Q&A with Douglas Waddell, Operations Director, Hand Picked Hotels

hand picked

How have you adapted to leading remotely? Is there any advice you’d like to share?

We have adapted very well to remote working, with team members from our central support office and reservations office working from home and just a skeleton team onsite to look after our keyworker guests, vulnerable guests and those in live-in accommodation.  It is a very different environment in the hotels, with those who are there used to a high level of activity and noise, but they’ve adjusted well, and in good spirits, and are using this time of lockdown wisely.  For the teams on furlough, and those who are not, regular check ins to try and establish how they are feeling, has been vital.  This might be a ‘new normal’ for now, but everyone has good and bad days.

The key thing for myself and the management team is to remain visible within the business - physically and virtually – with 24/7 support.  That means regular, consistent and clear communication. We have an online platform, The Hive, that everyone has access to and is encouraged to use, especially those who are furloughed so they can keep connected to the business whilst away from it.  That has been really important for us.  For those remaining in the business we also quickly established normal processes, such as weekly sales calls, GM’s meetings and 121s via Zoom so we could ‘see’ people whilst monitoring business performance and making decisions about today, tomorrow and the future.  That’s also been key to keeping the business moving.  Communication at any time, but especially in times of uncertainty is critical, so it’s essential not to lose that. 

Have you begun preparations for reopening?

Absolutely!  Our teams are working around the clock to make sure that when we reopen, we are prepared for what the ‘next normal’ brings.  Plans have been drawn up and re-drawn a good few times, with each hotel fully focused on what social distancing looks like once our guests return, and though we are not there yet, we are close. Until we know more about when we can reopen and the official guidance that comes with that, we’ll continue to tweak things until we get it right.  What we are working towards of course is recreating that welcoming and comfortable environment that our guests have long been used to, with their health and safety, and that of our team members, most definitely front of mind – everything we are planning is about that. 

How will your marketing messages adapt to this new normal?

Being honest and upfront with our guests about what we are doing to maintain a safe, welcoming and comfortable environment is paramount.  That’s not a marketing message but an essential course of action – and the right thing to do. Above that, our marketing messages will differ, but not hugely.  Given the nature of our hotels, we are very fortunate that we have ample grounds for walking and alfresco dining, and in some cases our hotels are on the doorstep of great national parks or just moments from the coast, so they have plenty of space around them, supporting everyone’s ongoing love for the great outdoors.  That’s a message we’ve long been promoting, in addition to those that promote the wider destination in which our hotels sit.   We will also once again be working with our partners and nearby attractions to promote all that is great about tourism in the UK – the industry has been one of the hardest hit during this pandemic, but we have a real opportunity to support what is on our doorstep and together we can rebuild, and we will. 

What is your hope for the hospitality industry in a post COVID-19 world?

This pandemic has affected all of us, and some worse than others, so I believe this has given us all a period of reflection both at home, at work, and in industry.  What I do fundamentally believe is that the hospitality sector will recover as it has done in the past, despite this being an unprecedented challenge.  The need is still there for people to come together to meet, plan, socialise, educate, relax, inspire - the list goes on.  It’s part of our human nature to interact and communicate with each other. And though things will look and feel different for some time, the hospitality industry will play a really important part in rebuilding the fabric of life.  Fundamentally the industry will demonstrate, as it has done before, that it will bounce back, adopting innovation and creativity in overcoming the challenges it faces as the lockdown is withdrawn.  Bring on The Next Normal.

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