An Olympic challenge

“Our vision is not to be the Hand & Flower Hotel and the Hand & Flower Pub. I look at a business as a whole.”

We talk to Carlos, General Manager at the The Hand & Flower, the Fuller’s inn opposite Olympia London

The Hand & Flower inn in London’s West Kensington is situated right opposite the huge Olympia Conference Centre. Under new management, the inn is poised to rebrand itself and widen its mainstream appeal while not losing the lucrative corporate business on its doorstep. Bill Lumley looks at the plans.

Carlos Filipe Da Silva Oliveira took over as general manager of the Hand & Flower inn just a month I paid a visit, but he has firm plans to fine tune this successful London inn primarily serving visitors to the Olympia Exhibition Centre across the road, and to turn it into a destination hotel for a wider audience.

Carlos’s background is firmly in hospitality. In 2001 in Lisbon he embarked on a career principally in corporate hotels. In 2012 he moved to the UK and began working in the pub business, and over the ensuing seven years all the experience he had gained in hospitality culminated in him taking over the Hand & Flower inn in April 2019.

His appointment involved a jump from solely UK pub businesses to the inn business, which matched his former experience with corporate hotels. “It’s a big challenge bearing in mind the redevelopment of the area. We are working towards building a foundation for the future,” he says.

“At the Hand & Flower you have your food, your drink and your bedrooms, and the whole point is not to sell them as separate businesses but to integrate everything into one business.”

“My vision for the inn is to deliver flawless experiences, and to turn it into a destination inn, to make it an extraordinary destination,” he stresses. “The future is very much about delivering, so it is not only about the service you actually get: that is not enough these days. Nowadays it is all about what experience you get for your money. Therefore, value for money underpins what we will try to build here. Whenever guests leave, they will remember the Hand & Flower for that experience.”

For the time being Olympia is the overwhelming driving force for guest business, he says. [Get Olypmia cvisotor stats] Given the busiest times for Olympia run from September to June the inn works the other way around to country inns. “Summer is probably the quietest time of the year for us, and over Easter, Christmas and bank holidays it’s very quiet,” he says.

Value not luxury
Carlos says he does not consider the inn to be a hotel. “People come here with hotel expectations, and we are trying to change that,” he says. “We do provide the service of a hotel, but here we are trying to provide people with the experience of actually sleeping in a pub. Our aim is not to provide a corporate hotel experience but to provide a personalised experience for everyone.”

The differences he explains lie in the little things like the actual service provide to the guests.

The inn only has eight rooms, but he says this opens up opportunities to provide a tailored service to his guests. “Our goal is to tailor the guest experience from the moment someone books with us, when you start the experience for that guest on a follow-up: whether they have any preference on breakfast, on the kind of complimentary drinks that are going to be supplied in their room.

“It’s all these little things that will show people the difference between the Hilton hotel corporate and the highly tailored, personalised experience at the Hand & Flower.”

Marketing
The Hand & Flower is a managed house owned by Fullers and it shares the same communications and marketing strategy as the rest of the brewer’s nearly 400 inns.

With only eight rooms we want to make our communication channels one-on-one. We are endeavouring to build up business away from the online travel agencies. Most of our business currently comes form them, and we now want to drive direct business.

Providing that high level of personalised experience to the overnight guest will help achieve that he predicts. “Online reviews are very important – nobody will book a room these days before they read the reviews, and we want that excellent feedback. That is what we promote to our guests. It does not matter if it is good or bad feedback: we can always learn from it,” he says.

“Our aim is to get feedback from everyone that comes for a drink, a meal or to stay at the Hand & Flower. That will start the momentum and start to generate direct business and cut out the middle man, and it is our most important marketing tool.”

To read the full article and more interviews like this: Sign up to Innkeeper