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The Big Interview – Mark Aldridge, Director Of Operations At Lourve Hotels Group

Leanne Donovan 20 September 2017
The Big Interview – Mark Aldridge, Director Of Operations At Lourve Hotels Group

Mark Aldridge, Director of Operations at Louvre Hotels Group – UK and Iberia

Can you tell us about your career history and how you came into your current role?

I started out working in my parents’ grocery business. We had a number of shops and market stalls in the Sheffield area and after they sold their business and retired, I began working in local pubs in my late 20s.

After helping to run a few pubs for two to three years, I then felt the next natural progression was to enter the catering industry and since then I haven’t looked back.

I’ve had spells at various hotel chains including Forte, Jarvis Hotels, and Peel Hotels before moving on to Louvre Hotels Group ten years ago as a regional operations manager, where I have worked my way up to be where I am today.

In my current role, I am responsible for 16 Campanile hotels around the UK, as well as hotels across other brands in Spain that have included Golden Tulip, Tulip Inn and Premiere Classe.

What does a typical week look like when you’re managing hotels across three different countries?

It has its moments and can be very exciting. A lot of jobs like mine are now done electronically. We don’t necessarily need to have face-to- face meetings or telephone conversations anymore. My Monday mornings are usually spent overviewing activity at our hotels over the weekend.

Throughout the week I am juggling responsibility for various different activities relating to budgets, sales and marketing, recruitment and identifying potential partnership opportunities.

Despite managing hotels in different countries I spend about 70 per cent of my time here in the UK, and occasionally visit our hotels in Spain and France.

How have you navigated around the language barrier?

I don’t speak French or Spanish, but I have learned over the last 11 years that a lot of language is about body language. One thing I think I’m good at is reading people’s body language and understanding what they’re trying to communicate, even if they aren’t speaking English.

When you’re working around people you pick up certain phrases. I probably understand about half of French and Spanish now, and I can add in the rest by looking at their body language. I’ve also learned to speak in a way that they would understand and translate. For example, if I were to say “Mary’s school”, the French would say “the school of Mary.”

What differences stick out to you when comparing British hotels to those in Spain and France?

There are more cultural differences perhaps than people like to admit. We have quite a relaxed culture in the UK, but overseas hotel workers – some of whom have known each other for many years – always communicate in a very formal fashion, and as guests you are often greeted with a “sir” or “madam.” Overseas hotel staff always look the part as well, wearing a suit and tie all day long, despite the heat!

It’s likely that freedom of movement is going to be limited post-Brexit, how do you think this will
affect the hotel industry?

If it’s a hard Brexit and freedom of movement is restricted, the worst case scenario is we will potentially lose up to 30 per cent of our staff, as will other hotels across the industry. This makes the pool of people we can recruit from to fill these vacancies ever smaller, and then salaries will go up.

We are really keen to do all that we can to help our existing EU workers make the right decision about whether they stay put in the UK or return home. That could be helping them through the process of obtaining rights to stay put here, or through training to help develop them as people so they feel a sense of loyalty to the Campanile brand.

I’m a big believer that if you talk negatively about something, then negative things will probably happen, so therefore if we begin talking positively about Brexit, then maybe positive things will happen.

The hospitality industry is renowned for its high turnover of staff – what is your hotel doing to
tackle that?

We have an employee training programme called Encompass that focuses on the development of our people. It’s a programme that isn’t about how to clean a bedroom or how to serve a steak, it’s about them as individuals and helping them develop the skills set to engage with customers and feel more confident within themselves.

We have a number of workers who are celebrating 20 plus years of long-service with us, which we are extremely proud of. If staff feel valued and stimulated, they are more likely to stay with their employer.

The Campanile hotel in Liverpool and its dockside bar appears to be the jewel in the hotel chain’s
crown with unique food and drink creations and weekly live entertainment – what’s the thinking
behind this approach and are there plans to expand this into other hotels?

Liverpool is a very vibrant, cultural city and has a very strong leisure trade, particularly at the weekend, and we feel our Seven Zero One Bar at the Campanile Hotel capitalises on that.

We wanted to create somewhere where people felt comfortable and could relax a little bit more.  We’ve refurbished the bar and created some interesting food ideas, such as the Sunday Roast Burger, and as a result the average welling time has increased by an extra 20 minutes, while bar revenue has increased by 20 per cent.

We have a couple of UK hotels earmarked for significant investment in the future, so watch this space!

How have your hotels found integrating themselves into their respective communities?

For any business to survive they have to play a part in their local community, particularly when we do not have masses of marketing spend like some of the other bigger businesses in our sector.

That is why we have launched what we call ‘Morning Mingles’ – which is where each of our hotels promotes and hosts a monthly meeting for the general public to come together over a coffee.

They’ve been doing really well – our Basildon hotel has generated a number of leads and bookings through networking, while our Doncaster hotel also has local councillors who attend regularly.

Price comparison websites – they’re good for the consumer, but what about the hotel?

Most consumers will book a hotel via a price comparison website, so it’s a platform that all hotels need to be on despite them driving down our profits. It’s up to us to ensure we’ve got the best deals possible, and when they come to our hotel, we win them over with our people to urge them to then book direct with us as a business.

What’s the best piece of customer service you’ve ever encountered in a hotel?

I’m a big advocate of selling. There’s a restaurant I regularly go to in Manchester and they are first-class at selling – they get to know the people they’re serving and they’re confident within themselves which really comes across, and as a result they sell more.

Rather than bars and restaurants waiting for customers to tell us what they want, we should be out there engaging and selling proactively, which is why we place a great emphasis on developing ‘soft’ skills such as confidence at Campanile.

What state do you think the hotel industry will be in in 10 years’ time?

People are wanting individualism and a home-from- from experience now, so we’ll need to adapt as time goes on.

I think you’ll find increasingly smaller, one-off offerings imitating people’s own bedroom style. As a result you’ll start to see some of the bigger hoteliers diversifying into smaller individual products rather than constructing big multi-storey buildings.