Big corporate real estate organisations and major occupiers often talk about ‘people, property and technology’ like a triumvirate dictating the success of property-dependent businesses.
At Whitbread, we have a property portfolio of more than 21.5m sq ft in the UK and Ireland, including almost 700 hotels - so we are at the sharp end of getting this balance right and making it work successfully.
I want to share our insights from the roll-out of our new hotel format (hub by Premier Inn), which is tech-enabled and blends people, property and technology in ways we have never tried before.
Leaving aside the property piece, it’s people that are making the real difference. With the hub by Premier Inn proposition we are seeing the need to focus hard on recruiting, training and enabling the right staff to deliver the best possible experience to the customer. Because we have a dynamic building into which we invite our customers, we focus on helping all of our staff to understand, use and ‘sell’ the building and therefore the brand.
Lessons from leisure and hospitality matter to other sectors - in the hotel business, if we don’t deliver the right kind of customer service, people simply go elsewhere. We have therefore invested heavily in how we attract the best candidates and in training. There are many routes in, such as apprenticeships, work experience and placements, and we work hard with Job Centre Plus, the Prince’s Trust, Believe in Young People and others to build successful teams for our business while delivering meaningful opportunities for young people. More than 40 jobs have been created at the Covent Garden hub by Premier Inn and 50% of these were secured by long-term unemployed 16-24-year-olds, ie NEETs.
Our message would be ‘get your people to understand your proposition and your property’. Only then can they communicate effectively with the customer.
People often say ‘let the building do the talking’ and great design and interiors do matter, but people matter more. After all, leisure businesses are people businesses - most people will remember the service more than the paintwork.
Will Premier Inn’s experience be transferable to all occupiers? No. But some themes are cross-cutting:
- Buildings cannot deliver business performance on their own - it’s people that bring the proposition to life.
- People need the right training and support - all occupiers can do more to help staff use and sweat their properties. In hotels, our staff literally sell our buildings.
- Recruit the best people to build the brand - hub by Premier Inn has a strong technology element so we have focused on young people that can deliver this.
We have pushed boundaries with technology, sustainability and design. But this is irrelevant if you don’t hire, train and support people to use your buildings to the benefit of your business.
Patrick Dempsey OBE is managing director of Whitbread Hotels & Restaurants