Lindsey Holland, Second Nature Hotels2018/03/14
What’s it really like to start a business in hospitality? We started an interview series to find out.
This week, we talked with Lindsey Holland, Founder of Second Nature Hotels, about what it’s really like to run a hotel, what guests want in 2018, and how to unplug from a 24-hour business.
Let’s start here; what’s it like to actually own your own hotel?
Unbelievable. I, Lindsey Holland, own a Hotel. How did that happen? My dream, ambition, wishes, have come true. I’ve done it.
However, with that success also comes the stark reality. I have unlimited freedom, the ability to shape and develop this product – my business – into whatever I want. That’s rewarding, to say the least, but also incredibly responsible. I owe more money than ever, I have a building that’s been neglected for far too many years and guests to impress, and I only have two hands.
One thing is for sure; the adrenaline and passion pulsate through my veins and I’m not giving that feeling up. Forevermore, I will be Lindsey Holland, and I will own my own hotel.
What’s the biggest difference between running and owning a hotel?
I’m calling the shots, every single one and suddenly there are more than ever before.
If I make the right decision I reap the rewards; if I make the wrong decision I have to fix the result. This principle is no different to when I was operating a Hotel for an Owner, but I don’t have any back up now; no team to carry on when I’m shattered, no Heads of Department to work with and learn from, no income unless I’m making it happen. This is personal.
What do you find the greatest challenge about working on your own?
The challenges at the moment are more logistical:
- How do I move a double wardrobe when I’m on my own?
- How do I go and collect the shopping or source lampshades when I also need to be cleaning rooms and sorting my accounts?
Most of this will dissipate once the Hotel is functioning fluidly, but only if I can get those wardrobes moved and keep the cash flow flowing. I can see the dynamic changing soon, and once the Hotel is functional, it’ll be a change of focus towards the future. Then it’ll be working out who to trust with the refurbishment projects. Working by myself means when I’m looking at contractors I now not only check pricing but also how they communicate with me, and whether their work will really be good value for my hard-earned cash.
How do you unplug from a 24-hour business?
You can’t. Well, I can’t for now. But you should. And I will, soon.
I imagine any self-employed person would empathise; you can’t pull a sickie or take a day off without it potentially impacting your business and, for me, my future reservations and even potentially my reputation. That said, I am a total believer that you have to switch off at some point for an amount of time and find yourself again. It’s only healthy, too long going full speed and you might not suffer physically but mentally I know I won’t be making the right decisions. You’ve got to know what makes you relax, and then work out how to fit that into your day.
For me, it’s running, yoga, staring at the stunning view from my Hotel (seriously, you’ve got to see it to believe it), baking…short activities that mean I can keep plugged into my 24-hour business but let my mind rest from the decision making.
What do you think people want from a hotel stay now? And what’s changed?
I feel guests have become more logical; why pay for a room with few facilities when they have all the mod cons and luxuries they want at home? It still amazes me that there are Hotels with poor WiFi or even places that still charge for it.
But the trend to ‘get away’ from it all is also becoming more dominant and something that I’m hearing a lot when taking reservations. Guests aren’t so concerned about what is in the room, but more about what they can do without having to go too far; they’re seeking serious downtime.
There is so much more information on guest demographics available now. It means we can make some pretty accurate guesses about what people want from their stay before they arrive.
How much do demographics matter to looking after your guests?
In relation to my Hotel, good customer service skills – observation, conversation and listening – are probably more important than statistics because I’m focusing on a high level of attention to detail when looking after my guests. Having a conversation with my guests when booking uncovers most of what I need to know.
However, demographics are helpful and shouldn’t be ignored. Repeat guests are essential, however not all your guests will come back, so knowing the ‘average’ profile of your future guest is important.
"If I make the right decision I reap the rewards, if I make the wrong decision I have to fix the result"
Is there a danger that hotels become too versatile, and lose their identity as a result?
Totally, and I think that’s where many bland, chain hotels are currently.
They have such a large customer base that they can’t please everyone, so they go down the middle as much as possible. Interestingly though, that’s also what appeals to certain types of guest; the business person who just wants an average desk, with a light, a decent bed and breakfast at a reasonable rate. They’re not on the lookout for the country’s next best Hotel but a standard that they know will be met worldwide when they travel.
For independents, especially smaller Hotels and Bed and Breakfasts, I think the lack of a specific identity means that they can come over as very versatile but also result in a non-identity to a degree, and potentially not leave the all-important lasting impact on the guest that they need to convert to a loyal returning one.
Where do you think the industry will be in 5 years time?
Not as far forward as it needs to be or should be really.
I am immensely proud to say that I work in the hospitality sector, I’m happy to live, sleep and eat what I do as I think the ability to be hospitable for a job is wonderful.
It saddens me then that, for one of the largest industries in the UK, we’re desperately behind being represented as a valid career choice; and we’re in danger of becoming drastically short staffed as a consequence.
The reputation of the industry has to change, and maybe it will in the next 5 years, but I’m not convinced as an industry we’re doing enough to help it right now. Everyone that represents the industry has to shout loud and clear how good it is to be a part of and mentor those coming into the industry so they see the positives.
I also think the way the industry uses technology has to change. Guests have better technology at home and at work than most hotels, and as an industry, we should be ahead, not behind.