It will be a year in May that Keith Pickard joined The QHotels Collection as the Group Director of Golf, Leisure & Spa. That’s why I was wondering how he sees The QHotels Collection‘s situation and how they respond to the current golf business challenges.
Will your guests want the pandemic-era services as the “new normal”?
During the pandemic, while everything changed a lot with regards to how many people could be inside and in what rooms and when, in reality, the resorts already had a very rigid and complete programme for sanitising and cleaning pre-pandemic.
Making guests feel comfortable, safe and looked after is and has always been a primary focus across the entire portfolio and we have a fantastic team of staff across the resorts who are brilliant at doing just that.
In terms of the minimising of face-to-face contact with table-side ordering of food, remote check-in and the other methods, I think it is always important to analyse any new procedures that have been tried and take what you can from them.
Not only did the changes help stop the spread of the virus, but they actually gave the teams increased control over arrivals and timings, which is something that we always try to do.
The better understanding and handling of visits and F&B that you have for guests, the better you can organise their stay and make sure any waiting is kept to a minimum, and for these reasons, I think us, and many other resorts will be keeping some of the pandemic services even into the new normal.
The other major step that we introduced during the pandemic era was our new online booking system. The first of its kind in the UK, the new system offers a one-stop-shop for booking a golf break, helping to secure tee times, accommodation, and table reservations for lunch and dinner in just a single booking attempt.
This has really helped to make booking breaks easier and has helped us to deal with the increased demand during the pandemic which we will continue to develop and focus on into the “new normal”.
How do you engage and retain your best talents?
Hm, a very big question! I think for us at The QHotels Collection, the key to retaining our best talents is built on these pillars:
- Reward & Recognition,
- Accountability & Responsibility and
- Training & Development.
Our golf career development pathway is designed specifically with the aforementioned in mind. Not just to engage and nurture existing talent but to also be the recruiter of choice.
People need to feel as though they are progressing, that they are being tested on a daily basis, not in a physical way, but to have people above them that are challenging them and not allowing them to get too stagnant in their position.
This is how high-performing staff build, by having responsibility increased gradually and feeling as though there is a next step for them within the portfolio.
The second part of that, is, of course, having people in leadership roles that can recognise this talent and match their potential to the tasks that they are being asked to do.
Without the people to spot this talent, potential, and achievement, there is little chance of retaining people, so having inciteful and forward-thinking members of the team throughout the resorts is crucial.
Above all of that though, is making sure all staff are content and respected, that they feel as though they are listened to and appreciated. If you can do that, then it creates a happy working environment and that is what makes The QHotels Collection team what it is.
How optimistic are you that golf tourism will recover from the COVID-19 pandemic in 2022? How long will a full recovery from the pandemic take for The QHotels Collection?
Personally, I am actually more confident about the collection as we move into the new normal than I was before. For many in this industry, what we have seen in the last 24 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.
In terms of our own recovery, I think we are already very far along that journey, if not reaching the conclusion. Yes, the collection may look different, we may have changed certain revenue streams, procedures, and pathways, but we are incredibly proud of the bounceback that the team has worked hard to make happen.
There can be no doubt that the pandemic, has in the long term, been a positive experience for the direction and progression of The QHotels Collection.
In terms of the wider golf tourism industry, I think that it is in a strong position. The pandemic gave people in the UK markets the chance to show off what we have to offer versus European travel opportunities, and the chance to impress guests with the level of golf and ease of access that we can offer.
Many of these guests, certainly from our perspectives, enjoyed the idea of staying in the UK for golf breaks and we hope that they will now continue to do so.
How will you exploit the popularity of health & wellbeing services?
I think what we saw through the pandemic period was far more people being interested in the idea of health and wellbeing, so it’s easy to recognise that as a group we need to honour this and make sure these people are catered for.
In general, we are seeing far more golfers that stay at our resorts and also want to work-out or relax in different ways, which may be coming from the much wider pool of golfers that are now playing in the UK post-pandemic.
To help achieve this, we have just recently undergone a multi-million-pound gym investment at eighteen of our health clubs, that includes state-of-the-art equipment from market leaders Life Fitness.
We are keen to align with any other premium health and wellness facility in the UK and we understand that this was a step that we needed to take to make sure that we didn’t fall behind what is being expected of these facilities by guests now.
What will be your biggest challenge in 2022?
The biggest challenge for 2022 will be making sure we ensure those that staycationed in the UK because of the pandemic, do the same thing again this year.
Many of these people will be new to the sport given the number of people who took it up in these years, so via advertising and experience, we want to do what we can to keep as many of this audience as possible.
Part of that is the obvious elements of a golf break like the service and the quality of golf, but I think a lot of the other work we have done at the resorts over the last couple of years will also be driving factors.
Not only have we made major improvements to the health and wellbeing facilities like the gyms I mentioned above, but also the work done to protect the courses against the weather with improved machinery and drainage.
These factors help to keep the golf course in the best possible condition so that people can come here and know that no matter the weather conditions, the course will stand up to it.
So many people took up or re-started playing golf through the lockdown, and these will still be their first few golf breaks, so we need to make sure that they have a great experience that they will remember which is important for building our market.
What opportunities do you see in staycation?
We are always looking at new and innovative ways of continuing the growth of golf in this country. We have welcomed more and more families to all of our facilities and have dedicated programs 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 24 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, and what factors are going to encourage more women to head to their nearest resort.
All of this means that there is real potential to get new staycation audiences into the club, we need to make sure that it’s not just the traditional golfers who are taking staycations.
Additionally, outside of the golf sphere, we have resorts in stunning locations, that make the best of some amazing places as well as some brilliant facilities. There is huge scope for further growth in staycations continuing for many years, and we look forward to trying to nurture this correctly.