Breaking Travel News interview: Andrew Batchelor, general manager, The Landmark London
Andrew Batchelor, general manager of The Landmark London, is not a man afraid of details.
During a tour of the property with Breaking Travel News earlier this spring, he is able to identify recent changes to the position of numerous light fittings, discuss the historic font on the dining room menu and list the ingredients of the Marylebone Mist, the signature cocktail in the Mirror Bar.
Here is a hotelier at home with the minutiae of running a prestige property.
At least some of this depth of knowledge can be explained by the recently completed renovations at the hotel, which saw 290 of the 300 rooms overhauled in a £6 million investment.
Soft furnishing throughout have been updated, new televisions installed, and interior marble replaced, while there have also been tweaks to the public areas of the hotel.
As Batchelor explains to Breaking Travel News: “The design was by Alex Kravetz and features soft pastel shades; it is very luxurious, very comfortable.
“We are delighted with the outcome.
“This refurbishment has been planned over the last two years and the feedback we have had from our guests on the new product has been very pleasing.”
Batchelor has led the property for seven years and occupies an enviable position.
As an independent property, owned by Jatuporn family of Thailand, he has tremendous freedom to put his own stamp on the hotel.
He explains: “This is an independently owned and run hotel – with no management company – which gives us a lot of latitude to create a unique, luxurious experience for our guests.
“I have a lot of leeway and a lot of support, a lot of trust, and I am very thankful for that.
“I do believe in the environment here at The Landmark London – we have a great opportunity and it is down to us to predict what is next in the industry and to take advantage of that.”
So, what does this mean in practice for visitors?
Originally opening as the last of the great Victorian railway properties, Grand Central Hotel opened to the public in 1899 – making this its 120th anniversary.
After periods as a convalescence home for injured soldiers and a military intelligence base in WWI and WWII respectively, it was taken over by the British Railways Board in 1945.
Nicknamed ‘the Kremlin’ in honour of its twisting passages and imposing size, it was here doctor Richard Beeching composed his famous report, taking an axe to rail services in the UK during the 1960s.
Not until the 1990s, briefly as part of the Four Seasons group, did The Landmark London once again become a hotel, with the current owners taking control in 1995.
This history is celebrated throughout, most obviously in the grand façade overlooking Marylebone station, but also in a series of display cases filled with artefacts from the last century.
Visiting, there is a real sense of classic Victorian grandeur, with polished brass, towering columns and a crisp, formal service all harking back to a bygone era.
But that is not to say the hotel is trapped in the past.
Indeed, as general manager, Batchelor has one eye firmly fixed on the future, a future which he is betting is Chinese.
“We have taken the view that, because of our location, which we think is perfect for the Chinese visitor, we will grow this market,” he explains.
“We have launched the Double Happiness campaign, which offers eight reasons to come to Marylebone and eight reasons to stay with us here at The Landmark London – with eight of course being the Chinese lucky number.
“The reasons to come here include the Sherlock Holmes museum, the Sea Shell of Lisson Grove fish and chip shop, which is very English, the Phoenix Palace Chinese restaurant and Marylebone High Street.
“But, most importantly, right adjacent to the hotel is Marylebone station and its connections to Bicester Village – which we believe to be the second most popular tourist destination for the Chinese traveller.”
He continues: “Why stay here at The Landmark London?
“The Chinese guest enjoys history, and we are 120 years old this year, as well as architecture, which we have in abundance, and afternoon tea, which we again offer.
“Chinese travellers also like to pay by mobile and by WeChat Pay – and we are the only hotel in London that offers this service.
“When you add in a Chinese breakfast menu, the fast Wi-Fi and our support for the Chinese social media platforms, we believe we have a strong proposition.
“We also have Chinese speaking staff and a Chinese sales rep - for this reason, we see our location as very strong.”
Having gone from zero to around 15 per cent in terms of arrivals over the past two years, there is every chance Batchelor might be right.
Other key markets include the UK domestic traveller, heading to London for the weekend, as well as numerous guests from North America and parts of Europe.
The Landmark is a member of Leading Hotels of the World and, as an independent hotel, this is a vital source of both marketing and technical knowhow, Batchelor confides.
“We do get a lot of business through Leading Hotels of the World and the label, the brand and the recognition we get from them is fantastic.
“As an independent operator, we do need that marketing muscle that Leading Hotels of the World can provide to us.
“We are not a big chain and the scale of distribution offered by Leading Hotels of the World is also vital.”
It is easy to see why The Landmark London is able to take its place among this global elite.
On entry the fabulous central atrium – home to the Winter Garden Restaurant – is the equal of anything in London – a truly remarkable feature.
At the same time, the suite product – including the Grand Central Suite (which has its own monogramed upholstery) – can accommodate even the most size-conscious Middle Eastern guest.
Back to the tour and Batchelor has an easy way with staff, nearly all of whom he knows by name.
With the The Landmark London recently being awarded sixth position in the acclaimed Sunday Times 100 Best Companies to Work For list, the general manager is quick to credit his team with the success of the hotel.
“I want our team members to come and enjoy working at The Landmark London,” he explains.
“I believe the cornerstone of our work ethos is our values, and I have concluded that our values drive our success.
“Values drive our behaviour, which dictates the culture, which in turn dictates our actions, which again in turn dictates the results.
“These are Dale Carnegie principals – and we work a lot with his ideas.
“The core, our very essence is our values – respect, treating people as we would like to be treated, integrity, doing what we say we are going to do, improvement, and finally, fun.
“We like to have fun here, everyday – if we can have a little bit of humour around the hotel, if we can have a smile on our faces, then this transfers to our guests.”
Of course, no chat with a London hotelier would be complete in 2019 without touching on Brexit, but here Batchelor is sanguine.
“No, we have seen no challenges from the political situation,” he explains.
“The hotel is having a very good year and we believe the effort we have put into the fabric of the building, the refurbishment, and the investment we have made in our people, is now paying off.
“We have a very busy hotel, with good occupancy, and great service and hospitality, which encourages guests to come back.”
With that he is gone, striding off to shake hands with guests, chat with staff and keep an eye on the countless details that keep an operation the magnitude of The Landmark London at the top of its game.
In the UK, The Landmark London is partnered with K West London and Royal Lancaster London, all of which are operated by the Thai-owned Landmark Group.
In Thailand, they are joined by the Landmark Bangkok and Lancaster Bangkok to complete the group.
Find out more about The Landmark London itself on the official website.