Hotelier of the week: Jon Cummins

ABTN speaks to Jon A. Cummins, chief operating officer of Amerimar Enterprises, about its acquisition of the St. Ermin’s hotel in London SW1 and future plans for the property.

Is Amerimar a hotel company?

We invest in office properties and apartments as well. At the moment, we only have three hotels and we are owner-operators. St. Ermin’s is broadly typical: we buy assets that need significant amounts of work, renovate and reposition. We are not empire builders, we find an opportunity and we usually stay for five years but there is an exit strategy.

How much are you investing in St. Ermin’s?

We bought it for £65 million and the refurbishment is costing about £30 million. We think about spending money in the right places, not in areas the customer does not care about. It is a balance between investing in a project that fits within a quality positioning but not too much where we cannot charge for it and the economics don’t add up. The building has so many outstanding features and we will be painting, putting in new design and furnishings. We would not change the lobby, that is its calling card.

Where are you positioning the hotel?

It will be 4-star deluxe and will have 331 rooms. The location is not right for a 5-star hotel and as we see rates grow, people will look at locations withinLondonthat were considered less prestigious and we will get some of the customers who used to stay onPark Lane.

Whom do you see as your main competitors?

We are fully aware that the properties in our back yard are our competitors, even if slightly different quality. The Taj, Rubens,ParkPlaza, Horseguards, Mint – they are all competitive in the location. And in the large West End set, properties like Le Méridien, the Howard, Guoman, Charing Cross, all 4-star properties inMayfair. We come out in the high end of our locational set and in the middle of the 4-star set.

St. Ermin’s is an MGallery property. How did the relationship with Accor come about?

We are excited about the relationship with Accor, we are hoping it is the best of both worlds because it allows us to maintain independence and keep our branding, design, operational and service standards but we get Accor’s reservations and group sales. It is a perfect combination for us. Accor was eager to have us. They are under represented in this city, they don’t have much in the 4- to 5-star category, and Sofitel does not have much meeting space and we have a lot.

Do you have similar arrangements with your other properties?

One is a Sheraton inAtlanta, that is a franchise. The Hutton inNashvilleis a solid 4-star hotel with 5-star service and is a member of Leading Hotels of the World. We looked at Leading Hotels and at Preferred [for St. Ermin’s] – we were lucky, we had options – but Accor was best, it brings an enormous reservation centre.

What makes St. Ermin’s stand out from its competitive set?

Two things make us stand out. First, the team we have put together is a point of differentiation. With the service sensibility Amerimar has as a company and the people have as a team, we are going to have a service sensibility that is different: approachable, welcoming, with a focus on making sure people feel truly at home, taken care of and valued. And the second is the physical difference – and I put them in that order intentionally. It is a beautiful building but you need the right people to make it special, otherwise it is just a beautiful building. The designer has done a fantastic job of bringing a residential feel to the guest rooms and that will be throughout the public space also. We try really hard with that.

How did you choose general manager Douglas McHugh?

When we interview for a general manager, we want all the technical ability and experience but also want a shared value system with us. We want people we are comfortable to work with and who are comfortable with each other and that works its way through to the guest.Douglasis a charming guy and the team he has put together is in his image. They are good people and that is a really important trait to him.

How have you found doing business in the UK?

Transparency of language related to rates makes the market very competitive. Corporates have mandated hotel programmes, intranets; Google is not going to pay £220 a night.

What are you doing with St. Ermin’s meeting space?

The Ballroom and Cloisters are going to be exceptional spaces for both social and business events. We have a dedicated team on the business side, who will assist business customers with meetings. On the social side, the catering team is specifically there to service that. We have tried to work out something to make the new space to be as effective as possible, so that guests can eat and drink and carry on business, have a great meeting, great F&B and be productive. And it is a nice feature to have as many rooms as we do with light.

Did you know London well before you bought St. Ermin’s?

I had been three or four times on holiday.Londonis an amazing city, its global nature is really phenomenal and that is part of what makes it exciting from a business perspective and for me personally. It is at the crossroads of such an enormous percentage of the world, it is energising and part of the reason the hotel scene here is so vibrant: London has benefited from the move eastward in the world and you are in the middle of everything.

And the Brits?

I really enjoy the people as well. There is a level of civility that is really nice. I have learned some good lessons in the way people interact with each other. If you send an email, we get a salutation, ‘it was nice to see you the other day’, then business, and best regards. I have worked to incorporate some of these niceties. InAmerica, we have a much more impatient culture, for good or bad, and there is both in that; and we are direct, we go straight to the point. You add personalisation in the way you interact.

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