Interview with Michael Helling, General Manager, The Grove

What is the unique selling point of the Grove?

Flexibility.  We have to give people the opportunity to use their time in a different way to ensure that they get a good return on their investment in coming to us.  We have a variety of environments.  When large corporations book in we want them to make use of all the spaces available, not just meeting rooms.  They can take coffee breaks outside; utilising the space for more than just for meetings.  We cater for a wide market from conferences to wedding and high quality dining to leisure.  We’ll host the British Masters in 2016 and we are very proud to be involved in such a prestigious event.

What is the guest profile?

It is clearly split between the weekdays and the weekends.  During the mid-week it tends to be more corporate meetings and events.  At weekends it is much more family leisure, romantic couples getting away from the hustle and bustle of London.  Many non-hotel guests come to use our golf, spa, leisure and restaurants because there is time and space for them to enjoy our facilities.

You returned to the Grove in 2014 after nine years away in Hong Kong.  What changes have you noticed?
I started at the Grove in May 2003, prior to opening, as F&B Director and became acting GM in December of that year.  I left in 2005 and what I noticed when I returned was that, from a physical product point of view, you could see the result of the long term strategy in terms of what the formal gardens turned into and what the overall landscaping of the property turned out to be.  That was the most striking and impacting experience when I came back.

What changes have you noticed in the hotel market?

The economic downturn in 2008 had a major impact on how companies and leisure guests spend their money and how they view their value for money proposition.  It’s not that people have become more cost conscious.  It is more a philosophy of people questioning their spend.  They are not trying to cut corners but they are asking, ‘what am I getting out of the Grove for my money?’  The hotel hospitality industry has to think on its feet.  The hospitality business is extremely fluid and dynamic.  In the timespan of a couple of year’s guest and corporate needs change and you have to adapt to those changes otherwise you get left behind.

You have just completed extensive renovations, how do you decide where to put investment?

It’s very important to listen to your guests. We do extensive satisfaction surveys at all levels. Test phone calls, mystery shopping and our in house surveys.  Over the years a picture starts to form and we take all this into consideration in deciding when changes need to take place.

Sometimes guest responses cause us to reconsider priorities. For example, we learned that it’s not just the large corporations that have a green agenda. Leisure guests now do recycling at at home and when they go away they want a like minded product so now we are very conscious of improving our green credentials and offering such things as segregated bins in the rooms.  That’s not something you see in every 5 star hotel.  It’s not about saving money; we are environmentally conscious.  We recycle what we can, we compact waste and are about to install digesters and use grey water as part of a reaction to that emerging need.

What other trends are you responding to?

A very important one. Time.  Time is a precious commodity in our lives and when you are a guest service delivery industry it’s very important that you are being judged on how people can maximise their time with a minimum amount of effort and input. We need the whole guest journey to be as smooth as possible. We have to constantly look for ways to enhance their experience so that it is all effortless. It’s all about instantaneous responses, it’s all about time. We are living in an instant society.  That’s how I view the business and what people are looking for when they spend their time here.

How do the current completed renovations embrace that?

We gave a facelift to all our meeting spaces.  New screen and speaker systems, glass walls instead of flip charts. It’s all about making the technology more accessible. They all have new furniture. That work started in October 2015 and is now complete.

Our new Cedar Suite has been built and it offers a whole host of improvements designed to make the guest journey as seamless as possible.