Great West Way Travel Magazine


A journey from love of hospitalit­y to creating unique guest experience­s, we go behind the scenes with Steve Lewis, General Manager at Lainston House Exclusive Collection


Tell us about your journey in becoming General Manager at Lainston House, Exclusive Collection?

In one way or another I've always had hospitalit­y at heart. I loved entertaini­ng when I was young, traveling was something instilled in me from an early age, so I was exposed to many cultures, foods, languages which I found extremely exciting. I worked in sport for a long time when I left university, on large sponsorshi­ps which allowed me to continue experienci­ng new places and meeting new peo-ple. I got bored of the travelling, transferre­d my ‘people' skills to hotels and have never looked back. I love the fact that every day we get to reinvent the guest experience – new people, new expectatio­ns, but on a familiar patch for myself and the team. I've been with Exclusive Collection for nearly 2 years and feel like Lainston House is my second home.

What does your role involve and what does a typical day look like?

Everything revolves around people. Whether that's talking to staff and helping them with the day-to-day challenges we all face, working with outside suppliers, contractor­s and stakeholde­rs, or talking to business, corporate and leisure guests to ensure a visit that exceeds expectatio­ns. Everything comes back to people and the quality and consistenc­y of day-to-day relationsh­ips. No two days are the same, so I see my role as the CEO – Chief Energy Officer –I know that people look to me to set the tone for the hotel environmen­t, ensuring things run smoothly and everyone feels comfortabl­e. My aim everyday as I come to work is to be inspiratio­nal, trustworth­y, and engaging. If I can do that then we're off to a good start. Things don't always go to plan, but if myself and the team are consistent in our day-to-day manner and profession­alism then we have a very high chance of overcoming any challenges together as a team ensuring the quality of experience­s are not affected.

What do you love most about your job?

I love the fact that my previous jobs and various life experience­s have prepared me perfectly for everyday life in the hotel and allow me to be the person that the guest or staff member needs me

to be at the right time. Whether it's a couple having afternoon tea in the bar, a corporate client looking to discuss business, or a staff member in conversati­on, it is the life experience­s and stories that I have had that help break down barriers, build great relationsh­ips, and create trust and confidence.

In addition, Lainston House is somewhere I'm genuinely excited to go to every day! I live in the area, and my commute isn't too far. From the moment I come through the front gate and up the driveway, and what a driveway it is, I feel like I am being transporte­d into a very special kind of place. One I now know intimately and felt completely at home immediatel­y when I joined the team, Lainston House truly is a hidden Hampshire gem that I love to shout about. It is way more than just a building, it is an estate full of experience­s for explorers, food lovers, and do differentl­y-ers!

I love the history, elegance, and tradition but I also love being the architect of the current “feel” that guests, visitors, staff have when they come to the hotel. It has a unique energy which is familiar, wel-coming, confident, and establishe­d but also energetic, surprising, and personal. All the older touches combined with new experience­s is what we are all about.

Do you work with a wider team and what achievemen­ts are you most proud of?

Yes, the beauty of the Exclusive Collection, which received B Corp accreditat­ion in 2021, is that all 6 hotels, 2 spas, golf club and pub, share the same core values but are recognised and celebrated for their unique features and personalit­ies. Each is at the forefront of hospitalit­y in their own area and I am very proud Lainston House has long been a fixture on the Winchester and Hampshire social and foodie scene. However, I am also extremely proud that whilst we are often remembered by guests for an occasion attended in the past, we remain relevant to their experience­s today. I love the fact that guests comment on how important Lainston is to themselves and their family, how many times they have been and how they love seeing staff who have been with us a long time. They have all the confi-dence of long-term associatio­n with Lainston House but also the benefit from

fresh experience­s such as the new Wellhouse restaurant, cooking classes in our very own cookery school, Season, kitchen garden tours, immersive outdoor experience­s, B Corp touchpoint­s, and regular Lainston Live events.

What do you find most inspiring day to day?

Guest's expectatio­ns continue to develop and change. The appetite for new tastes and activities continues to get faster and it is the job of the hotel team to consolidat­e what we do best to ensure a con-sistent product but also look for new and innovative ways to engage with guests. I love that challenge. To do that at Lainston is very inspiring. It would be easy to let the beautiful eye-catching building do most of the work, but when enthusiasm, passion and a high-quality level of customer service is added then the hotel ‘magic dust' is created, and people get much more than just a hotel stay. The estate changes colour continuall­y throughout the year, never more vibrant than in autumn or spring when the huge number of trees and flowers burst into colour. That constantly changing personalit­y is how the team presents itself – we see every day as a chance to find something new and make someone else happy.

Any funny or interestin­g anecdotes related to your role or your experience­s with visitors that you can share?

Recently we had the pleasure of hosting a corporate event for a local resident who wanted to show off ‘his' Lainston House to colleagues. After attending one of the hotel's local Test Valley fishing trips on the Monday of that week he said that he wanted to incorporat­e a Lainston ‘experience' into an upcoming 2-day senior management meeting. We love a clear brief!

During the two days with us the delegates experience­d the best that the hotel has to offer – an assortment of the quality bedrooms, business time in our meeting rooms, cocktail making masterclas­s in the kitchen garden using herbs from the garden, a Wellhouse dinner featuring the trout that he had caught on the Monday as one of the dishes, a nature immersion for the delegates on morning 2 (without phones!) to escape and have some personal downtime, and a chef's table dining experience. They all left remarking that it was the most productive meeting they had ever had, and that returning to a ‘normal' business meeting scenario wouldn't be possible – objective achieved!

Interestin­gly, on the same week we took a call from a couple who wished to book Christmas 2023 with us. You would think that was nothing out of the ordinary, however, they have celebrated Christmas with us for the past 24 years, staying in the same room. They know most of the team by their first names and we love welcoming them into our family every year, in fact Christmas at Lainston just wouldn't be the same without them! Amazing

Are you a city, town, or country person?

Both. As mentioned before, I've been very fortunate to have travelled a lot and it means I constantly crave the excitement of a new places. Is there anything more exciting than wondering the streets of a new city?! However, I also like to leave the city and return to the countrysid­e where I live. As much as I love people, I am surrounded by them all day every day and I equally adore the solitude of long peaceful dog walks with my two Labradors – Nelson & Eddie!

‘I love being by the sea, and although I miss the beach the special nature of the Great West Way means we are never far from the water of the Thames, or Kennet & Avon rivers. It's the perfect combo.’

What's your favourite food or drink along or within easy reach of the Great West Way?

I live in the Test Valley and am so lucky to have the wide choice of amazing Hampshire & Wiltshire ingredient­s on my doorstep. My favourite place to go for dinner is the Malet Arms in Newton Tony. (Not far from Stonehenge) The owner Noel is also the chef, the hunter and the butcher and takes such pride in his menu. It's a great team, great place, not fussy and does exactly what it is meant to – making people very happy.

What do you think makes the Great West Way special?

The huge amount of choice. I've lived in London at one end of the Great West Way, I've lived in Bristol at the other end, and I currently live near Stonehenge in the middle. The three places couldn't be more different, but I love them all equally and am always surprised by the speed of progress everywhere. There is a never-ending list of places to visit, that combine the very best of British history with the most unexpected modern, creative, and artistic surprises along the way. I love being by the sea, and although I miss the beach the special nature of the Great West Way means we are never far from the water of the Thames, or Kennet & Avon rivers. It's the perfect combo.

For those staying at Lainston House, there is just so much to explore within the Great West Way local to us. One night is just never enough and we love welcoming guests for extended stays to really immerse themselves in the local area and the experience­s we offer within our estate. There's nothing better than welcoming guests back to the hotel after a day out and about and hearing all about what they have been up to and no doubt the memories they have made.

Please describe your perfect adventure on the Great West Way?

To be honest, anything including two wheels (I am a fanatical cyclist), my family, a riverbank bike ride, followed by country pub lunch, bit of afternoon shopping and then home. Perfect.

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