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The Big Interview with Gill Mathison Co-Owner of Hampton by Hilton Blackpool

Diana Szpytma 24 July 2018
The Big Interview with Gill Mathison Co-Owner of Hampton by Hilton Blackpool

Can you tell us about your background and how you came to your current role within the hospitality industry from your position as director of Create Construction?

I first moved to Blackpool in 1993 after being appointed the managing director of Blackpool Football Club and since then, I’ve always had a passion for the Fylde Coast and really seen the town develop and go from strength-to-strength.

The hotel industry also isn’t something new to me. I was first introduced to the sector back in 1999 when I was a part of the Blackpool Pleasure Beach marketing team and helped to oversee the opening of the theme park’s first hotel, the Big Blue, which gave me some invaluable experience which has really helped as I’ve moved to become a hotel owner rather than a hotel promoter.

I left Blackpool Pleasure Beach in 2006 to set up a new business with my husband, the Create Group, which we built from a start up operation to where it is now, a company that had built some major landmark schemes and employs more than 80 people.

The Create Group is a specialist in large-scale student accommodation and hotel projects throughout the UK and it’s from this that we decided to not just build a hotel but to own and run one. The Hampton By Hilton in Blackpool is our first venture to do this, but it has already been an incredible success so far, thanks to some of the people we are working with.

What do you find most challenging about opening a new hotel and bringing the first Hampton by Hilton brand to Blackpool?

We discussed at length as to what brand we should invest in and bring to Blackpool but after much consideration, we felt Hampton by Hilton was a perfect fit for the market.

As you would expect, the Hilton brand standards and guidelines are quite prescriptive and early negotiations were necessary to ensure that we remained brand compliant, whilst also meeting the demand for the local market.

An example of this was the introduction of double-double bedrooms, something which has never been delivered in a Hampton by Hilton hotel. We opted and pushed for these sort of rooms as we felt it was essential to provide cost effective accommodation for larger groups and families.

What makes Hampton by Hilton stand out as a brand and how does it differentiate itself with its offering?

When deciding what brand to bring to Blackpool it was what the Hampton by Hilton brand stands for that really helped make us decide. The brand is high class and offers quality, affordable accommodation along with a free hot breakfast for all guests and complimentary Wi-Fi. This service is described as ‘Hamptonality’ and it’s something that I’m honoured to introduce to Blackpool. Our guests can expect a friendly, authentic and caring service as well as complete satisfaction which is backed up by the 100 per cent Hampton Guarantee.

You’ve recently just opened the hotel following a complete re-build and renovation – what did this entail?

It was a challenge but a thoroughly enjoyable one for the Create team at the same time. It entailed the demolition of two existing hotels on New South Promenade and the construction of a new four storey, 130 bedroom hotel. The project took 18 months to complete, invested £12m and we were delighted to officially open the hotels doors for trading in May ’18.

What is the best part of your job?

That’s a really difficult question, but I’d have to say it’s delivering something from concept to completion. Take the hotel for example, I worked extremely closely on the project from when the plans were put together to briefing our interior designers who helped develop our Hampton by Hilton vision, to monitoring the build phases. When we opened our doors, of course it was a sigh of relief but at the same time, it’s great to take something from an idea to a reality.

How important is it to collaborate with fellow hotels and attractions to put the resort forefront of UK tourism?

It really is vital for all hotels and attractions to work together. Blackpool has undergone a huge transformation in recent years, more than £500m has been invested in hotels, transport links and infrastructure and the area has certainly seen the benefits as tourism is constantly on the up.

Not only that, the electrification of the train line between Blackpool and Preston means that a new high-speed service is available, direct from London. More development is coming to Blackpool in the form of a state-of-the-art 12,000 capacity conference centre, again, another major positive for the resort. With all the development and tourism on the up, its vital businesses rally around, work together and offer the best product possible to attract both leisure and corporate visitors.

What do you see as the most important elements in developing your hotel brand locally and within feeder markets to drive business?

From a local and regional perspective, we are focussing on developing our corporate business, particularly for the quieter, out of season months when our leisure visitors will significantly decrease. Not only that, another important factor of choosing the Hampton by Hilton brand was the high class reputation it brings. The Hilton brand is recognised worldwide and has extensive reach across all channels. Hilton Honors, the award-winning guest loyalty program, has over 70 million members and this helps drive loyal guests to our accommodation.

What are the key issues for the sector at the moment?

With net migration reducing from the EU since the Brexit vote, it’s key to attract the right staff and make the correct appointments. As a hotel, we are new to Blackpool and the industry so a challenge for us has been to develop a team, from a general manager to cleaners, from scratch. We’ve had to ensure that they can work together and operate as a high performing unit.

Not only that, The Hampton by Hilton brand operates with an efficient staffing level, which allows us to maintain competitive room rates. We are embracing the latest technologies, such as digital check in and digital keys, to free our staff from arduous tasks, therefore, enabling them to focus on the most important things, our guests.

Have you noticed any hospitality trends emerging this year?

It isn’t a surprise that the hospitality industry is constantly evolving. We’re seeing plenty of direct bookings where previously, tourists may opt for hotel comparison sites such as Late Rooms or Trivago. We actively encourage our guests to book direct as we always offer the best prices for our accommodation.

When designing the hotel, we conducted research and found guests wanted simple rooms, not littered with needless appliances. We have gone for a clean and cost effective look and this is certainly showing in our group bookings with the hotel at near capacity for July and August.

What makes a great hotel?

Each person has a different opinion when it comes to hotels, but, for me, I have two boxes that need ticking and that is value for money and a first class service. Of course, the room is a vital factor but I think if you ensure the first two options are correct then everything falls into place. A hotel stay is an experience and as an owner, I always want guests to remember their stay for the right reasons.

In general, how do you think the hotel industry is performing at the moment?

As a whole, the hospitality industry is certainly on the up. More and more people are choosing to stay in the UK with occupancy up and above expectations. This is particularly showing in Blackpool, popular events also help along with the regular summer season. Blackpool Illuminations sees a spike in the demand for accommodation along with popular music performers who come to the resort. As a whole, we’re exceeding expectations from which we forecast and this is a major positive.

What are your plans for the future?

The future is certainly bright, we plan to progress a number of hotel development opportunities along with further new build branded hotels and the acquisition of existing trading hotels.