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10 Feb 2023

The Hotelier Edit: Grace Leo of The Relais Henley

The Hotelier Edit: Grace Leo of The Relais Henley

Independent Hotel Show London speaks to Grace Leo, Managing Director of PoB Hotels member The Relais Henley, about creating a sense of place, the unique atmosphere of independent hotels and having a regeneration philosophy. 

Grace Leo

Tell us a bit about the history of your hotel             

The Relais Henley is a 16th century coaching inn – originally built to house the craftsmen who built St Mary’s Church next door to the hotel. Having played host to dignitaries such as King Charles 1st – whose coat of arms remains in one of the guest rooms; the First Duke of Marlborough and a pageant of personalities throughout the centuries; its history is woven into the heart of Henley-on-Thames.  

What does a great customer experience look like at your hotel, and what makes it unique?

Great customer experiences begin with the personal touch – our guests receive a warm welcome from our friendly staff on arrival. We get to know their personal preferences and we create experiences that are personal for everyone. Whether they are interested in getting outdoors and experiences the beautiful natural scenery of the Chilterns or perhaps they want to discover life on the river or take part in country pursuits. It’s also about creating a sense of place - at Henley, we’ve taken interior design inspiration from the town’s rowing heritage and surrounding countryside – we’ve honoured the heritage of the building with thoughtful touches, and we have elevated the traditional coaching inn experience with a worldly point of view – creating a welcoming space for discerning travellers from all over the world. Guests want experiences that are authentic to the destinations, and they want to discover new and thoughtful ways to experience the destinations so that when they leave, they have a story to tell and a memory to share.

What do you think defines an independent hotel?

I think that independent hotels have more soul – they have a unique atmosphere that creates a sense of place that is authentic to the destination. They are often intimate in size meaning the guests can feel like they are being welcomed into a cherished home of a special friend with warmth and familiarity.

What does it mean to be part of PoB Hotels?

We are proud to be a member of PoB Hotels which represents some of the best hospitality experiences in the UK. We feel a great affinity with our PoB family and together we represent what it means to really lead the way in thoughtful hospitality with characterful hotels and unique experiences.

What do you think are some of the major opportunities and challenges are in the hotel market this year?

I believe we are starting this year with a greater sense of optimism for in bound tourism to the UK now that borders across the world are fully open again. Also, in the King’s Coronation year, there is a great deal of interest in the UK during this historical time and hotels with a link to history have an opportunity to really shine this year – telling the fabled stories of our past whilst marking a moment in time that will be imprinted into our future history.

Relais henley

How are you approaching the issue of sustainability?

One of our philosophies at The Relais Retreats is regeneration – we seek to restore properties that have previously been overlooked or run down – by investing in the buildings, we are also shining a light on the destination and providing a renewed sense of appeal with our PR and marketing activities. We are also conscious in our purchasing decisions, sourcing local where possible, avoiding the single use plastics and choosing environmentally sustainable cleaning products. Every day is a learning as we continue to discover more efficient ways to take care of the environment and communities around us.

How do you approach creating your menus and sourcing food & drink suppliers?

Where possible, we work with local suppliers to source our ingredients for our menus – building personal relationships with farms and producers so that our restaurants support local businesses but also promote the great local produce available – our menus feature seasonal items, and our chefs are always innovating. In our bars, we also work with local suppliers including Mr Hobbs Gin made locally for 100 years, and Lovibonds – a craft beer made in Henley-on-Thames that we serve on the tap.

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