ABTN speaks to Astra Goode, general manager of the new Birmingham Central Bull Ring Travelodge, about her 10-year career with the budget hotel chain.
Birmingham Central Bull Ring Travelodge opened in May this year. How has it been doing?
It was a good opening. There was lot of press around it as we did a shoot for the best outfit or dress that could be made out of a bedsheet, to draw on the fashion heritage of the Bull Ring shopping centre. We have good occupancy at the moment and we have taken business from other hotels in the area.
You've been with Travelodge for 10 years. How did you start out with the company?
I started as a night duty receptionist at Hartlebury Travelodge, which was a small 32-bed hotel south of Kidderminster. I became a manager within six months of that role, and then every couple of years I moved on. I was a dual site manager, so running two hotels, in Shrewsbury. I then got promoted to Birmingham Central Broad Street, which at that time was the biggest hotel in Birmingham, followed by a head office role for central operations department where I was project implementer – looking at ways of implementing projects and how we communicated that out to the business. I then came back into operations and in 2009 I opened Birmingham Newhall Street which was a 100-bed hotel. Then I got pulled back into head office to oversee the conversion of 49 Mitchells and Butler Inn Keeper Lodges into Travelodges. And then this year I've opened the Bull Ring, which is again the biggest Travelodge hotel in Birmingham.
Can you tell us a bit more about the conversion of the Inn Keeper Lodges into Travelodge-branded hotels...
I came into it once the background work had been done, so I was involved in planning how we were going to move staff over to us, and how we were going make sure we didn't affect the customers' in the transition. We put a pack together for the managers detailing exactly what would happen when. On certain days they would get certain deliveries and we would put certain rooms off at a time while they got decorated. It was all about the planning side of it.
Our main focus was not to affect the customer's journey. While it was still an Innkeeper's they didn't know anything that was going on in the background. They'd just see the odd room or two closed, or the corridor being painted. Some of the hotels had receptions built, because the reception area used to be in the Mitchell and Butlers pubs. Then we'd swap over within 24 hours – we'd put all the Travelodge signage up within a day.
Then it was just seeing them through the next four weeks after that. The staff were new to Travelodge and new to our procedures, so we supported the hotel managers in their day to day operational business.
In the past 10 years you must have seen quite a lot of changes at Travelodge. Can you talk me through how the brand has developed?
There have been lots of processes and procedures that have been changed. For example, we now have in place a management development programme, which wasn’t in place when I first started with the business. I used to train managers up myself, but we now have a 12-week course for them to go one. They do all their training and are then supported by more than one hotel to put it into practice. It's really good because they get different views from different managers on how to do stuff and follow procedures and policies. It's worked really well in the businesss. The Bull Ring is one of the sites which is used.
We've also got an apprenticeship scheme starting in September, which is new to the business and offers an alternative to a university course. I will take on one of the new starters. She will learn about the different roles within the hotel – the cleaning side of it, the bar-café side, the reception side, and once we're getting all of that together and she's understanding it, we'll get her to work on the management side of it, too. It will prepare her to then go through the management development programme.
When opening the Bull Ring Travelodge, you recruited a lot of your staff through the Job Centre Plus scheme...
Yes. When I was aware that I was becoming the hotel manager of the Bull Ring, I contacted Job Centre Plus straight away. Travelodge already works with Job Centre Plus, so they understand our processes – what application forms we're looking at, etc. They got an advertisement up and we then had at least 500 applicants apply. The Job Centre Plus helped us screen all of the applicants and narrow them down to 100. I then did 100 interviews. The Job Centre Plus were brilliant throughout it all. hey really got involved.
I just think the Job Centre Plus, because we've worked with them for so long, understand our business. They understand what we're looking for. They'll get people filling in application forms while they're down at the Job Centre and they'll get involved in the process of interviewing and screening. I've never had that before with the privately run agencies. They just send people without really checking them out. Everybody that I have employed through Job Centre Plus is still with me today.
Travelodge must be a big employer in Birmingham...
Yes, by the end of the year there will be 21 Travelodge properties in the city, and there is definitely the demand from guests. People are still looking for accommodation. There is a great demand for it as we are a good quality hotel, and we've seen people move from the mid-market, high-end hotels to Travelodge, because they have significant savings from us.