It's a dif­fi­cult strapline to live up to, ‘The Art of Great Hospitality' but Pride of Bri­tain Ho­tels sets the stan­dard when it comes to of­fer­ing guests the best the UK has to of­fer. Claire Pitcher meets chief ex­ec­u­tive Pe­ter Han­cock at Wilt­shire's What­ley

Exclusively British - - CONTENTS -

Claire Pitcher meets Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Pe­ter Han­cock to find out more about one of Bri­tain's finest ho­tel col­lec­tions.

FROM COUN­TRY houses in the Cotswolds to cruis­ing the He­bridean is­lands, we all crave that lit­tle some­thing ex­tra when look­ing for a place to stay in the UK. Not only are we af­ter lux­u­ri­ous dé­cor, deca­dent bath­rooms, de­li­cious food and five star fa­cil­i­ties, we would hope to re­ceive the best hospitality. A ser­vice that is so light of touch that you want for noth­ing, with­out even ask­ing. Many ho­tels be­come mem­bers of in­ter­na­tional groups such as Mr & Mrs Smith, Small Lux­ury Ho­tels of the World or Re­lais & Chateaux, but there is one very ex­clu­sive con­sor­tium that fo­cuses only on the best in­de­pen­dent ho­tels here in Great Bri­tain.


Started in 1982 by the late Ger­ald Mil­som, Pride of Bri­tain Ho­tels has just 48 mem­ber ho­tels (in­clud­ing one cruise ship) and makes a point of never rep­re­sent­ing any more than 50. Chief ex­ec­u­tive Pe­ter Han­cock (pic­tured above) has been ‘front of house' for Pride of Bri­tain for 17 years and ex­plains how the con­sor­tium started. “Ger­ald Mil­som owned Le Tal­booth restau­rant and Mai­son Tal­booth near Colch­ester. He and a group of friends and hote­liers got to­gether and de­cided the time was right to start their own con­sor­tium. They were all mem­bers of of an­other group­ing at the time, but they wanted to have a bit more con­trol so de­cided to start their own.” Lit­er­ally over din­ner they in­vented Pride of Bri­tain Ho­tels and laid down the ba­sic ground rules. Namely the or­gan­i­sa­tion would be not for profit, it would have a limit of 50 mem­ber ho­tels to keep it spe­cial, the mem­bers would al­ways be in charge of who could join, how the money is spent and who man­aged it. “It's re­mained the same ever since,” pro­claims Pe­ter.


Pride of Bri­tain started with 12 mem­ber ho­tels, the first be­ing Mai­son Tal­booth, all pay­ing an an­nual fee then pool­ing their re­sources to get to mar­kets that were more dif­fi­cult to reach on their own. “In the early 1980s that mar­ket was North Amer­ica,” ex­plains Pe­ter, “so all the ef­fort and spend at the time was de­voted to tar­get­ing the travel trade there. It was only a lit­tle over 10 years ago we de­cided to pull away from the world and con­cen­trate en­tirely on the Bri­tish mar­ket, be­cause that's the big­gest and most im­por­tant to us.”

When an in­de­pen­dent ho­tel be­comes a mem­ber of Pride of Bri­tain they pay an an­nual fee. Th­ese fees plus around 20 com­mer­cial part­ner­ships with var­i­ous high-end com­pa­nies such as Amer­i­can Ex­press, Sky and Moet & Chan­don, de­liver about £1m a year for us to spend on mar­ket­ing the ho­tels, help­ing to build our brand and gen­er­at­ing reser­va­tions for the mem­ber ho­tels.” “Soon af­ter Mai­son Tal­booth joined, oth­ers fol­lowed,” ex­plains Pe­ter. “Ho­tels like The Gor­ing in Lon­don and some of our long­stand­ing mem­bers came on board. There's a wide ge­o­graph­i­cal spread across the 48 we have at present, but they're all like-minded, with hospitality at the fore­front of their minds.”


It cer­tainly sounds like th­ese ho­tels have to have a cer­tain ‘je nais se quoi' to join the con­sor­tium but, sur­pris­ingly enough, Pe­ter in­sists there are no writ­ten cri­te­ria. “We've al­ways wor­ried that if we write on a piece of pa­per ‘this is what you need to be part of Pride of Bri­tain' some­one we re­ally don't like might pass and places that are won­der­ful and charm­ing may not ful­fill it.” When a ho­tel ap­plies it's vis­ited by a mem­ber, who will then tell the board whether they think it's suit­able for mem­ber­ship. If they de­cide it is, all mem­bers vote and a ma­jor­ity in favour gets you in. This has of­ten re­sulted in a rather awk­ward sit­u­a­tion for Pe­ter: “If the mem­bers don't think a ho­tel suit­able I have to go back, cap in hand to the peo­ple I've some­times per­suaded to ap­ply, to tell them we don't want them af­ter all.”


High stan­dards must be main­tained too. All the mem­ber ho­tels are vis­ited each year by mys­tery guests who pro­duce a re­port: “If it's damn­ing then a con­ver­sa­tion has to start about how they in­tend to put things right. Then, if there is no ob­vi­ous progress we take steps to re­move them as a mem­ber. We have a rep­u­ta­tion to up­hold and if the qual­ity is not there, then the brand stands for noth­ing” Pe­ter in­sists. Ul­ti­mately Pride of Bri­tain wants to help in­de­pen­dent ho­tels en­joy the sort of sta­tus and rep­u­ta­tion that larger groups can achieve. “We have cred­i­bil­ity that comes from a na­tional group. We cherry pick what we think to be the best in­de­pen­dent ho­tels in the coun­try, what­ever their style, we know our cus­tomers are go­ing to en­joy. Mem­bers re­ceive the most ef­fec­tive mar­ket­ing ser­vice we can of­fer. Be that through press in­tro­duc­tions, cor­po­rate in­tro­duc­tions, the web­site, the dis­tri­bu­tion of lit­er­a­ture. All the meth­ods of sav­ing money we can of­fer by pool­ing our re­sources.” With a strong back­ground in the hospitality in­dus­try be­fore he even be­gan his role at Pride of Bri­tain Ho­tels, there must be lit­tle else for Pe­ter to learn now af­ter 17 years at the helm. He de­scribes him­self as “an ex­cel­lent guest,” but what can he take away from his ex­pe­ri­ences be­fore he even­tu­ally re­tires? “I've learnt how to be cour­te­ous. I thought I was, but I had no grasp un­til I got to know our mem­bers re­ally well. It costs noth­ing to be cour­te­ous but they have shown me how you can ap­pear to be very gen­er­ous to peo­ple – but it's the way you do it, the way you make peo­ple feel. I cer­tainly don't claim to be as good at is as our hote­liers.” Isn't that what we all want when we check in to a ho­tel? A level of hospitality so high we can be proud to be Bri­tish?

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