PRIDE OF BRITAIN HOTELS
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
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.
FROM THE FRONT
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.”
HAVING WHAT IT TAKES
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.”
SIMPLY THE BEST
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?