Andrew Fox, general manager of Slaley Hall
Andrew Fox, general manager of Northumberland’s Slaley Hall, talks to BQ about how the hotel copes with Christmas demand and how the staff like to celebrate.
What does your business do?
Slaley Hall is a luxury hotel set in 1,000 acres of Northumberland countryside and a premier wedding destination. As a full service resort, the offering comprises bedroom and lodge accommodation, multiple restaurants, two award-winning championship golf courses, health club, spa and outdoor activities.
It attracts visitors from Scotland to London as well as internationally – earlier this year, playing host to a royal family from the United Arab Emirates. The facilities are also popular with non-resident guests from the local area and with businesses of all sizes for conferencing and events.
How does Christmas affect your business?
Christmas is one of, if not the biggest calendar date of the year in the hospitality industry. Every year we have to create an experience that combines tradition with new elements to keep our loyal guests coming back and reach different generations and catchment areas. This year sees the launch of festive afternoon tea which we’re all really excited about.
We have several Christmas party events leading up to the big day in our grand Kielder Suite and throughout the hotel, as well as spa and sleepover nights so plenty going on before.
Then we run residential packages across Christmas and New Year which are always in high demand and all of our lodges are full. Even the Twixmas period, which gives people some breathing space in between is busy for us with couples and families taking the opportunity for a mini break while the hotel is looking festive and to let our staff do the cooking and cleaning while they relax with a mulled wine!
How do you cope with the extra demand that Christmas brings?
Come Christmas, it’s all hands on deck. We operate with a seasonal pool of staff and offer staff accommodation for students from Europe to join us during the peak season. But planning is the key, and a lot of it to make sure we can comfortably look after our guests in good spirit and that every employee gets the chance for some downtime. January tends to be our delayed Christmas so we celebrate with the all of the staff then to thank them for the hard work.
How do you market/advertise your business over Christmas?
As part of Q Hotels Group, we have the advantage of an established database covering 26 unique venues in locations around the UK, consisting of business travellers, keen staycationers and overseas visitors. We have repeat residents and lodge guests who we engage with regularly and update them on our annual Christmas plans. Social media also gives us the opportunity to speak to a wide audience passionate about the North East and Northumberland and our wintery scenes and special promotions we post help to stir their imagination about coming to spend Yuletide with us!
What has been the biggest achievement in your business so far?
For me, it was delivering record sales and occupancy figures this summer together with record sales levels for spa use. We have also had double digit customer loyalty / satisfaction score improvement year on year due to a more stable leadership team and improved recruitment, training and strategy implementation.
Where do you see your business in five years’ time?
In the next five years, the focus will be on the customer experience, expanding the ‘resort’ feel with more activities on offer; a possible new spa offering and a diverse programme of events in the surrounding grounds to appeal to local people and make them feel welcome to visit anytime – whether it’s for a meal or simply a walk around the Ornamental Garden. The aim is to bring outdoor theatre and cinema, and food or even small music festivals to Slaley Hall.
What’s your favourite thing about the holiday season?
Christmas jumpers! We don’t just rock them as a one off but pretty much the whole of December in our office!
How does your business celebrate Christmas?
We have staff Christmas lunch in the first week of December and we invite immediate family to join in too. Our Christmas party becomes an end of year / start of the next year celebration really, in early January. We will reflect on 2017’s achievements as a team and reward our top performing employees.