50 shades of hotel Le Gray
Le Gray hotel continues to invest despite circumstances
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