Managing a refurb project

Refurbishment is often a touchy subject with hoteliers; not only the hassle and cost of managing a refurb project, but also whether it is really necessary. Deborah Heather, Director of Quality in Tourism talks about refurbing and how relevant it is to your business. Deborah manages a field force of more than 40 assessors operating a national accommodation assessment scheme; each assessor grades around 300 properties a year, ensuring that they are safe, clean and legal.

Although not formally a part of inspection, recently refurbished hotels often outperform their unrefreshed counterparts, both in terms of their grading and their bottom line. As an owner or manager, it is easy to become blind to the scrapes and scuffs that appear on hotel paintwork, but to a first-time or irregular customer, they can stick out like a sore thumb. So too with your inspector!

For any business, there are usually two key drivers for refurbishment; the first is to keep the hotel looking fresh and bright, ensuring that the bumps and bruises it sustains from guests don’t leave it looking tired; and the second is to take it beyond the days of mundane magnolia. Most don’t have a formal refurbishment programme with a rolling schedule of maintenance and revamp, instead taking an ad hoc / when necessary stance to upgrading the interior of the hotel. Understandable, but nevertheless a tactic which overlooks the potential business case for refurbishing.

Commercially, upgrading the property should not be recognised or isolated as a cost, but should instead be viewed as an investment. It may seem like simple semantics, but psychologically, shifting the idea from a cost to a return can have a massive impact on the bottom line. The benefits of a proper, planned refurb include positive reviews and customer loyalty, lower overall long-term maintenance costs, increased property value, opportunity to increase room rates or tier room prices more substantially, increased turnover, increased profitability and potentially even commercial expansion by using existing spaces smarter. I remember famously a major London hotel invested many millions in a top-to-bottom renovation, which involved closing the hotel for many months. Working in hotels at the time, we were all astounded, but the day the business reopened, it had a seemingly effortless 38% increase in turnover and a whopping 90% increase in profitability. Another a few years later increased the property value alone by 80%. I appreciate these are big numbers to go with big properties, but still, they are scalable and even better you don’t have to commit to closing down to achieve them.

Best practice in the industry suggests a full refit of each bedroom every seven to twelve years, which should include replacing furniture and furnishings (or restoring period pieces), redecorating, upgrading bathroom suites, adding new facilities (when relevant) and if possible, improving the footprint of the room or creating new rooms from unused space. This does not of course mean you can leave the room completely untouched for seven years, and hoteliers should also have a refresh and deep clean programme for rooms, that addresses scuffs and scrapes, identifies aspects which need an upgrade e.g. mattresses, pillows and duvets, and makes repairs when necessary for example cracked tiling.

One of the most common hesitations that our assessors encounter is the short-term impact on RevPAR and the potential impact on other guests. In terms of RevPAR, it is all about careful planning and management; being as specific as possible before even starting work helps to minimise the timeframe in which work is completed and of course helps offset the loss of earnings. Similarly, if your focus at the same time is to increase the value, tier or rate of the room, then it should be well worth the upgrade in the medium-term. With regards to other guests, it is all about managing expectations and becoming familiar with their behaviours. For example, completing works during the day, but not starting anything noisy until after 10am helps to limit the impact on guests; similarly, finishing dirty works at a reasonable hour to allow clean-up, well in advance of your check-in can also help. It does of course also depend what you are having done. As you will see in the profile of Tickton Grange, their refurb included a restoration of their library in the heart of a Georgian House. The response from guests has been exceptional, in part because of the positivity with which the programme was handled and in part because of the obvious love and dedication that has gone into the project. Guests were genuinely interested and invested in the project and so any potential negatives were minimised.

One final piece of advice to give is to stay true to your business at its heart. If you’re known as a country retreat, any room upgrades should be fresh and delightful, but should stay true to the core cosy, comfy, country idylls that your guests will hold.

Case Studies:

Tickton Grange, Beverley, East Yorkshire

A Georgian Country Hotel with twenty-one glorious bedrooms and surrounded by gardens and meadows, Tickton Grange embarked on their largest ever refurbishment project, at the beginning of this year.  Owner, Helen Whymant explains “We completely redesigned our Library in January/February of this year, the heart of this lovely old Georgian house. This was a massive undertaking for us, not least because our guests really love the room and didn't want it to change.  It was however, very tired. Working with interior designers and also utilising the feedback from the assessors, we took a leap of faith and completely transformed the room. The bar was redesigned and rebuilt. The ceiling came down, the floors came up, we rewired, re plumbed, we built new bookcases and reinstated panelling, the sofas and chairs were designed and built specifically for us, curtains and blinds were hung and the walls were lined with a fabulous range of framed Hockney illustrations, from posters to books and programme covers, to celebrate his East Yorkshire connections. We worked with a ceramic artist who threw plates and jugs for our new relaxed food offering and she also designed our Afternoon Tea china in collaboration with Royal Crown Derby.”

Helen continues “When we put the first images out on social media there was a frenzy of interest which took us by surprise and we were delighted with. What we are most thrilled about is that the refurbished room is loved by young and old alike. Our great staff seems to have more of a spring in their step and the feedback and discussions with our guests has been hugely rewarding. As a small family business this was an enormous risk for us, but already the signs are that the benefits will outweigh the risk!”

Colton House, Staffordshire

Set in a peaceful village in the heart of Staffordshire, Colton House is a Georgian Grade II* listed luxury guest house.  At their last inspection they discussed with their assessor how guest expectations and requirements were changing along with current trends. As a result, owners Ron and Gay Lawrence invested in the upgrade of their rooms. They installed new task lighting, refurbished all upholstery items, replaced curtains & blinds, and then repainted the rooms to match the new colour scheme.

Ron and Gay commented “Guests have agreed that duvets are preferential to blankets, and that they like the colours and styles of the rooms. Some have commented that they now need to come back and try all of the rooms, to decide which one they prefer!” They continue “The assessors have great experience and are knowledgeable.  The best advice we were ever given by the assessor was to be yourself and not try to be something that you ‘think’ you should be.”

Hazel Barn, Bressingham, Norfolk

Hazel Barn is a multi-award-winning, five star establishment, with a passion for sustainability, providing a luxury experience without compromise. In January 2017, Owner Ginny White undertook a major update of the property to include replacing furniture and fittings.  Positive feedback has been received from guests since the update to the property. 

Ginny says “It was actually the assessor who suggested it was not necessary to replace all the pine furniture but rather that it could be up-cycled.  We employed a local design company who did this using chalk paint and then distressing along with gold leaf and matching soft furnishings. The furniture is handmade locally and of good quality so we appreciated her saving us the outlay that new furniture would have entailed.”

Moddershall Oaks, Stone, Staffordshire

Moddershall Oaks is a country spa retreat in Staffordshire offering spa days, spa breaks and treatments, gourmet lakeside dining and a luxury wedding and events venue.  In January 2017 a complete refurbishment of their 10 suite bedroom block was undertaken. 

While there had been significant investment in the development of the spa facilities, the bedrooms were still in their original form from 2005. A full bedroom refurbishment and partial bathroom refurbishment were undertaken. New beds, fixed and loose furniture, carpets, decoration, and lighting were all given a complete re-vamp. In the bathrooms - new feature tiling, updated cased items and new demister mirrors were fitted, as well as rainfall showers. A new interactive TV system is now in place in each room, which mirrors the screen on your device, and new air conditioning has also been installed. The interior design is very clean and modern with stylish amenities and the materials used reflect the natural environment to ensure guests feel immediately relaxed.

White Lodge, Filey, North Yorkshire

The White Lodge Hotel is a small, charming hotel situated at the end of Filey’s historic Victorian Crescent with expansive views overlooking Filey Bay.  James and Kim Hodgson purchased the hotel in April 2015 and embarked on a major refurbishment in January 2016, which is just nearing completion.  Kim says “The White Lodge Hotel was once THE place to hold family celebrations and to stay in Filey - we had our wedding reception here 23 years ago!  My husband, James, is originally from Filey and after working as a lawyer in the City for nearly 30 years, we relished the opportunity to run our own business and felt the passion (and desire) to bring this beautiful "lady" of a hotel back to life.”

The couple have made a significant investment into the hotel and have noticed an increase in repeat business as a result.  They value the assessment process stating “The best piece of advice given by our assessor is - "It's not your home - so be practical and sensible about the decor.  We also value the new ideas and suggestions that the inspector brings with them from other parts of the country.”

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