How are you? Good, you? That’s how most of my conversations start and these days is swiftly followed by “well actually it’s been a bit tough really hasn’t it?”
The last 8 months on the “Corona-Coaster” have certainly had their share of ups and downs and one thing I know is that starting in a new role and a new company just 2 weeks before “Lockdown 1” was nothing if not a learning curve!
Having spent nearly 20 years in Hospitality, I have never looked upon work as simply “a job.” For many hospitality grabs you whilst making plans for other things, before swiftly becoming a passion and when I left my previous role at The Lowry Hotel Manchester, it was for more than just “a new job” but for a project. A project to open new hotels across the UK with Melia Hotels International, a company I had always admired as a forward thinking, fast growing and well respected hotel business. Their INNSiDE brand was one that I had appreciated from a distance, fresh, contemporary, a relaxed service that makes the guest feel welcome but never imposes. From the in-house DJ in the restaurant and bar to the art gallery featuring local artists and the meeting space that promotes “Big Ideas” in a creative and tech filled space – it was intriguing. Even more was the challenge of adding to and leading the commercial direction of the brands first UK Hotel, the INNSiDE Manchester, with new INNSiDE Hotels in Newcastle and Liverpool with Glasgow and more in the pipeline for future years.
The first set back for me personally was my planned induction into a new brand grinding to somewhat of a halt. Visiting our sister hotels and colleagues in London, our Global Sales Office and integrating into a world-wide brand was quickly reduced to being alone, in a somewhat empty hotel completing distanced learning and meeting colleagues over skype, teams, zoom, whatsaap, facetime, botim, bluejeans… who knew there were so many! I love tech but as you will hear from everyone in hospitality, nothing beats meeting people face to face!
The positive side to this was that this period allowed me to work in a focused way with my new Cluster UK colleagues on our local strategy, to impart my expectations on the team and imbed new ideas and ways of working.
The second set back was the closure of the INNSiDE Manchester hotel for the duration of Lockdown 1. Whilst everyone in the country and the world to some degree, endured such a moment it was still difficult to face such unknown times, furloughing staff, cancelling or postponing bookings and events and planning with uncertainty – not least with the worry of the construction to the two new hotels at risk also.
The Cluster Team were kept in place to continue work on our new openings but also to secure the INNSiDE Manchester which needed at least a couple of people in the hotel to secure and maintain the property.
The positive side to this emerged when during this crisis we offered our services to Greater Manchester Combined Authority to use some of our rooms for those who truly needed. This period went without problems and left the hotel team feeling like they had played a small part in supporting the city at a challenging time.
We emerged from Lockdown 1, nervous but with a degree of optimism. Many people had postponed events rather than cancel so forward event pace in Manchester looked solid and whilst corporate accommodation was still chronically low, the summers “Eat Out to Help Out” campaign saw people not just coming to our Hideout Lounge and Grill at the hotel but having a reason to visit Manchester for a leisure stay whilst dining out in the city. Our INNSiDE Newcastle and INNSiDE Liverpool construction teams had only lost a few weeks and were back to working on delivering two amazing new hotels.
The third major set back has been the effects of Lockdown 2. It is not my place to politicize or pontificate on this but the speed at which this happened and the ripple effect this creates is one we will feel the effects of for some time. As with the earlier two set backs it is our duty as leaders to look for positives and the fact we have a small window of breathing space before we launch into the opening of INNSiDE Newcastle is a help in terms of our planning and delivery and I am sure we will feel the benefits of this down the line in 2021. We have also partnered with Comme Ca Art in Manchester to install fresh art on a quarterly basis in our INNSiDE Manchester, when the hotel re-opens this will provide something new for our local community to come in and see. We cannot wait for people to see it.
With INNSiDE Newcastle opening December 14th, INNSiDE Liverpool opening in May 2021 and INNSiDE Manchester re-opening with a new Art Gallery and refurbished Restaurant and Bar – we are thrilled to have something positive to bring to our industry and the new cities that we are joining and have further exciting announcements still to make!
We have to keep dreaming. We have to keep innovating. We have to keep welcoming. It is what we do and one thing is certain – all that we have survived in 2020 will one day be part of the story that sees us thrive in years to come!