It goes without saying that doing anything during the pandemic crisis has been a huge challenge – but undeterred from their plans to launch a new hospitality brand with no hotel experience, three London-based brothers are cracking on with it nonetheless.
Tristan, James and Tom Guest may be first-time hoteliers, but they worked together for many years at John Guest, a family business started by their grandfather 50 years ago and recently sold for a sizeable sum. And while a business background in manufacturing plumbing systems may not seem like the obvious grounding for starting a boutique hotel brand, they say they have always loved British hospitality and saw a gap in the market to elevate and enhance the city hotel experience by introducing GuestHouse.
Their first project is in Bath and is a former hotel on what they say is the best street in the city. All being well with the roadmap, they hope to open No.15 Great Pulteney Street from GuestHouse around 17 May, and told TTG Luxury all about their hopes for the hotel, the brand and the future roll-out in the UK.
Q: How long have you been hatching the plan for GuestHouse, and what drew you to it?
After the sale of our family business in 2018, we decided we wanted to do something new together. We have always been interested in property, but we realised that we didn’t just want an investment, but to create a business that, ultimately, we would be proud to own. We believed back then that increasingly people would want to take breaks in the UK, whether for weekends or longer staycations, which we have seen subsequently surge as a result of the pandemic, of course. We also knew we wanted to create something with longevity, that did some good along the way, and be in a field we were passionate about. All three of us living in London means we (used to) spend a lot of time hopping to different restaurants, pubs, bars and cafes – we certainly never considered ourselves experts, but we felt we had done some good homework. After lots of discussions on what would be next, it became clear we wanted to do something together in a sector that was interesting and fun, so the hotel sector seemed the perfect combination of our passions.
Q: Who’s the best at what among you? Who focuses on what in the company?
Tristan is the oldest, James in the middle and Tom the youngest. We all want to be involved in different parts of the business and work closely together. However, in terms of what we focus on: James has been more involved on the marketing and strategy side, Tristan on the commercial side and acquisitions and Tom on the property side, working with architects and designers. In terms of what we are good at, James has a clear view of where we need to go, Tristan likes getting involved in the detail and Tom has a practical mindset. So we all have our specific areas of interest, but our prime focus is to deliver a pipeline of new hotels and to ensure our current offering is meeting our brand promise.
Q: You must have a practical head (between you all) having grown up with an industrial family business around you – how does that play into creating hotels?
It is obviously a different world to what we were involved in before. However, we believe there are elements that made our family business successful that translate over to what we are trying to do now. The quality of the service we provide will always be paramount, a strong company culture and investing in our people, an ethos of treating each other with respect, and always looking towards the long term without taking shortcuts. All the hidden details that the guests/customers never see, but help the staff offer a great product. We’ve learnt our business ethics from working together with our father and grandfather within the 50-year-old family business and treating our staff, suppliers and collaborators as part of the family in a kind, fair and open way is a priority. As well as we brothers, we are working with Diego Masciago as our director of guest experience, who we have known for many years. We were fortunate to have several family occasions at the Waterside Inn, and we realised it was the service and personal touch of Diego that made those occasions so memorable. He is a great guy to work with, and he is helping us learn the art of hospitality.
Q: What’s wrong with UK hotels out there? Is your concept different and will you create ‘guesthouses’, or is that more just in the name?
There are some truly great hotels in the UK that we love. With a lot of recent innovation in the country-house hotel sector, we are looking to provide a similar feeling of a great escape that celebrates our intriguing British cities. We will cherry-pick iconic buildings in the heart of the cities and reimagine them on the inside to create a sense of wonder for hotel guests and the local community. Although our brand is GuestHouse we are focused on creating beautiful and individual city hotels. We chose this name to conjure up a feeling of a warm welcome, of sanctuary, at times quirkiness, but fundamentally a personal touch and local connection. We want to take this essence and create our interpretation for today and combine that same warmth and welcome with wonderful interiors, great food and drink, fantastic service, and a little bit of magic. I suppose there is also the connection to our surname too of course!
Q: What kind of hotels do you usually gravitate towards personally, and what have been some of your influences for this project?
We all like hotels that, while creating special moments, are not formal or stuffy. We realise that whilst design is obviously important, it is the little touches and details that you remember. The best hotels are where you realise there is a happy environment – where the staff obviously love what they’re doing and are happy themselves. Hotels are only as good as the people working in them, and it’s very easy to tell which hotels treat their staff with respect and give them the ability to grow. We also all have young children, so seek out hotels that look after and really consider families with children. We’re big foodies so fantastic food and drink is very important to us when deciding where to go. In terms of our own offering, we have tried to focus the design on providing happy, relaxing, and fun spaces. True quality that runs throughout all aspects of the hotel is important to us.
Q: What has the pandemic meant for your plans?
The pandemic hit just after we got into the hospitality industry so it was rather a baptism of fire. However, whilst it has slowed the launch of our group, we are more emboldened that people will want to travel more widely in the UK. We think people’s priorities have changed – they are desperate to have new experiences and a break from the norm, want to be spoilt whilst supporting their local community and have a positive impact in the process. Local and small-scale suppliers will be a priority at our properties and we’ll be involving our community in everything we do. Also, more than ever people want to reconnect with their family through special moments, memories and stories. The trend for new experiences was already there, but we believe the pandemic has sharpened this further, and people even more so now value experiences with loved ones over material possessions.
Q: What are you looking for in the buildings for your hotel projects, and will they always be conversions, rather than new builds?
We want buildings with lots of character in central locations that are representative of their destination in some way. Buildings that allow us to deliver a personal and inviting space. The buildings are all likely to be historical properties that feel full of stories and intrigue. All of our hotel buildings to date are listed but they have a homely essence about them and are on iconic streets meaning key city sites are all walkable from the hotels.
Q: Who’s the target audience?
We are determined to create an inclusive brand so we hope to have a varied crowd coming to stay! It is more of a mindset that we are targeting – people who want a break from the norm, and a fun and easy-going experience. A relaxed space where they can indulge, explore and paint the town red. Where families, friends, couples and their dogs can put responsibilities to one side and just be. It was very important that we be an accessible experience, so we have rooms across the pricing spectrum for different budgets. Typically, average rooms sit in the £130-£180 bracket but we have some very special rooms should people really want to treat themselves.
Q: What appeals about the existing hotel Bath you bought? Why did you choose Bath?
We love Bath as a city – it’s easy to get to, easy to walk around, amazing sights, great shopping, and so much to do not just in the city but also in the surrounding area. How can you not love Bath?! We believe Great Pulteney Street, where No.15 Great Pulteney Street from GuestHouse is located, is not only the best street in Bath, but one of the best throughout the UK. We realised that we wouldn’t find a better first hotel for GuestHouse in Bath and are truly honoured to be custodians of it. We will also introduce a new ethos, a team of warm and inspired hosts, decidedly British dining and unrivalled access to guests to uncover Bath’s heritage and spirit. We’ve also fully refurbished the spa at No.15 and as with the rest of the hotel, we want the spaces to feel relaxing and informal and a natural part of the building. We of course want people to get out into cities and explore but we also recognise that people have busy lives and want to spoil themselves and relax. We’ll also prepare in-room treatment packs.
Q: What will be some of the examples of how you act out your philosophy to “celebrate community and all things local” for Bath?
We will support small-scale British farms, bakers and makers in our restaurants and bars, and different elements of the hotel will be designed by a local artist. We want to be a great neighbourhood space and will be providing our neighbours with a special key to get a discount in the hotel. Outside the hotels, every guest will be equipped with the tools to explore the best bits of each destination with ‘The Guest List’, which is our guide to uncover local intel with illustrated maps. It will guide our guests to art galleries, food markets, hidden bookshops, hard-to-miss historical sites, and lesser-known boutiques.
Q: Is sustainability part of your make-up?
We take sustainability incredibly seriously in everything we do from building design, materials, and room products. It’s a brand promise, but we also hope it’s clear from every touchpoint in the hotel. There will be no single-use toiletries and where possible, charging points available for electric cars. We will also encourage guests to explore the UK by train, rather than drive. In the station of each city, there will be a different vehicle – from a tuk-tuk, cargo bike, black cab or camper van – to collect guests’ luggage from the station so they can explore as soon as they arrive should they choose. We will also be encouraging our staff to explore the cities themselves, so they can find great unknown places to share with our guests and will also be making it possible for them to volunteer for local charities.
Q: Who designs the hotels and what are their influences? How creatively involved are any of you?
We’ve been working with Martin Hulbert, who had originally designed the premium suites, and bar in No 15 Great Pulteney and he will be introducing new renovations at the restaurant, the top floor rooms and the spa, as well as refined interior styling though out the hotel. We like working with him as he really understands what the GuestHouse brand is all about. The design side is quite fluid – we talk things through with Martin and his team and it organically develops. Whilst we are involved, we also want Martin to have that freedom to be creative. Our spaces want to inspire wonder and surprise, have a feeling of luxury and quality throughout, but at the same time not be stuffy or formal – we don’t want people to think they have to behave themselves. They will be inspired by the city the hotels are in, and in keeping with the building.
Q: With the roadmap in England giving a start date for April for F&B potentially, and May for all systems go in hotels – is this your timeframe for opening in Bath?
We want to offer a great service to our guests so don’t want to compromise on opening without all our facilities being able to be open. We can’t wait for 17 May though for people to get to enjoy the new and elevated No.15 Great Pulteney Street from GuestHouse.
Q: What are your hopes on the first year, as you open in what could be a staycation boom year?
We hope that those that visit us can get to fully experience everything our hotels provide and get to fully see what special cities Bath and York (opening autumn 2021) are. We are excited for the year ahead as we believe there is an awful lot of pent-up demand. However, we are looking at the long term, and are really excited about the future beyond just this year. Also, it is important to us that our staff are ready and can enjoy the year, following a tough time for everyone. We hope that GuestHouse, its principals and story, resonates and connects with current and future guests.
Q: What’s coming next and when? Why York – and why Brighton?
We love York as a city – it’s full of history, amazing sights, and it is actually very easy to get to from London. Londoners have a perception that York is far away, but it’s just two hours on the train from Kings Cross. We have just acquired a hotel and will be looking to completely remodel the property and open in autumn. Brighton is a city that we’ve enjoyed going to for many years (Tristan had his stag night there!) and it’s such a fun place, full of life, and there is so much happening – from the lanes, the pier, pavilion, and the amazing beach. We believe that there is a gap in the market for a hotel like us there. The building we have in Brighton is in an amazing location right on the seafront, with incredible views. It’s a full development however, and we will be looking to open in 2022.
Q: What locations you will aim for in the future, and how many hotels?
When we started out in 2019 our plan was to create a group of five hotels within five years. We believe we are on track for that – but we are only interested in amazing buildings – so won’t buy any hotel just to meet a particular timeframe. Beyond that it would be great to think we could have between 8–10 hotels situated around the UK. We’re optimistic for the growth of the group, but not at the expense of ensuring each hotel is loved and special. We are trying to build a group of cities that sit well together so we can offer experiences that could work across the group but be tweaked for local tastes. We want to create personal, intimate and homely spaces, so hotels with around 25-40 bedrooms are our sweet spot. We want guests to build a rapport and connection with our team and for us to be able to deliver a personalised service with special touches throughout the stay.
Q: What are some of your own memories of “Great British Escapes”?
Our mother is Welsh and grew up in a seaside town called Porthcawl in south Wales. We spent many summers visiting our grandmother there, which was really the perfect place for young kids to explore. It had the beach and funfair, fish and chips wrapped in newspaper, fresh cockles in a bag, candy floss and ice creams. We love that nostalgia and trying to create those little moments of magic is also part of GuestHouse.