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An Interview With : Sholto Smith

After visiting the Great Scotland Yard hotel we discuss plans, predictions, challenges and design and how general manager Sholto Smith uses his experience and love of travel to curate the perfect stay for hotel guests.

Image courtesy of Great Scotland Yard Hotel – Sholto_Smith

Firstly, great to see the Great Scotland Yard Hotel opening again. How did it feel to start welcoming back guests earlier this summer?

We looked forward to welcoming back Londoners and guests from further afield to experience the hotel, our extraordinary food and beverage venues and warm hospitality.
Now that London has reopened, we must focus on promoting London as a safe destination to visit and showcasing the attractions and things to do that are perhaps less crowded, to change the perception of London in the eyes of visitors from near or far. The city is what you make of it and the London experience doesn’t always have to be “metropolitan”. For instance, it actually has great green spaces and beautiful walks, many of which are just on Great Scotland Yard’s doorstep.

It’s been a challenging year for anyone within the hospitality sector, but the ability to adapt has been inspirational. How has the Great Scotland Yard team evolved to cope with the pandemic?
This past year has been an incredibly difficult year for hospitality as we found ourselves at the epicentre of the pandemic! We at Great Scotland Yard Hotel did manage to stay open throughout the most recent lockdown, even if at a limited capacity, and welcomed key workers and essential business travellers. This enabled us to keep as many team members as possible in employment during such a difficult and challenging time.

Image courtesy of Great Scotland Yard Hotel

Taking a historic building and adapting it into a luxury hotel must have had its challenges. Were there any surprises along the way and how did the team incorporate and celebrate its past into the hotel we see today?

Great Scotland Yard is one of London’s most iconic addresses and is best known as the former headquarters of the Metropolitan Police. It also served as the London residence of the Scottish Royal Family, an army recruitment office, and The Ministry of Defence.

The hotel is housed in a magnificent 1820’s Grade II listed building with Edwardian & Victorian architecture. We were challenged to keep the soul of the building and to pay homage to its heritage. I feel we have created a space which invites guests to experience the history of the building through new eyes; a place where past and present merge; where history meets modern luxury. 

Transforming the building into a luxury hotel keeps the legend alive and allows us to open its doors to the public and share this building’s colourful past with guests from all over the world. Tasteful nods to the building’s past can be found in the interiors. Every nook and cranny has been carefully curated. Key symbols are featured several times in the guestrooms, encouraging guests to unlock the building’s secret past: robe hooks and the handles of the nightstands and minibar are all key-shaped. The blue-veneered guestroom doors are a reference to the police, as are the carpets which integrate elements of badges and uniforms to create a unique modern pattern.

Image courtesy of Great Scotland Yard Hotel

Design and art are a key part of the hotel. Tell us more about the artworks and collections guests can see around the hotel.

Great Scotland Yard’s distinctive art collection was curated by Sarah Percy-Davis of Hollandridge Group. Pieces were commissioned from 28 artists, including Nicola Green, Cornelia Parker, and Alastair Mackie to name a few. Unusually for a hotel, there are bespoke pieces in each bedroom, as well as the public areas. The collection is valued at over £1m.

The collection captures the building’s rich history, with pieces representing crime, detection, and the justice system. The feature piece of the collection is “Service” by Nicola Green, which is a representation of the history of the criminal justice system in the UK. The piece consists of 30 portraits, from notorious criminals, judges, lawyers and politicians, to police, literary figures, and monarchs.

Criminal justice is not just about catching and punishing offenders, but also redemption and reintegration. Our fascinating collection takes a multi-layered approach and reflects all aspects of the system. We work with The Koestler Trust, a charity which promotes the arts in prisons and encourages ex-offenders to use art as a means to rehabilitation.

Who are the types of guests that stay at the Great Scotland Yard Hotel?

A Great Scotland Yard Hotel guest focus is on experiencing the city and engaging with its history, people, culture, and food. They wish to avoid the a-typical hotel experience, in search of a truly authentic individual experience, which celebrates exploration, creativity, and originality through storytelling and unique personalised experiences.   

What can guests expect when they arrive at the hotel and how does the team create unique and memorable experiences?

Experience is everything, experience is the new luxury. We pride ourselves on offering a unique and quintessentially quirky twist on a British classic. The team strive to create bespoke experiences for each guest.   Expect the Unexpected! 

The luxury stay sector has seen a rise in pre COVID years. How have the expectations of guests changed during your career, and how does the Great Scotland Yard Hotel adapt to an ever-demanding audience?

The modern traveller can be less loyal and in pursuit of the undiscovered and the unexpected. Hospitality experiences are no longer on your terms, it’s about delivering a strong narrative that enthrals and rewards the guest and their choice to live life on their own terms. This hotel is a one-off in every sense; a reimagined 5-star hotel. A one-off building, a one-off experience, a one-off chance to change the face of hotels from the cookie-cutter experiences that have come to define the sector. The ultimate reward for those who are independent free spirits and seek a non-hotel experience.

Image courtesy of Great Scotland Yard Hotel

You’ve been a member of the Hyatt Group family for over thirty years. What have been some of your biggest achievements so far?

I would have to say being given the opportunity to open hotels like this one – Great Scotland Yard Hotel!  I mean, such a tremendous opportunity.  If I were to say anything else on this subject, then it would be the fact that I have been able to grow with the company, travel the world while working with some amazing people, learning from some great leaders and making many friends along the way!  

What or who inspired you to pursue a career within the hotel business?

Travel!  I like to travel and to see and experience new things, that and enjoy great service!  I am a bit of a stickler for things being done properly “The devil is in the detail!”  This works on so many levels!  

When you’re not overseeing the hotels day to day activities, how do you relax and what is your top holiday destination?

When I am not working I am more often than not in London!  I just love London and all it has to offer!  Be it great retail experiences, to window shopping!  The art galleries collectively house some of the greatest artists of all time, both past and present!  There is also the great architecture to take in to consideration too!  The other arts world – the kind that takes place on a stage – also what I like to try to get to see as much of as possible!  All world class and London is the centre of the universe when it comes to this!  

In terms of my top holiday destination – I do not really have one!  I am more a city person than resort, albeit that is not to say that I do not enjoy or relish times in the tropics!  I certainly do!!   

Image courtesy of Great Scotland Yard Hotel

If you could have given your younger self any advice at the start of your career, what would it be, and why?

If I was to answer that question then it would make me look like I look back thinking if I could have done something different or differently, which is not something that I would do.  I like to think that I have made the best of opportunities that have been presented to me and for that matter; the ones I have created I feel I have also made the most of those.  I prefer to look forward and to what’s around the corner!  

If I were to give advice then it would be to say that when opportunity knocks, open the door and take it!   Also, it’s very good to listen and to observe!  

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