Checking in with... David Taylor FIH MI
Chief operating officer of Project 1898 and former chairman of the St. Julian Scholars David Taylor FIH MI talks about taking the leap from opening The London EDITION to launching a new hotel brand.
Since becoming a St. Julian Scholar in 2009 what have your career highlights been?
Whilst I was still at the Hoxton we won the Guardian’s UK Hotel of the Year both in 2009 and 2010. This recognised the hard work of the team we assembled and the level of innovation offered for its price point.
Successfully launching The London EDITION was a triumph for both Ian Schrager and Marriott International so that was certainly a highlight.
What does your current role of chief operating officer of Project 1898 entail?
My role is to develop a group of city hotels, under the ownership of Starwood Capital, in some of the most storied hotel buildings in the UK’s best known cities. Starwood Capital has bought three hotel businesses since 2013 and has also purchased individual trophy assets, such as the Blythswood Square in Glasgow and the Roxburghe Hotel in Edinburgh and wants to assemble a ‘Great British’ hotel company covering the length and breadth of the country.
What has been the biggest challenge and opportunity as you moved from general manager to COO?
When you operate one hotel your leadership style significantly differs from the leadership style and behaviours required for somebody who is leading a group of hotels. I loved running one great hotel but to be successful as a group of hotels, I knew I needed the best general manager I could find for each location and a brilliant team surrounding me to differentiate our brand from the pack.
Do you feel the scholarship has played a part in your move from general manager to COO? Was this all part of your career plan?
I didn’t plan to move away from being a hotel general manager but the opportunity was one I could not ignore. The scholarship definitely helped me develop the skills required to do more than run a hotel, albeit the role of a general manager has significantly changed over the last 20 years with stakeholder and owner management becoming a core part of the day job.
What should people expect from the hotels under the Project 1898 brand?
That would be telling! We plan to launch our brand in the next couple of months and we have taken inspiration from the history of these fabulous buildings. But we are looking to offer Great British hospitality and the focus will be on distinctive design, a warm and generous welcome and hotels that are very much “local at heart”.
What have been the main challenges faced with starting a new hotel brand?
With the exception of the Hotel Russell, which is closed for a multi-million pound renovation, we have renovated our hotels in Edinburgh, York and Manchester without closing them. Continuing to operate with a hotel full of builders is a challenge but we’ve made it work. The other key challenge is trying to find touch points that will offer longevity and differentiate your business from your competitors. Great hospitality begins with its people and that’s where we want to stand out from the pack.
Have you noticed any new consumer trends?
I constantly look for new trends that aren’t just a flash in the pan. It is clear that (and this has always been the case) hotels must provide a level of luxury and sophistication with an aesthetic which is at least as good as you would have at home. This includes the provision of technology, great food and drink and the warm welcome you find in every great home.
You said in past interviews that the scholarship has helped your career and self-development ‘immensely’. In what ways has the scholarship supported your progression?
At times, hoteliers can be inward looking and don’t look to other industries that are disrupting behaviours. My time at Cranfield has taught me to be inquisitive and not just accept the first answer given and always look to be best in class regardless of your position or product offering.
What lessons have you learnt throughout your career in hospitality?
Get a mentor. There are various schemes through the Master Innholders, the St Julian Scholars, Springboard and the Savoy Society. Use the network of fantastic leaders in the UK hospitality industry and ask yourself what makes them great and look at how you can develop you own unique leadership style.
What ongoing challenges will hoteliers be faced with in the coming year?
The Brexit decision is a double edged sword. I think it will make decision-making a more protracted process as organisations will look at corporate travel and meetings (as they can be seen as niceties) and will be looking for great value and the best hotel they can find. The flip side is that the UK is great value for guests from the US and Europe and we should do everything we can to promote inbound tourism.
Next year’s Master Innholders conference title is ‘The Next Generation. An Industry Revolution.’ What do you feel makes the hotel sector an innovative industry and how can we continue to revolutionise our practices?
I would tackle this question by focusing on our people rather than our product. Hospitality has always been a sector that has attracted bright but not necessarily academic talent. It offers a lifetime career without any glass ceiling based on academic qualifications or social ranking. We must look at our practises to ensure that the next generation of school leavers and graduates see our industry as one which offers them a career where they can learn, travel and be a big fish as their contributions will be invaluable. It’s also much more fun than banking! In light of the Brexit, we will also need to become more attractive to home grown talent.
What is the next ‘big thing’ for the hotel industry?
The next big thing for the hotel industry is the thing that has differentiated great hotels and hospitality businesses for ever and a day: service and engagement. The budget hotel sector offers, in some cases, a better product offering than many mid-market hotels so service will always set a hotel apart from the crowd.
If you were to give someone considering a career in hotels some word of wisdom, what would they be?
Find a great mentor, be humble, work hard, build a great team and give back.