Hotelier of the week: Graeme Gibson

ABTN speaks to Graeme Gibson, general manager of the Radisson Blu Hotel Glasgow, about recent refurbishments at the property and how the hospitality industry is faring in Scotland’s largest city.

Tell us about the recent work done on the hotel…

We’ve refurbished all of our bedrooms and brought them up to a much more hospitable standard than they were before. We now have iPod docking stations in every room, and a proper iron and ironing board. We have also improved in-room Wifi access, which is available free of charge to all guests, and put in new beds.

It was really about bringing the rooms up to an improved standard – the hotel opened in 2002, so it was necessary. We have added a bit of life to our bedrooms. The artwork in the bedrooms is all based on the music scene here in Glasgow, and represents people who’ve played here over the last 20 years or so. The music scene is very vibrant in Glasgow. It’s one of those key cogs in the touring series – you wouldn’t go on tour and not come to Glasgow. There are very few bands or sectors of the music industry not represented here, from an orchestra to the X Factor.

Have you changed the decor?

Yes. We have a darker room type, with muted browns, blacks and greys, making it a warm and welcoming environment. We also have a bright silver format. Some guests prefer one, others the other. If you tell us which one you want you’ll get it. We get a lot of travellers coming back time and again, especially on business trips. We enormously depend on repeat business. It’s important that we look after the people who visit regularly. The Glasgow economy is very much dependent on standard corporate business.

Do you have plans to refurbish any other areas?

Yes, we will spend more next year, but the details are yet to be announced.

How does the leisure market compare with the business one?

The leisure market throughout the year contributes to our business – probably around 25%. Glasgow is the second largest shopping centre in the UK outside London. There are also a lot of entertainment options here. Glasgow has an attitude and an opinion, so there’s always something happening here in the city. A lot of our leisure business is local. People don’t come hundreds of miles. They come just for a concert, or a night out.

What about meetings and events? Does that also bring in a lot of guests?

Yes. Glasgow has a large meetings and events scene. We have a convention centre which attracts a huge amount of money to the city. Here in this hotel we have 15 meeting rooms and we can accommodate up to 500 for dinner.

How have occupancy and rate performed this year at the Radisson Blu Hotel Glasgow?

We’ve had a very successful second half of the year because of the sheer volume of conferences the city has been able to attract. We also were the centre of the Brad Pitt zombie film production, World War Z, during August, which has contributed a huge amount of money to the city and given our occupancy an enormous boost. Year-on-year occupancy has held its own. We’re quite happy with that.

The outlook, however, remains challenging. None of us has any idea. There is no visibility and we have no direction in which to reach. We just don’t know. We’re feeling much better than we did a year ago, but how optimistic we are about tomorrow? We’re possibly just as cautious as this time last year.

There have been a number of new openings in Glasgow in the past year. Does Glasgow need more hotels?

We currently have an auditorium for 12,000 seats being built at the SECC. The drivers in the city are changing, but they’ve not changed yet, so we’re working towards that change. It’s an interesting time, going through a period of increased supply during a recession.

How do you think the city is positioned for the next decade?

The city has just produced a new economic plan. They’re currently developing a city centre vision to allow us to reestablish the value of the city centre, and to grow the size and the shape of it. That’s looking at whether people should live here, shop here, party here or do business here, and to rebalance the whole equation.

I think we have to accept that people’s shopping habits are changing and the internet is a fact. People don’t need to go and shop physically as often as they used to. We have to establish a very clear strategy for the shoulder areas around the shopping areas. The core shopping areas will be the shopping areas. It’s the immediate periphery, what they call the tail-off, from those key areas to secondary areas that we need to think about. I think it has to be about people living in the city centre and recognising that’s a good thing. The services and support networks must be in place – schools, things like that. I think that’s where the city is going, but it’s all open for consultation at the moment.

Has the International Financial Services District (IFSD) benefitted the city?

The IFSD, created in 2001, was an initiative led by the city council, but not funded by the city council. The core services were put in place and the planning intent was established to allow a part of the city that was derelict and not particularly safe to be developed as a key economic centre within the city. We are in the IFSD and we were an early part of that development. It has led to significant employment in the local area. It was a derelict part of the city, that was not at all developed before. So it’s been an excellent thing for the city centre.

The development has also acted as a starting link from the city towards the river. And it helps integrate the river into the whole cityscape, which has been valuable to us all. It’s been a great success. The occupancy level of the office development is pretty much full, and initial details of IFSD 2 have now been released, which will see the area grow further. That will help to fill in another gap, towards the exhibition centre, which will again improve the cityscape and link the exhibition centre into the city.

Would the city centre benefit from improved access to the airport? There were plans to create a rail link…

We have to accept that from the Scottish government’s perspective the rail link is dead. It will not come back. It’s not even remotely on the agenda. They’re not going to talk about it. We have a bus link to the airport. That’s very fast and very effective. I don’t think there is anything wrong with that.

I think the issue for the airport is finding a way as a country to support route development. And of course the threat of APD as we move into next year. There is a very real threat to our economy because of the lack of connectivity from the airports. The choice of destination is a concern, as is the indecision on high speed rail coming this far.

Would you like to see high speed rail come to Glasgow?

I don’t know. I think I’d like to see more rail coming to Glasgow. More connectivity through the rail system, and more regular services. I think in the short term that is the most important thing. The west coast line is full – you can’t get a train to Glasgow if you’re coming at the wrong time of year. There needs to be more capacity. And a high speed rail line may be the best way to do that. It’s very hard to say.

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