading hotel group in the UK and Europe, but the next step is pushing this to Hong Kong and China, and maybe even further afield! Following the acquisition of Kew Green by HK CTS Metropark Hotels Co Ltd, we have a process of knowledge sharing in place between employees across the two continents, which is very exciting, and I want to ensure we’re reaping the benefits of this relationship.
Quick fire questions…
Last hotel you stayed at?
From a personal perspective, it was the Metropark Hotel in Causeway Park, Hong Kong
Your favourite food?
The one item of technology you can’t live without?
What is the most important life lesson you’ve learnt?
An opportunity comes when you least expect it! Keep persevering, if something you’ve tried hasn’t worked, another opportunity will soon come about.