50 shades of ho­tel Le Gray

Le Gray ho­tel con­tin­ues to in­vest de­spite cir­cum­stances

Executive Magazine - - Hospitality & Tourism - By Thomas Schellen and Na­bila Rah­hal

When you sit down at a side­walk ta­ble of Gor­don’s Café in down­town Beirut on a balmy late Septem­ber af­ter­noon, you can sip your espresso or pot of Sen­cha (green tea) in the mid­dle of the city, nes­tled be­tween the re­stored his­toric Beirut Mu­nic­i­pal­ity build­ing, and the na­tion’s sym­bol-laden Mar­tyr’s Square, with a view of the port basin and the coastal moun­tains be­hind it. As such, Gor­don Camp­bell Gray, CEO of the com­pany that op­er­ates Le Gray Ho­tel, does not hold back from declar­ing that he feels, “Le Gray has the best lo­ca­tion in Beirut.”

How­ever, this is a dou­bled edged sword since, says Camp­bell Gray, “when there is trou­ble, it is the worst [lo­ca­tion] be­cause it all hap­pens out­side our front door.” This sum­mer, since civil so­ci­ety and po­lit­i­cal protest move­ments have regularly con­verged in down­town Beirut from Au­gust 22, “it all” meant road­blocks and cor­dons of riot po­lice, tense stand­offs be­tween de­mon­stra­tors and se­cu­rity forces, and, one Septem­ber Sun­day, even the sight of po­lit­i­cal thugs as­sault­ing protesters who dared call cer­tain politi­cians “cor­rupt”.

Camp­bell Gray had a bird’s eye view of the at­tacks by thugs, from the bal­cony of the suite he was stay­ing at for one of his fre­quent busi­ness vis­its to Le Gray, and it shook him. “I have al­ways loved Le­banon but my love af­fair has been cracked for the first time. Although I am quite an op­ti­mist, it’s re­ally de­press­ing at the mo­ment,” he tells Ex­ec­u­tive the day af­ter the dis­turb­ing event.

Ac­cord­ing to him, the ho­tel staff dealt pro­fes­sion­ally with guest needs dur­ing sev­eral tense hours that day, but no ef­fort could shield Le Gray from los­ing busi­ness this sum­mer, in­clud­ing last-minute event can­cel- la­tions. And the trou­bles in front of their door were not the first in the ho­tel’s six-year history of oper­a­tions. From con­struc­tion de­lays forced by the un­sta­ble Le­banese sit­u­a­tion in the mid 2000s to travel warn­ings amid re­gional un­rest in more re­cent years, it seems safe to as­sume that Le Gray ex­pe­ri­enced more un­pre­dictabil­ity and tough busi­ness cy­cles than pe­ri­ods where man­age­ment could com­fort­ably an­tic­i­pate the re­sults of the com­ing quar­ter.

Camp­bell Gray re­fuses cat­e­gor­i­cally to dis­close any op­er­a­tional re­sults of Le Gray just as he will not say how much Camp­bel­lGray Ho­tels, the com­pany which op­er­ates Le Gray un­der his lead­er­ship, in­vested into mak­ing the ho­tel the group’s flag­ship prop­erty and how much or lit­tle these in­vest­ments had been pay­ing out.

But here is where the story takes another sur­pris­ing turn. De­spite ev­ery­thing that hap­pened to curb busi­ness this sum­mer, the group is plan­ning to in­vest in re­fur­bish­ing pre­vi­ously un­used ar­eas lo­cated be­hind the ho­tel’s cur­rent atrium, adding 16 new guest rooms, a ball­room, a lobby lounge, a pri­vate screen­ing room and a cho­co­late shop to Le Gray. Scots­man Camp­bell Gray declines to pro­vide an in­vest­ment amount for the ex­pan­sion that will be car­ried out start­ing this month [Oc­to­ber] but does tell Ex­ec­u­tive that it will be “mil­lions, up­ward of $10 mil­lion.”

The in­vest­ment is not a sin­gu­lar en­deavor for Camp­bell Gray Ho­tels but rather a part of an ex­pan­sion pro­ject fo­cused on the Mid­dle East. In the fol­low­ing con­ver­sa­tion with Ex­ec­u­tive, Camp­bell Gray pro­vides more about that growth.

Can you tell us more about the new prop­erty in Ab­dali, Amman?

Ba­si­cally ev­ery­thing is un­der the um­brella of Camp­bell Gray Ho­tels, but this new con­cept be­ing built in Ab­dali is Le Gray Liv­ing which con­sists of of­fices, a ho­tel and apart­ments. We’re cu­rat­ing all the re­tail so we are in charge of the whole thing. All of this will be go­ing into Le Gray Liv­ing which will be brought to Dubai as well.

So are you start­ing to com­pete in the field of large com­plexes with things like ser­viced apart­ments and re­tail spa­ces which, in this re­gion, one nor­mally as­so­ci­ates with a multi-level op­er­a­tor such as Emaar Prop­er­ties?

I think the scale is smaller since we are pri­vate. We are not try­ing to com­pete at this level [of a mega op­er­a­tor such as Emaar] be­cause I’ve never thought that big is beau­ti­ful.

The Camp­bel­lGray web­site says that you are re­fur­bish­ing the Phoeni­cia Ho­tel in Malta, and that it is a Grand Ho­tel. Your first glob­ally noted prop­erty, the One Ald­wych in Lon­don, was of­ten de­scribed as a bou­tique ho­tel. How do you align such di­ver­gent iden­ti­ties?

I never thought of One Ald­wych

Mr Gor­don Camp­bell Gray

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