As the old saying goes, ‘Time waits for no man’. This is also true for the hospitality industry where the need for regular refurbishment and rebranding is all the more important in an increasingly competitive world. By Will Daynes

There was a time, not too distant in the memory, when activities like dining out or short break hotel visits were very much limited to special occasions for the vast majority of the population. Today, such events are increasingly becoming part of everyday life and this is helping to fuel growth across the hospitality sector, which contributes over £140 billion towards the UK’s annual GDP.

With British households estimated to spend approximately £45.10 on restaurants and hotels per week, competition is understandably becoming more intense. In order to stay as relevant as possible, hospitality businesses need to be constantly alert to shifts in the market and respond quickly. One of the ways they do so is through rebranding/ refurbishment and by embracing the concept of brand evolution. While the former helps to create a fresh identity in consumers’ minds, the latter involves smaller changes through incremental innovations that reflect evolving market conditions, for instance the updating of menus to fall in line with the latest food and drink trends.

“In order to successfully navigate changing consumer mind-sets, one’s business branding needs to evolve with them, while at the same time remaining loyal to its core values so it endures. This signals to customers and stakeholders that your business is moving forward,” explains Philip Harrison, President and Managing Director of Harrison, one of the world’s leading hospitality concept creation consultancies.

It is Philip’s recommendation that not only should hotels, restaurants and bars assess their brand and whether it meets market needs annually, but that, every two years, changes should be made, however small, in order to remain relevant. Having recently rebranded his own business, Philip has identified a number of key tips that he believes represents the ‘dos and don’ts’ of rebranding and brand evolution.

These tips include:

  • Building a strong foundation
  • Responding to customer aspirations
  • Considering all customer touchpoints
  • Maturing with ones’ customers
  • Avoiding unnecessary technology
  • Recruiting and retaining talented employees
  • Not rebranding for the sake of it

Embracing your past
“The luxury travel market is thriving and it is vital to provide the best possible experience for ones’ guests,” states Philip Bolson, General Manager of The Grand Hotel & Spa, York, Yorkshire’s only AA-rated five-star hotel. “It would be simple for us to rest on our laurels and rely on our beautiful Edwardian building and iconic location to attract visitors, however we are keen to uphold our five-star status and to continue to improve the guest experience where possible. Guest demand is ever-changing, and it is our job in the tourism sector to anticipate and respond to this – or risk being left behind.”

Spurred on by a desire to bring additional options to York’s already diverse range of dining and leisure options, The Grand Hotel & Spa, York is currently in the midst of a two year, £15 million refurbishment programme. Work has included the launching of a brand-new, Yorkshire tapas-style restaurant, The Rise, and the re-opening of its three-AA-Rosette fine dining establishment, Hudson’s by Craig Atchinson. As a result of careful expansion work, the hotel will also benefit from the addition of 100 new luxury bedrooms, opening in early 2018. Upon completion, the development will double the number of five-star rooms in York, generating an additional £1.7 million of annual visitor expenditure for the local economy.

“For any hotel, expanding one’s facilities is a challenge, but with The Grand Hotel & Spa, York being set within an iconic Edwardian building we have to ensure that the new areas feel just as opulent as the pre-existing structure,” Philip continues. “When it comes to this programme, every step has been carefully taken to complement our home. For instance, when it comes to The Rise, its décor pays homage to the building’s history, including a press tin ceiling, dark stained oak panelling and, as a nod to its original resident, the North Eastern Railway, a locomotiveinspired black steel bar front.”

The aim of the refurbishment programme being undertaken by The Grand Hotel & Spa, York, is to welcome global tourists and local visitors alike to one of the city’s newest culinary destinations, and the addition of The Rise has already seen an entirely new demographic walk through its doors.

Evolving with the times
“It is important to adapt as customers’ needs change and as the local environment evolves,” comments Moya Ball, Managing Director of Artisan Investment Group. It is Moya’s company that owns, and successfully developed, The Ainscow Hotel & Spa in Salford. The building itself dates back to 1876 and, having immediately recognised its restoration potential, the hotel opened in August 2014. Since then it has been renovated sympathetically and today boasts 62 individually designed bedrooms, complete with locally sourced bespoke furniture.

Further developments to have occurred within The Ainscow’s grounds since the summer of 2014 have included the launching of Manchester’s only Cryotherapy UK spa, additional function spaces to complement its obtaining of a wedding licence and the inclusion of new meeting spaces. The latter has proven to be a highly astute move that has allowed the hotel to capitalise on the rocketing demand emanating from Manchester’s main business district, Spinningfields, which it sits on the edge of.

Logistically however, the biggest challenge for the hotel came in the form of its addition of a contemporary new culinary destination, The Lynwood Restaurant and Lounge. Introducing the restaurant required the hotel building to be extended upward, adding strain to its existing, historical structure. Careful planning and execution has resulted in the incorporation of what is today a highly successful restaurant with stunning views, serving a seasonal and locally sourced menu.

“As an experienced property development company with a particular interest in brownfield sites, our refurbishments are always sympathetic to the original building’s make-up,” Moya notes. “The Ainscow project proved to be no different, in that we worked hard to successfully retain the building’s original, much loved features, while also being able to provide some nice additional nods to Manchester, such as the gooseneck lamps that feature in all of our rooms, which our guests have responded very positively too indeed.”

Listen and learn
“You cannot afford to stand still in the hospitality industry,” correctly states Andrew Stirling, owner of Wolfscastle Country Hotel, one of Wales’ leading hotels and restaurants. “If no refurbishments or renovations take place over a two-year period, it is often the perception that specific hotels or inns are in decline. That is part of the reason why consistent improvements have always been a key factor for us.”

Already recognised throughout Pembrokeshire, and beyond, for the quality of its modern-styled food, and its ability to host lavish weddings and banquets, Wolfscastle Country Hotel’s continual push towards underlining its status as an exclusive five-star hotel and staying one step ahead of its competition has seen it introducing a spa into its portfolio.

“Our spa has been a perfect addition to what we have always aspired to be,” Andrew professes. “We see ourselves as a quality boutique hotel offering great food, service and a friendly, welcoming atmosphere, and we have now added to this by offering first-class spa treatments. We have since been delighted with the fantastic response we have had from our customers and now look forward to enhancing the spa experience on offer with the addition of a Jacuzzi and sauna in 2018.”

When it comes to identifying the best course of action for embarking on a programme of refurbishment or rebranding, Andrew perfectly sums up the secret that he and his peers have become so adept at understanding. “The art is in listening,” he declares. “Refurbishment work is regularly led by the customer. If you stop to ask your guests what area of the hotel they would like to see upgraded it can often by different to your own perception. At the end of the day, it is the customer that you are there to serve, so listening to them is vital!”