Hand Picked Hotels

Developing the chain

Hand Picked Hotels is currently investing significantly in developing three of its hotels

Hand Picked Hotels is a collection of 14 architecturally stunning hotels located around the UK. These fine country retreats have their own individual identities, and were built to ensure that they deliver maximum pleasure to guests. Started in 1999, the group is privately owned by Julia and Guy Hands.

All the locations are either four-star hotels or three red star hotels. The company has a broad business base, with weddings providing significant business, as well as the leisure market and catering for conferences. After repositioning itself at the high end of the market, the portfolio underwent significant refurbishments to improve all of the hotels. Hand Picked Hotels also spots opportunities in its portfolio and works to develop them believing that organic growth is the best way to maximise its potential and attract the target market. Douglas Waddell, the group’s operations director, highlights the major recent developments: “This process has been ongoing for the last five years and the hotels have been almost completely refurbished from top to bottom, but we currently have three hotels that are being developed. There are significant developments in Norton House in Edinburgh where additional bedrooms are being added as well as a health club and spa, banqueting and meeting rooms. This is a very important hotel to us, it’s very near to the airport but enjoys the country house feel as well – it’s in a very good location, which is why it amounts to the largest of our development investments at over £13 million.

“Investing approximately £10 million, we’re also carrying out similar development at our hotel in Cheshire, Rookery Hotel. Our third organic development for this year is at Rhinefield based in The New Forest. Currently it has 34 bedrooms and the development plans are to add another 16 with a conference and meeting suite for 130 people as well as some smaller meeting rooms. Investing over £4 million in the developments at Rhinefield, the leisure club has also been completely refurbished. Rookery and Rhinefield are scheduled to be completed in September this year whilst Norton House will be fully completed by December.”

Apart from major transformational projects and refurbishments, the group also seeks opportunities to expand the portfolio. CEO, Julia Hands explains: “Geographically we’re quite well spread across the country: we’ve got one hotel each in Scotland, North Wales, Cheshire, Jersey and The New Forest, a couple in Yorkshire and the Midlands and five in the South East. But if you look at the UK map, you’ll notice that there are some geographical gaps. However, buying a hotel in Cornwall at the moment would not necessarily fit our business logistics because of our style of management – being able to visit the hotels easily is crucial.”

Douglas adds: “Most of the hotels in our portfolio are listed for their architectural qualities, so we do tend to focus on properties with architectural merits because they have to fit the brand in terms of appearance, size and feel. We care a lot about the brand, which is why we would never acquire a property in haste despite the temptations to expand the group – it is more important for us that a property be right and true to the brand than it is to spread all across the UK. Moreover, the current property market is quite buoyant so it’s challenging to get the right property at the right price.”

With 13 of its hotels having earned two AA rosettes and one with three AA rosettes, the group is understandably keen to increase the number of three rosettes it has. Douglas comments on the sourcing of its ingredients: “Although we’re a part of a chain, we do encourage each hotel to buy their produce locally and these will be sourced based primarily on quality; we strongly believe that it is a very important part of what we do. And because we source our produce locally, we don’t believe in a standard menu. We have very bright and capable chefs from remarkable backgrounds, so let’s not tie their hands behind their backs. Our head chefs are given the freedom and opportunity to experiment and exercise their initiatives and creativity – we believe that’s the only way to run a successful restaurant business.”

Julia adds: “The rosettes affect the success of the business in several ways. It definitely boosts the chef and his team’s confidence and personal pride – it’s incredibly motivating. There is a hunger amongst the brigade for that third rosette, which does stimulate them to constantly improve the food offering. Customers do also have a lot of confidence in the AA rosette system and recognise that achieving two or even three rosettes speaks volumes about the high standard of food offered.”

The hotel industry on the whole has been faced with many challenges, but has always managed to bounce back, and m,Hand Picked Hotels is no exception. With more challenges on the horizon, Julia is quietly confident of the group’s future: “We hope very much that with the significant investments we have injected into the portfolio, that we have built a very solid base for the future. I feel very optimistic for the company.”