London hotels were officially allowed to reopen for business with social distancing measures in place on July 4. London correspondent Emily Goldfischer checked in with Malcolm Hendry last week to see how the reentry was going and what guests can expect. Hendry, voted Top General Manager Worldwide for 2019 in our Awards of Excellence, runs two of Red Carnation’s five-star properties, the clubby, intimate 27-room Hotel 41 and the elegant 161-room Rubens at the Palace, both well positioned in the shadow of Buckingham Palace, locations worthy of royalty, actually.
What’s it like having guests back in the hotels?
Fantastic. I am just so happy to be open again! I live for service. I missed being in the hotels, seeing guests, working with the staff and feeling the energy of everyone. We’ve had more guests than I expected in the first week—mostly regulars from other parts of the U.K. and some new guests that just want to have a few days in London. It’s actually incredible to be in London right now: The streets aren’t crowded and there are still so many iconic sights to see—from Buckingham Palace, right next door, to Tower Bridge and all the incredible parks, shops and restaurants are slowly starting to open, too. The guests have loved being in London while it is quiet.
How has it been implementing social distancing and new cleaning requirements?
It’s been really good! Some changes you notice are riding in the lift (elevator) alone, and no more buffet service, but other things you don’t notice like the tables being a bit further apart and employees wearing gloves. We’ve reprogrammed elevators to be one touch, so essentially every elevator has become an express elevator. Some guests are taking the stairs because it is quicker, which works fine for most in our smallish hotels.
Many of the cleanliness rituals, we were doing them already. It’s just a bit more pronounced now. For example, there is a handwashing schedule and lots of changing of gloves, but it feels more normal with each passing day. We are definitely doing everything we can to keep people safe, yet have them feel pampered and well served. We have enjoyed the challenge of thinking of new ways to provide luxurious service, [for instance] how to change our breakfast and cocktail hours, so guests can still enjoy the variety of a buffet but with a la carte service. I actually think our breakfast menu is better now, and it will just keep evolving—we keep adding items and are not taking anything away. In the evenings, we are still doing our beloved “Plunder the Pantry” snacks, just serving individually rather than buffet format. Guests love it.
What do you expect for your hotels in the near term?
We feel there is pent-up demand; we will see more domestic business this summer and into the fall. We’ve brought back as much staff as we can for now. It is tricky to get the staffing levels right to ensure a luxury experience, but we are constantly tweaking everything so it is just right. We are missing our many American guests, many of whom visit us every summer. We have been in touch with all of our loyal guests and travel advisors.
Looking further ahead, what do you predict?
Hope we continue to take steps to allow London to be what it used to be, to gradually add layers of being busier and busier. We are getting lots of calls now with future booking inquiries.
What is your definition of luxury post-COVID-19?
To have the hotel experience be normal as can be, we’ve worked hard to establish physical distancing, with minimal changes to the aesthetic of the property and service. With our staff having been away for three months, there is also a pent-up desire to serve people and look after our guests.
For inquiries about VIP bookings at Rubens Hotel and Hotel 41, contact Malcolm Hendry at [email protected] Another good contact for Red Carnation is Terry Holmes ([email protected]), an executive director who oversees the U.S. market.