As the trend for investing in personal experiences over consumer goods continues to grow, general manager of Wivenhoe House hotel Oliver Brown is reporting continued success for the four-star luxury hotel just outside Colchester.
Opened five years ago after an extensive £10 million renovation of the Grade II country house, Wivenhoe House has evolved into one of the premier destinations in North Essex. It is also home to The Edge Hotel School, a beacon for hospitality management education, respected by hoteliers and restaurateurs across the UK.
Bedroom occupancy stands at an impressive 74 per cent, the events calendar is packed to bursting with sellout events, weddings are booked through to 2020 and the brasserie restaurant has a loyal customer base drawn from the local area.
Situated on the University of Essex campus, you would be forgiven for thinking that most of the business came from the neighbours, but the growing leisure business keeps the hotel buzzing all year round.
Oliver said: “I arrived at the hotel more than three years ago and I have watched the number of leisure guests soar as people seek to make the most of their free time. Our leisure guests are mainly from the south-east of England and London, snatching a short break escape as part of the increasing demand for staycations.
“Before I started at Wivenhoe House I knew very little about this area having worked in London for most of my career in hospitality. I am now an enthusiastic advocate for the region and all it offers, from the art and history on our doorsteps to the beautiful countryside and coastline around us.”
Oliver now represents the county’s hoteliers on the Visit Essex board and the hotel works closely with Visit Colchester to help promote the outstanding attractions for tourists in this area.
Oliver is also impressed by the business opportunities that are bringing investors to Colchester. “The University of Essex’s Knowledge Gateway acts as a magnet to ambitious new businesses. Training and awaydays are on the up as businesses start to look ahead.
“Within this region I can find almost everything I need, from suppliers to interior designers.”
There’s no time to enjoy the fruits of this success though. To sustain this level Oliver and his team have worked hard to maintain high standards. “As the home of the Edge Hotel School, an important part of our role is to train hotel managers of the future. It’s a fantastic job for us all and keeps us on our toes as the undergraduates come at everything with a fresh energy.
“As an example, undergraduates came up with the initial ideas for our 2017 refurbishment of the brasserie. As they had all worked in there, they had very definite ideas about what would work and what wouldn’t – the result has met with wide approval.”
The partnership with the Edge Hotel School continues to reap many benefits for the hotel and the guests. The students undertake the practical side of their degree within the different departments at Wivenhoe House and there is tremendous support from the hospitality industry keen to share its expertise with homegrown hotel managers of the future.
This collaboration is paying dividends. Oliver said: “Wivenhoe House has increased its percentage score to the maximum 84 per cent for a four-star following this month’s annual inspection. In 2017 the hotel also signed up to Hospitality Assured, reaching the benchmark required on the first attempt.”
Last year Oliver was shortlisted for UK Hotelier of the Year in the prestigious awards run by The Caterer Magazine and Conference and Events Manager Sarah Bowman was named as one of the 30 under 30 to watch in the hospitality industry’s Acorn Awards.
While building a national profile for Wivenhoe House and the Edge Hotel School Oliver appreciates that key to success is a strong relationship with the local community.
“We provide more than 50 jobs in this area and we have just taken on our first apprentice. Wivenhoe House was home to the SAS in World War II and we have signed the Armed Forces Covenant pledging to support defence personnel as an employer and potential employer.
“We have built good links with local charities and each month a different member of staff and a student choose a good cause for us to support.”
In the short term Oliver is looking forward to welcoming more than 30 top hoteliers who will be making a pitstop at Wivenhoe House in September as part of a charity cycle ride to the Champagne region in France. When they pedal on from the hotel, Olvier will be joining them in the saddle as they head to Harwich port.
Looking ahead, Oliver is committed to monitoring and improving the hotel’s impact on the environment. “We are going through the hotel with a fine toothcomb, looking where we can cut down on plastic and we are supporting the #thelaststraw campaign, removing all plastic straws.”
He predicts the trend for staycations will continue to grow and that international guests will look to combine a visit to historic England with a trip to London when they visit the UK.
“Wivenhoe House has led the way in bringing luxury hotel accommodation to Colchester and we have been delighted to witness the growth in good quality hotels and restaurants within the area. It augurs well for business growth and tourism and means there are plenty of opportunities for our Edge Hotel School graduates should they wish to remain in this attractive part of the country.”