GM Business Connect has always supported the hospitality sector, and were pleased to get the opportunity to meet at Hotel Brooklyn with Kevin Healey, Director of Sales, Bespoke Hotels, who looks after Hotel Brooklyn and Hotel Gotham in Manchester, also Hotel Bonham in Edinburgh. Also meeting with us was Paul Bayliss, General Manager of Hotel Brooklyn. We started off chatting with Kevin:
Kevin – tell us about your history and how you became Director of Sales for Bespoke Hotels?
“For 15 years I worked in hospitality in the Spanish Islands for a travel company, but my history with hotels started just over 20 years ago when I was on the team that launched the Radisson SAS at Manchester Airport. From there I went on to the five star Radisson Edwardian in Manchester, where I stayed for 15 years. I found myself travelling a lot to London, and working for the Mayfair Hotel there along with looking at launching the Londoner, and it was the amount of travelling that made me move to a more settled Manchester-based role with the launch of Hotel Brooklyn.
“I was also the chair of the Manchester Hoteliers Association for 6 years. It was a great role where I used to bring all the hotels together to offer familiarisation trips for overseas agents and buyers which we called Simply Manchester. This involved working with Marketing Manchester to ensure the city stood out on the International stage. My role is to still work with Manchester as a destination, alongside destination management companies like Marketing Manchester and other organisations like pro-Manchester, to make sure we’re filtering all our opportunities out to the whole of the business community across the region – essentially making sure we’re filling the rooms with people attending conferences, meetings and events.”
What would you say stands out about Hotel Brooklyn?
“I think the nicest thing about the hotels across Manchester is that they are all different. Hotel Brooklyn is very new but still unique. It has 189 rooms, a rooftop meeting space, casino, plus great panoramic views across the city.”
How has COVID affected your Hotels?
“The biggest concern we had, as I’m sure many other Hotels experienced, was the uncertainty on when we could open. For Hotel Brooklyn, we launched on February 14 just before the pandemic hit, then closed again, but on reopening again a few months later we had a really successful summer. Obviously, since then we have followed social distancing, along with all safeguarding measures for both our staff and guests. Currently our largest priority is getting the corporates back into Manchester. The weekends are booming, but we’re seeing a lot of caution from the corporate sector.”
How are you planning to build confidence back into that sector?
“A lot of that is networking. Also relationships, and loyalty. Here at Hotel Brooklyn we have a lot of space on the ground floor that can be used for working – something very desirable for corporate bookings. It’s important to have a USP and this helps us stand out in the sector.”
How have you fared as a business since opening last year?
“Our business as a hotelier is all about making people feel safe and secure, and if that involved temporarily closing under direction of the government then we simply had to take that on the chin. Now, on the commercial side of things it was devastating. After only 4 weeks of being operational we had to close the doors and walk away – without a clear idea of how and when we would be trading again. We have adapted though, and especially with our outside space we’ve made sure our situation has been about making the most of things, whilst at the same time keeping our staff and clients safe though.”
We then turned to Paul for a chat about his experiences in the sector and his role at Hotel Brooklyn:
Tell us about yourself and your background?
“I’ve been working in the hotel sector for 11 years now. Previous to that I spent 24 years with the British Army. If people ask how long I’ve been in the hospitality sector I’d say my entire professional life. I joined the Army as a chef, and then onto facilities management. People are surprised when I say I moved from the Army straight into hospitality, but when you look at it by the time I left my commission, my core trade under a facilities management role was looking after food. As well as that there was transport, accommodation, post and stores – which fits in very well when you define what a hotel is.
“When I left the Army I moved into a role running AstraZeneca’s Hospitality and Food Service in Macclesfield. This was 600 covers at lunchtime, and up to 150 fine dining covers later in the day. It was a fantastic operation with a £12m multi format dining facility. After AstraZeneca I held General and Regional Manager roles at many high profile hotels – The Midland and Macdonald Hotels in Manchester, Carden Park in Cheshire, Plas Coch and Bryntech in North Wales. I was also chair of the Manchester Hoteliers Association from 2014 – 2016.
“The experience I had with the Army has certainly equipped me for my current role as General Manager of Brooklyn Hotel. We have been taught to always be on our front footing in any situation. We’ll always engage with people, be on top of their needs and issues. We’re always ready to improvise and overcome any problems. This approach has become very handy when you see how operating modern hotels has become pretty complex, and you need an edge when you want bookings at your hotel rather than elsewhere.”
What advice would you give people starting a career in hospitality?
“There are massive rewards in this industry. Obviously, you get paid more as you move higher to more senior positions, but the speed at which you can do well is pretty amazing in this sector. If you come into the industry at 16 or 17 years old, by the time you’re 21 you can be earning a significant salary in a huge variety of roles. Not only that, but the rewards are fantastic, particularly when you look at travelling the world. I would say the hospitality sector is truly global with opportunities nationally and internationally.”
Tell us a bit more about Hotel Brooklyn?
“Kevin has already mentioned the capacity and some of the unique features we offer, but one thing we have that no other hotel features is a bespoke conference space on the 9th floor. This obviously gives superb views across the city, and really appeals to the corporate sector. We also offer fantastic accessibility for anyone differently abled – mentally or physically. We have training in place for all our staff to help create a safe, secure and inclusive experience for all our guests being mindful at all times of any specific needs. The property itself is years ahead of the game in being engineered as an ‘accessible to all’ hotel, and this has been down in part to our group president Robin Sheppard who has mobility problems himself, and understands clearly the many issues and needs in designing an accessible hotel along the lines of Brooklyn.”
Can you tell us more about how your hotel is normalising disability?
“If there’s one positive thing that’s happened during lockdown that’s got to be an acceptance of the importance of mental – and physical – wellbeing. There’s more understanding – this conversation is out there and everyone’s talking. There is also an attitude that offering correct and easy access to everyone from a hotel’s perspective is not just desirable but an absolute right that must be accommodated. This has also been emphasised during the last year or so within our sector, and I’m pleased to say we had this at the front of our minds when the hotel was being designed and constructed before the pandemic.
“So – if you were going to build a hotel, and there is a market for a sector that is completely untapped, you’d want to know more. That sector is worth millions, and when we designed this hotel, this was firmly in our minds. The decision to create a fully inclusive building wasn’t simply down to being philanthropic but was designed to tap into a rich demand for accessible hotel rooms and facilities. When we got everyone together – Squid Inc (Designers of the hotel), Marshall Construction (builders), and a firm called Motion Spot, who specialise in accessible design, it was very quickly the case of like-minded firms working together to answer a simple question – What can we create that will make a difference?
“It doesn’t just stop there. What I’ve been doing is reaching out to many different organisations to build training programmes for our staff. People like Ruthy Fletcher of the British Deaf Association for example, who has given fantastic help in creating a programme that includes signing for our guys to look after clients. As we have developed our team, the skills they are learning now will also help brilliantly in their future careers.
“I also got involved with a company called pure innovations a number of years ago. They do incredible work providing independence and support for people with disabilities and disadvantaged groups to get into work. We’ve provided employment for a couple of guys, and it’s fantastic to see how they have been integrated within our team so quickly. Inclusivity is hugely important to us and is just as relevant to our staff as to our customers.”