The Hotelier Edit: Fergus Stewart of The Landmark London
Independent Hotel Show London pays a visit to the iconic The Landmark London to learn more about the recent £1.3m renovation and the career of CEO Fergus Stewart.
For anyone unfamiliar with The Landmark London, the iconic hotel is famed for its stunning Winter Garden Restaurant, located in the hotel’s vast eight-storey glass atrium adorned with palm trees and an abundance of natural light shining in through its high windows.
It’s in this beautiful setting that the team from the Independent Hotel Show sit down with CEO Fergus Stewart, a veteran of dozens of five-star hotels around the world and a hotelier passionate about refining the unique experience that is a stay at The Landmark London.
Stewart has an impressive career trajectory: joining a hotel at a young age, getting “the bug”, and pursuing an incredibly exciting, diverse, and international career.
“I started my professional career at Grosvenor House. One day, a professional contact of mine had to put up four candidates for a job at the Shangri-La Hotel in Beijing and he extended the opportunity to me,” recalls Stewart. “Whilst this friend of mine joked about my capabilities for the role, four weeks later, I was in China.
“I stayed with Shangri-La for a number of years, also working in Singapore, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. And then came back to London and actually worked in The Landmark London for a couple of years as the Hotel Manager, about 20 years ago.
“Always a lover of travel, the bug hit me again. I worked in Spain and Thailand with Hyatt, and then in Japan for six years with Intercontinental Hotels. I also worked in Vietnam with them looking after Southeast Asia and in Dubai looking after the Middle East.”
After over 25 years working overseas across a number of global hotel brands, including InterContinental Hotel Group and Jumeirah, Stewart returned to the UK and returned to The Landmark London as General Manager, also overseeing the Lancaster Landmark Hotel Company Limited Group of hotels, which includes Royal Lancaster London and K West Hotel & Spa as Deputy Managing Director.
A £1.3m refurbishment
The recent renovation work undertaken by The Landmark London added extra touches of luxury to the drinking and dining destinations at the famed London hotel.
The renovations, by Alex Kravetz Design, spanned many of The Landmark London’s well–known spaces, including the addition of a lavish Champagne Bar on the Garden Terrace and new elevated features to the renowned Winter Garden Restaurant - the heart of the hotel. This followed the launch of Great Central Pub by Matt Fletcher which was completed in late 2022.
“The Landmark London has always been recognised as being a leader in the luxury 5-star hotel space, but it wasn't always recognised as being one of the top luxury 5-star hotels in London” continues Stewart. “A unique characteristic of The Landmark London, compared to its competitors, is the size. Not only of the communal spaces, but the rooms – we have some of the largest and most luxurious suites in London. With that in mind, for us it was about repositioning the hotel: where we market the hotel, who we sell it to, who stays here, what rates we charge, and to do that, we wanted to upgrade the facilities.”
A memorable guest experience
Like most hotels, the employees are at the heart of the ideal customer experience at The Landmark London. And, like most hotels in the UK, the combination of Covid and Brexit has presented some recruitment challenges.
“It was a challenging situation, but there's noticeable improvement happening. One significant challenge has been recruitment and I personally would love to see more government intervention to support the sector. Visas for talented foreign nationals and students would be a good start.
“We've also got to be a better employer constantly to attract the talent – be this through pay, training or wellbeing initiatives. We gave people in some departments here double-digit salary increases last November. We're also looking at how we distribute the service charge more favourably to everybody in the hotel. Progression of emerging talent is important to us as well, and we are introducing a new apprenticeship scheme that will allow individuals to get a degree in-house.”
“In some departments, we have instigated four-day weeks. In our kitchens chefs can work longer hours across four days. This allows them extra flexibility in their working week – something that is relatively unheard of for chefs. We're looking constantly at what we can do to make it more flexible. Before, we wanted people to work five days a week and they could work mornings or nights. Now, if somebody just wants to work three mornings a week, we'll hire them.
“We're very flexible in how we do it, but we have to make sure the training of these people is 100%, otherwise people only working two nights a week aren’t quite invested in the brand in the way that you would want them to be.”
The Landmark London placed 11th in the Best Large Company to Work for in the UK in 2022, the highest hotel on the list, with Stewart commenting: “An effective, happy and successful team is crucial for this achievement, and employee satisfaction is built into every decision we make for the hotel.”
An independent spirit
“A lot of hotels have tried to do a lot of funny, funky things, but I think a lot of hotels are also trying to get back to basics,” reflects Stewart. “Provide really good service and make people feel really welcome.
“Today, people really are valuing their time and where they go more than ever. Individuals want to go out and try new things, visit the best restaurants and experience culture again. For hospitality venues therefore, the experience is more important than ever.”
We finish by discussing what it means to be an independent hotel brand.
“As an independently owned hotel, we have the benefit of being agile and able to apply quick decision-making” explains Stewart. “We’re not necessarily bound by a wider brand and therefore have more freedom to introduce new people policies, initiatives and interesting marketing campaigns. More than anything, we have the benefit of being guest-led.
“At times, larger brands may need to prioritise their company's interests over the preferences of the guests as they’re accountable to a Board. This can sometimes impact understanding of the customer journey.”
“We're passionate hoteliers, and we're on the coal face. We feel it and see it and thrive on it every day and make decisions that impact the guests there and then. We don't need permission or approval, or guidelines we need to follow before we can adapt or change something.
“That said, some of the best hotels in the world are brand-led and it’s important for improvement, learning and benchmarking to have a mix in the industry. However, I do believe that our independent status enables us to provide guests with an enhanced experience that the whole team is really proud of”.