The golf, leisure and spa director of The QHotels Collection, which manages seven golf resorts in England and Scotland, details how the venues have adapted to the pandemic – particularly via increased domestic memberships but reduced foreign travel, and discusses investing in the courses to ensure year-round golf and how to appeal more to families.
Can you tell us a bit about The QHotels Collection?
The QHotels Collection is one of the country’s largest hotel and golf resort operators with 21 four-star hotels and resorts across the UK. Within that, we have 14 of our individual hotels and seven of our branded hotels (including four DoubleTree by Hilton resorts, two Delta by Marriott venues and one Mercure Hotel).
Across England and Scotland, there are also seven golf resorts included within that, all of which offer a mixture of championship-standard courses, lush driving ranges and various practice facilities so that golfers of all levels will be able to feel comfortable there.
The different resorts and hotels are all completely individual which is something that we take great pride in, but you can also expect the same commitment to service and customer experience across the group, something we have worked hard to achieve.
What does your role as the group director of golf, leisure and spa involve?
Ha, that’s a big question and one I get asked often. In essence, I’m responsible for the strategy and delivery of the ‘People, Product and Profit’ initiatives of all of the three functions. It also involves working collaboratively with my colleagues and peers on the investment needs of the business to optimise both the guest experience and financial returns. While the three elements are very different and need to be treated as such, the actual way we go about making sure that they are moving in the right direction is pretty similar.
For example, we are always looking for areas of investment across the three. We want the facilities across the resorts to be at their absolute best wherever we can, and so to try to improve things we need to listen to customers and staff at the resorts and take in their feedback. Last year for example we signed off on a large golf investment which is really helping the courses through the winter months, and it’s this sort of focus that helps to continually better customer experience.
Commercially we are always looking forwards as well, whether that’s focussing on brand development awareness or trying to create commercial opportunities for the collection. We want to play a role in the progression of the whole collection by making the best use of the facilities, by hosting events and by showing ourselves off in the best way.
What have your, and the group’s experiences of the pandemic, from March 2020 to the present day, been?
I think, like almost everyone in the hospitality industry, things have been tricky for us during the pandemic. We traditionally are a company that likes to make sure we are forward-thinking and preparing for the future at every single opportunity, but when you have such a quickly changing scenario, ducking in and out of lockdowns and restriction rules month-by-month, that’s a tricky deal.
Personally, that applies as well, although I would say in many ways, I am very confident about the collection as we move towards the pandemic’s end and as much as I was before March 2020. For many in this industry, what we have seen in the last 21 months is as bad as it can be, a real nightmare scenario and yet we have come through it with flying colours, and I am proud of everyone for that.
Of course, there were some tricky decisions to be made as we worked as well as we could within the restrictions, but we used the time to review our strategies, our practices and our aims, which stands us in really good stead going forwards, as well as providing us with a really smooth return to the ‘new normal’ this summer.
Has the growth in golf participation at a time of reduced international travel meant QHotels has marketed its venues differently?
I would definitely say so, yes. One thing everyone has learnt because of the pandemic is the importance of fluidity within industry trends and the need to keep up with them as they change. We have received a big boost because of a lack of travel abroad, as have most venues in the country, and it’s important that we make the best of that. Along with a significant increase in residential golf breaks, we have seen a constant growth in new members across the collection, at all the different resorts and that’s great to see, but now the focus turns to making sure that they stay with us post-Covid.
The first part of this is always going to be giving both our members and the guests the best possible experience, and for that we need to focus marketing on things that traditionally UK venues have not always been able to offer. Wintertime at British venues can often be a tricky deal, with closures because of weather conditions, and winter greens and tees. To combat this we have promised none of these stop-gap methods be used at our resorts through the winter, which partially comes from the investment into the resorts. We understand that winter is a time when British players often travel abroad for golf, so this time we are focussing on offering something slightly different.
What is the usage of indoor facilities such as the group’s various clubhouses now compared to what it was two years ago?
The indoor facility usage has been an interesting insight for us over the last two years. Previously, the facilities have been used predominantly by guests staying with us, who have been taking advantage of our food and beverage and leisure facilities.
More recently, and as a result of Covid, we have seen more users coming in to use meeting spaces and work from our bars and more relaxed dining areas. Incidentally, due to the restrictions in place and lack of travel permitted we also saw a boom in the usage of the facilities in general. Families, couples and friends have all utilised the venues to enjoy time catching up and unwinding from the stresses the pandemic caused.
We are going to continue looking at this side of the business and how we can promote the usage of the facilities across the board and within multiple channels.
The group announced in May 2021 that there will be significant investment in its facilities over the next two or three years, particularly in the courses, driving ranges and pro shops. Can you tell us more about that?
So, the investment that has been announced for the golf courses, as I have alluded to a couple of times already, has the potential to really boost the golfing experience that players have at The QHotels Collection venues.
In short, £2 million has been invested in the seven resorts across England and Scotland during 2021, with further significant investment planned for 2022 and 2023. This money is going to go to a host of different areas to improve our golfing offer, this includes new greenkeeping equipment to deliver improved playing surfaces, as well as upgrading bunkers, pathways and drainage systems at each venue in the next 24 months. This sort of focus allows each venue to be able to offer a more year-round golf course, able to put up with the strains and stresses of British autumn and winter weather.
We will also be further improving the golf experience by adding to the fleet of golf buggies available at every resort, as well as improved driving-range facilities and upgraded new fixtures and fittings in the various pro shops. In many ways we see these sorts of elements as just as important as the on-course focus because it gives our members and guests the feeling that they are having their whole experience cared for and improved.
Is QHotels trying to attract more juniors, beginners and women to the game?
We are always looking at new and innovative ways of continuing the growth of golf within these channels. As mentioned, we have welcomed more and more families to all of our facilities and have dedicated programmes to make access easier to pick up the game, and this is really important to everyone across The QHotels Collection.
The growth of the women’s game, across pretty much every single measurable, has been fantastic over the last 18 months; one of the huge positives of the pandemic period. We want to really support this and are currently working to see how we can best do that, what factors are going to encourage more women to head to their nearest resort.
What are your predictions for the next few years for the UK golf industry?
I believe the next few years are a very exciting place for the golf industry, and that’s probably to do with a lot of the stuff we have already discussed. There is a whole new forefront of golf on the horizon, which is coming from a rise in participation in almost every sector and demographic across the board. The pandemic did some really good things for British golf and got a lot of people to try a sport that they would not have otherwise done, so it will be interesting to see how that carries on and develops, whether that’s just a larger player base, more diverse professionals, better British professional game – it’s all exciting to see.
In terms of The QHotels Collection’s role in this, we are all massively looking forwards to it. We have the large investment that we are putting in across the next few years and that’s going to give every resort a boost and allow them to make even better use of the courses across the whole year. For us, we always want to focus on the guest experience, and with the technology around booking golf breaks updating constantly, we think the process is just going to improve for the guests. With all the Covid restrictions, and the push to be remote and socially distanced over the last two years, that has forced the hands of golf course / resort operators to make their processes as smooth as possible and I think the guests will really understand the positives as we go through the next few years. I firmly believe the golf industry is in a great place overall.
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