The renowned DUKES hotel, with its rich and royal history, is redefining style and class in the heart of London. The century old property, which was recently named England’s Leading Boutique Hotel by the World Travel Awards, has just completed renovations resulting in the opening of a new champagne lounge, a Cognac and Cigar Garden and a new restaurant called THIRTY SIX led by award winning and Michelin star chef by Nigel Mendham.
General Manager Debrah Dhugga, tells BTN about business at DUKES as well as reflecting on her own career – as one of the few females to have reached the top of luxury hotel management while juggling all this with two children.
BTN: What differentiates DUKES from other boutique hotels in London?
DD: DUKES has a rich and impressive history – with the historical courtyard dating back to 1532 when King Henry VIII bought a convent at the bottom of the hill. St James’s Palace, which remained a royal residence until the mid-19th Century, was the birthplace of King George IV and the venue for seven Royal Weddings.
During Charles II’s five year reign from 1660 St. James’s Place became highly fashionable and elegant Coffee Houses sprang up around area of the hotel. After the King’s death, the courtyard was known as Cleveland Court until it became Dukes in 1908.
St James’s Place has been home to many famous writers, musicians, bankers and politicians - Lord Byron and Oscar Wilde wrote there, Chopin lived there while in London for his last performance and Sir Edward Elgar always stayed in the Dukes apartments when in the city for concerts.
BTN: How are occupancy levels at Dukes London?
DD: DUKES is enjoying a great year, with occupancy levels over 80 per cent.
BTN: DUKES was recently named England’s Leading Boutique Hotel by the World Travel Awards. Why are award schemes such as this important for the hospitality industry?
DD: People enjoy being recognised for their hard work and it’s a great motivator for the team and the business
BTN: Do you have any new developments in the pipeline for Dukes?
DD: DUKES has recently opened the ‘PJ’ Lounge which is available for exclusive hire for parties of up to 20 people. Designed by Shaun Clarkson in vibrant tones of greens and Rose, The ‘PJ’ lounge is a feminine space, ideal for elegant celebrations. Our owners are also looking at rolling out the DUKES brand into Europe and we are currently looking at potential opportunities that have come our way.
In June, a newly refurbished outdoor area - the Cognac and Cigar Garden opened as a dedicated space serving quality Cognac and Cuban Cigars. The new-look garden provides a unique and picturesque space for a maximum of 20 guests (seated)] and boasts new soft furnishings, seating, lantern lighting and modern decking.
Meanwhile the THIRTY SIX By Nigel Mendham opened its doors in September, replacing the former ‘Dining Room. Located at No. 36 Little St James Street, THIRTY SIX serves ‘modern British food with a classical twist.’ Nigel, famous for his creative presentation and contemporary style, is creating Michelin star quality food for both DUKES LONDON guests and locals.
BTN: What challenges are you currently facing?
DD: Business is starting to have a very short lead time, there are always new properties popping up. You have to keep sharp and ahead of your game.
BTN: What are your expectations for the London Olympics? How are your forward bookings? What impact will it have on your rates?
DD: The Olympics is great for London it is a great opportunity not only for the Olympic period but for the UK to showcase what a fabulous destination we are.
At DUKES we have an Exclusive use for the 21 day period. DUKES Bar will remain open to the public and trade as usual. The Olympics is not just about a 3 week period in 2012 it is also about what it will bring for years after.
BTN: There are few female GMs in the hospitality industry. What would be your message to women who are hoping to follow in your footsteps?
DD: My message, especially to women in the industry, is be strong, live your dream, do what you believe is right, work hard, share success, and don’t be afraid to ask questions along the way.
BTN: Is there a glass ceiling for women in the travel or hospitality industry?
DD: Women have to work hard and many I know work harder than a lot of male colleagues, almost feeling they have too to shine out. I know myself I have done it and still do I almost have to drag myself away from work before you know it you are doing 12 hour days every day our industry is a lifestyle. It is not healthy not managing your time a good managers business should run as good when they are not in it, no matter what the business is women have a guilt I still don’t understand why,
BTN: What can females bring to the picture in the role of a GM?
DD: Women are a very powerful force as consumers and as employees, and having their voices heard at the top makes a difference diverse senior team can generate a richness and quality of ideas that is lacking in an all-male environment that is locked into the same mindset, The result is often a better managed company, making more informed decisions, with a greater understanding of the needs of its customers and workforce
BTN: How hard was it for you to climb to the top? Can you tell us about your own experiences some of the sacrifices you have had to make?
DD: Colleagues used to say to me do you have guilty mother syndrome well I would lie if I said I never did of course I did missing out on school plays, carol concerts and sports days. It was never easy and because of school holidays I never had enough annual leave to do everything, However I made sure I was organised at home so I did not have the worry of childcare , it’s very important.
I employed a fantastic nanny as I did not have family support in the area where we were living at the time, my nanny was almost an extended member of our family and supported me with my children until they were 14 years old. It is also key to have an understanding partner to support you and my husband understood my wish to work and build a career, it has to be a partnership It was very expensive to have a nanny and nursery and school fees.
My children are now my best friends I simply adore them it was my choice to have my family young, I wanted to be a young mother and now it’s great we all go out and socialise together and they have not suffered in any way and a great example to our industry it can work being a Mum!