Meet the finalists: Best Accommodation Operator

By The Morning Advertiser

- Last updated on GMT

Bedrooms benefit: we have taken a deeper look into this year’s Best Accommodation Operator shortlisted businesses
Bedrooms benefit: we have taken a deeper look into this year’s Best Accommodation Operator shortlisted businesses

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The title of Best Accommodation Operator will be awarded to the business that demonstrates bedrooms as a key part of its offer best.

Grosvenor Pubs Trading

Jason Myers has brought a wealth of experience in the international hotel industry to bear in creating a food and accommodation-led pub business that sets new benchmarks for others in the sector to aspire to.

The Grosvenor ethos is best manifested at two extensively refurbished properties, Wild Thyme & Honey in Cirencester, and the Hare & Hounds in Newbury, that combine the flair and personality of their boutique hotel world with a top-notch pub food offer and great drinks menus.

The aim is to “surprise and delight” guests, whether it’s toiletries that are a step-up from the norm, book-holders across the bath or electric bikes and a selection of Wellington boots for people to explore the local countryside.

Driven by Jason’s wife Shara’s leadership on the design front, everything comes down to detail, whether it’s a complementary non-alcoholic version of a signature cocktail on arrival, gifts of home-made honeycomb or biscuits on departure, audits of squeaky floorboards and door closure mechanisms to cut down noise in the guest room areas, or the provision of ear defenders and lavender pillow sprays to aid a sound night’s sleep. That’s further helped by a procurement mantra that insists on the best beds, mattresses and linen available.

The group employs several head chefs with Michelin-star experience, so the food offering matches the high standards of the accommodation package, and relationships with key suppliers are nurtured through staff visits so they can develop an affinity with the produce they’re working with and the people who make it.

Yet with all the drive to create boutique country stays, Grosvenor’s sites still retain a pub at their core, serving their local communities as well as those travelling from far and wide.

Fuller, Smith & Turner

After exiting brewing, Fuller’s has successfully reinvented itself as one of the UK’s foremost specialist pub operators, and accommodation is playing an increasingly important part of the package. The company injects the same high standards of service and room package across a disparate estate that includes upmarket hotels in the Cotswolds, traditional country inns under the Bel & The Dragon brand and central London pub locations.

As part of that that reinvention, it has simplified its room classifications to provide greater clarity in its offering and successfully driven direct bookings over online travel agents to achieve outstanding occupancy rates.

But that focus shouldn’t imply any standardisation of the guest experience itself. A steady programme of site refurbishments sees both rooms and public areas of its pubs designed with character and flair. Investment in kitchens, staff and training ensures that food and drink offers and service reach the same high standards that are set in the rooms, where premium stays can include complementary sloe gin and artisan coffee. A good night’s sleep is guaranteed by using high-quality beds and linen.

The company has also made staff contentedness an objective, as well as that of its paying guests, putting in place changes to work practices to improve the work-life balance, recognising well-engaged staff are central to its mission to provide great customer experiences.

Upham Pubs

A three-year investment programme under the Charming Bedrooms package has seen Upham Pub Co become a serious competitor in the premium pub accommodation market at 13 sites across its heartland of rural Hampshire and Surrey.

The reinvention has struck a balance between retaining each location’s distinct personality and offering consistency in room standards and service. A flexible approach to room set-ups and marketing packages aims to meet a variety of guest needs, whether their stay is for business or leisure.

Investment in high-quality items in rooms – Roberts radios, Dyson fans and Nespresso machines, to name but three – has paid off in positive reviews that have helped to fuel business growth.

But Upham has also recognised success comes as much from its people as much as its gadgetry, and has invested in a staff engagement programme of reward and recognition initiatives to generate loyalty and feed back into positive guest experiences.

Despite the company’s relative small size, it has also invested in a central reservations team to drive direct bookings, growing its database to offer generous promotions to drive return visits.

Excellence in food and beverages also adds to the all-round guest experience to help Upham fulfil its mission, in its own words, to provide “beautiful spaces, welcoming faces and wonderful places” in a traditional British country pub environment.

Daniel Thwaites Inns

The Daniel Thwaites philosophy embraces the idea of “small details, big differences”, with the little additional touches in customer service and room features contributing to great guest experiences. Particular attention is paid to sleep quality, with guests able to sink into high-quality mattresses while taking advantage of a good night’s sleep bag containing eye masks and ear defenders. One old pub building even features ingenious, attractive, bespoke sound panels in rooms to prevent people being disturbed by noise filtering through thin walls.

Great food is a key part of the offer, with breakfast always freshly cooked to order and given the same status as other meal services, but venues are also proper pubs serving local communities with the same dedication given to staying guests.

The Lister Arms, in the heart of the Yorkshire Dales, is home to an electric wheelchair that gives people with mobility issues an equal opportunity to enjoy the local countryside while staying in high-quality pub accommodation.

While each pub retains its own identity, there’s also been a drive to cross-market between venues, to raise awareness among guests that if they’ve enjoyed their stay, another warm welcome and more excellent service can be enjoyed at another location. There’s also flair in the marketing, none less so than when a mock-up of the Lister Arms, complete with a bar, food and a room with view, visited the Great Yorkshire Show, earning appearances on national and local broadcast media.

The Thwaites Inns group also has a consistent and heavy investment programme, to refresh existing sites, add extra rooms wherever possible and bring new properties into the family.

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