Breaking Travel News interview: Sue Finlay, general manager, Park Tower Knightsbridge

1st Aug 2013
Breaking Travel News interview: Sue Finlay, general manager, Park Tower Knightsbridge Finlay was appointed general manger of the Park Tower Knightsbridge earlier this year

An iconic property in west London since its opening in the 1970s, the Park Tower Knightsbridge has recently undergone a multi-million pound overhaul.

Here Breaking Travel News sits down with freshly appointed general manager Sue Finlay to discuss the importance of local inspiration in the redesign, the property’s history and what the future holds.

Breaking Travel News: Perhaps you could just tell us a little about the new interior we see down here on the ground floor of the property?

Sue Finlay: We have just completed the refurbishment of our public areas. This is a process which started at the beginning of this year and the final pieces fell into place during the middle of June.

This process included the entire lower floor. We have created a new entrance experience, as well as changing our name to the Park Tower Knightsbridge. Walking into the lobby there is a new feeling, as well as here in the bar.

Our interior designer, Anita Rosato, looked at a theme of Hyde Park and the areas around us and drew these into the design for the property. This is why you see in the lobby the centre piece of the table which looks like an oak tree as its base, coming down there is also a beautiful showpiece chandelier which looks like petals from the garden. Behind reception you have a lovely wall of flower petals, again from Hyde Park.

The Knightsbridge Lounge, which is also fresh, has seen its interiors change. The wall coverings are now hand-painted and silk magnolia. This is a plant which is found in Hyde Park. Again, this is an attempt to bring the outside, inside. The food and beverage offering in there is primarily afternoon tea, that is their specialty.

Our executive head chef Pascal Proyart has developed a Hyde Park afternoon tea which has little pastry swans, drawing inspiration from the Serpentine. There is a seasonal feel, bringing in what is going on outside into the hotel.

In the Hyde Bar the colours have again drawn inspiration from the park. This room always had a clubby feel about it. But I think it now has a more relaxed, gentlemanly feel. We specialise in whisky, cigars. But this is nothing to do with me being Scottish!

Pascal has also created a brassiere feel. Perhaps before people would just have had a drink in the bar, they perhaps would not have thought of it as a dining experience. There are classical British dishes on offer in here, with a French feel. We are now seeing a greater number of people eating here in the bar.

BTN: Who are you seeing come through the door of these new locations? Is it just guests from the hotel, or are you open to the wider public?

SF: I think we have always seen a lot of local people use our bar, lounge and restaurant: that is a big target market for us. Again, hotel guests do use it. But I think the opportunity going forward is more in the local market. People need to be aware this is right on the doorstep, not just for a drink, but they can eat, relax. Also with the terrace outside.

We have individual websites for the Hyde Bar and Knightsbridge Lounge – they are separate entities with their own logos, individual concepts behind them. We are promoting them.

BTN: You mentioned this was a process of renovation? Did this include the rooms in the hotel as well?

SF: It took us six months to do the bar, lobby, reception and Knightsbridge Lounge. The whole arrival experience.

Prior to this we had been working on a rolling programme with the bedrooms. We have been working on this process for a number of years and will continue to do so. We are approximately half way through this process and are looking at maybe two years to complete the bedrooms, but this is not set in stone. The plans are always evolving.

In a number of years the hotel will have been completely renovated.

BTN: Have you noticed the nationality of the clientele coming to the hotel changing at all?

SF: We have a very international clientele here at the hotel, ranging from North America, Asia and Europe.

One thing I have seen, here in the UK, not just at this property, is a growing number of visitors from South America. I think the UK is a growing destination for these markets. These are obviously growing markets, Brazilians. This is not just in the leisure market, but also with incentive groups.

We have a lot of regular guests also. Some have stayed here for years. I met a guest last week who had been here each year since the property opened in 1973. A lot of our guests have seen us through a lot of refurbishments, and they remain very positive.

BTN: Is the incentive sector an important part of the offering here at Park Tower Knightsbridge?

SF: Again it is very varied with who we attract here.

The location we are in, and the type of property we are, we appeal to business clients, individual corporate travellers, and then a great number of leisure holidaymakers. A whole mix of business and leisure, neither one nor the other.

BTN: Harrods is just down the road from the hotel here, is this one of the main advantages for both leisure and business travel, the location?

SF: Personally speaking, the location here in the centre of London is very important. It is very easy to walk around, to go to Harrods as you say, Sloane Square, Harvey Nichols, and we are right on the tube if you want to go to Leicester Square, Covent Garden.

But it is much quieter here, there is less hustle and bustle. It is a little calmer. This appeals to a lot of guests who want to come to Luxury Collection.

That is not to say it is all we offer. We are looking at improvements all the time. One of the most important is service, which we continue to enhance. For example, we are now offering butler service in all our suites.

We have also installed coffee machines into all the suites, and renamed them so they reflect the views from each individual one.

Also, one thing that started before I came which I want to develop, is working with local partners. I think this is really important, supporting the artisans of Knightsbridge. For instance, we work with Rococo Chocolates up in Motcomb Street; the afternoon tea we serve in the Knightsbridge lounge includes a special hot chocolate menu from them.

Rachel Vosper, we are working with her, a really small bespoke candle maker, to give us a unique fragrance which goes in the suites – rose and magnolia. Again this draws from our location at Hyde Park. Neill Strain, the florist, provides the centre piece for the lobby, and this is a new connection, we did not work with him before the renovations.

There are lots of things we can do here. I have been working on the renovations at present, but there is always lots more we can do.

BTN: You mentioned the high number of repeat guests? What do you think it is that draws people back??

SF: What we have talked about so far is obviously important, the location, the renovations, but the team here as well is equally important. If you counted up the number of years of experience we have here among the team, it is simply amazing.

There are people on concierge, valet and room service who have been here for maybe 30 years. They are a great asset to the hotel. When guests come back they are recognised, they recognise people themselves and they feel as though they are coming back home.

That is our ultimate goal, to make people feel at home. As soon as they walk through the door they feel as though they are at home. Whether for one night, or for two months.

BTN: Can you tell us a little about Luxury Collection and the relationship with Starwood?:

SF: I think Luxury Collection is an important asset in the success of this hotel, as well as the relationship with Starwood more generally. We are very proud to be one the small number of Luxury Collection properties within Starwood – I believe around 75.

Luxury Collection properties tend to be unique buildings in important destinations, here in London for example, but also places like Venice, Rome and New York – locations with the requirement for these sorts of properties.

They can be quite old, but are usually architecturally significant. This property for example was designed by Richard Seifert, and it has become a landmark of London.

For guests, they know what they are going to get. There will be elements which are shared across the brand, and this helps build trust. The feel of the product, the services, the processes, these are all shared. 

Starwood Preferred Guest, the loyalty programme, brings a lot of people to stay here – whether they have been to a Luxury Collection property, or indeed to London before, the loyalty programme makes it very attractive to them.

There is also a technical side, the website, has seen a lot of time and investment – we have a great online presence. I feel we have been working on this for years and have a very strong presence in this area. This is not just with websites, but in terms of social media, where we also have a strong voice.

We are proactive in the interaction with our guests. Our online presence is also multilingual, which helps us as we are part of a global company.

More Information

For more information on visiting the property head over to the official website.


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