AHC Preview: Building a boutique hotel power brand

Between 11 and 12 September, more than 1,000 senior representatives from across the UK hospitality industry will head to Manchester for the Annual Hotel Conference (AHC).

This year’s speakers include: broadcaster and chef patron at La Gavroche Michel Roux Jr as well as senior representatives from Blackstone, Whitbread, KSL Capital Partners, and more.

The following interview is part of a series aimed at bringing you a flavour of the conversations you can expect on stage, highlighting some of the big-picture trends and themes ahead of the event.

Register now to make sure you don’t miss out.

In 2011 hotelier Robin Hutson co-founded the first Pig Hotel. The idea at the time was to try something new with the country house hotel, repositioning as a "restaurant with rooms". Over the next few years the company made a reputation for itself as one of the best examples of boutique hospitality in the UK, so much so that investor KSL Capital Partners decided to buy the company in partnership with Hutson.

With the injection of capital came changes at the top. Tom Ross, who had been at The Pig since 2013, was first promoted to managing director in March 2022, then just over a year later was named CEO of the eight-hotel business.

We recently caught up with Ross to discuss his plans for the company post acquisition.

Tom Ross, CEO of The Pig

Hospitality Investor: Domestic holidays enjoyed a huge boost in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, has this growth been sustained over the last year?

Tom Ross: To some extent yes, especially with the price of holidays abroad. However, the growth could never really be sustained, everywhere was full. It is more a question of can that previous growth be retained. Those areas where the pendulum swung the furthest, i.e. places like Cornwall, the pendulum has swung back to a much more normal seasonal trading pattern. These areas such as the Lake District and Devon and Cornwall were lucky enough to overtrade for a period of time. I think most people are now comparing to a 2019 pattern in order to be realistic. That said it is regional, the city-based hotels which suffered so much over the last years are having a better time now I believe, as international travel benefits the UK. I am pleased for them, they have had a torrid few years.

Hospitality Investor: In an inflationary environment room rates have continued to increase, do you think this is sustainable?

Tom Ross: This is every hoteliers quandary. Room rates have been increased by some but there are plenty of hotels that are fighting for occupancy at the moment by dropping their rate. Sustained rate increases naturally have a ceiling but of course every business is feeling squeezed by their costs. The rate increases will be influenced by demand from now on, not by an inflationary environment. If the demand is there, prices will continue to go up but I think you will see a slowing down in the rise of ADR’s.

Hospitality Investor: The Pig brand has grown to become one of the best-known names in boutique luxury hospitality. What do you put that success down to?

Tom Ross: Hard work and a focus on the million details. Hospitality is not an overly complicated business but it is the sum of many parts. If the focus is not on each of the hundreds of parts then the overall guest experience will be affected. In the main though it is down to the people who work in our business, they are the heart and soul of the hotels. We have very talented people all over the business, whether it be the hotels or head office and we grow from within so the culture runs deep through the business. I think there is also an integrity to the business whether it be the way we treat people, both internally and externally or our communities around us. We care about we do and how we do it.

Hospitality Investor: The Pig was bought by KSL Capital Partners last year. What has this meant for the company’s strategy?

Tom Ross: It has not really changed to be honest, we have grown to 8 hotels over the last 11 years and we are wanting to continue that growth journey. We have two amazing properties in the pipeline and are really excited to get them open. We are actively searching for new sites so watch this space!

Hospitality Investor: The theme of this year's event is ‘Adapt to Thrive’, can you give me one example in your business or otherwise, where a new and innovate strategy has been implemented to capitalise on an emerging market opportunity?

Tom Ross: We have always been rigorous in our support for supporting local businesses and suppliers. We have actively suppressed champagne sales since we first opened in 2011 and continue to pour English wine. However, in the last few years we have doubled down on our efforts. We want to be at the forefront of the hospitality industry in its support for the English Wine market which continues to grow at remarkable pace. This has given us exposure to new markets and also allowed us to meet great people, producing great things and that is part of the fun. We also get to drink wine while doing it, so it seemed a no brainer!

Stay tuned for more preview interviews and if you still haven’t registered yet, you can do so here. You can also view the latest programme, here.