The opening of Hampton by Hilton Manchester Northern Quarter – alongside global brand Hilton and owners IP Investment Management and Maven Capital Partners – in November 2020 marked RBH’s 50th new build development since the year 2000.
It brought what was a challenging year for the entire hospitality industry to a positive end for the leading UK-based hotel management and services company.
Gregor MacNaughton, Chief Technical Officer at RBH, reflects on 20 years of new-build development – as well as looking to the future of the business that boasts a rapidly expanding portfolio of branded and independent properties.
We were thrilled to open Hampton by Hilton Manchester Northern Quarter – not only because we’re delighted to work yet again with Maven and Hilton, but because the opening represented such a significant milestone for RBH.
It’s hard to believe that in 20 years we’ve undertaken 50 new-build openings – I don’t think there are any other operators in the UK with a track record like ours on that front. It makes us quite unique within the third-party management industry. That number doesn’t even include the multiple bedroom extensions, refurbishments and hotel rebranding projects we’ve managed.”
RBH’s first new build opening back in 2000 was Holiday Inn London Heathrow and, as Gregor points out, a significant achievement for the business.
Not only was our first development project being built in an iconic location, but we also decided we wanted the hotel to be the first Holiday Inn at Heathrow because it was – and still is – one of the most well-known international hotel brands. The decision really paid off, as the hotel was an immediate success, giving us the confidence to continue to build and develop across the UK.
Now, 20 years on, we have opened hotels from every one of the major globally-recognised hotel brands – Marriott, IHG, Accor, Wyndham and Hilton – in all four home nations, including city centre locations and plenty of other areas in the UK I would perhaps never otherwise have had the opportunity to visit, like Ipswich, Chatham, Swansea and Bedford.
Over two decades we’ve taken on a number of different projects so our experience in developing varied propositions is very wide-ranging. We’ve built and developed properties across the spectrum, from budget hotels like Travelodge to upscale properties like Hotel Indigo and Hilton Hotels & Resorts as well as multiple mid-scale brands like Holiday Inn Express, Hampton by Hilton and Aloft.
We’ve also been proud to achieve a few firsts in the UK hotel industry – like developing the first Staybridge Suites outside of North America in Liverpool in 2008 and becoming the first franchisee of the Aloft brand in Europe.”
Gregor highlights that building and opening hotels is no mean feat, but that the skill and experience of the team at RBH is really what sets it apart and has ensured success over the years.
Openings are complex with so many moving parts – anyone who says it is easy can’t possibly be telling the truth. Luckily, we relish a challenge at RBH, and we have an exceptionally experienced team working on our new developments that has grown together as a family.
Over the years there is no doubt the process has been refined, and we see far fewer issues prior to opening, but in the past, we’ve dealt with some real last-minute challenges – and thankfully overcome them. We have seen power cuts on opening days, floods during soft opening and testing, and contractors who have ‘overstayed their welcome’ and given our wonderful Group Services Accommodation team 24 hours to turn the hotel from a construction site into a guest-ready hotel.
They work wonders on our openings, in particular our Group Services Accommodation Manager, Mary Curtin. Mary’s 20 years’ service coincided with the opening of Hampton by Hilton Manchester Northern Quarter, and she has worked on every single one of our 50 openings, so she has seen and experienced it all. That means Mary has snagged and prepared around 6,800 bedrooms over the years, from testing the toilet flushes and showers, to making up the bedrooms themselves. There is no situation she hasn’t dealt with, and plenty of challenging problems she has been instrumental in solving.”
Over the course of the last 20 years, Gregor says, developing and opening hotels has changed significantly, which has meant RBH has had to adapt to new innovations, technology and processes to ensure it is at the forefront of delivering the highest standard of new hotels.
At the most basic level, construction has evolved over the past two decades and continues to develop. We’ve built hotels in pre-cast concrete, in-situ cast concrete, steel frame, timber frame, adapted reuse of offices and in more recent years, worked on modular construction projects.
Technology changes so quickly as well. For example, years ago hotels had pay-per-view movies and no Wi-Fi and now we’re working with high-speed internet, casting technology in-room and mobile check-in as mandated by the brands.
We also have far more flexibility and choice when it comes to selecting the brand to best suit a location, as the major players have developed extensive brand portfolios covering all service levels and markets.
We’re fortunate enough to have solid relationships with the brands, so that when designs have changed – which has happened dramatically over the years – we go on the whole journey with them and are often asked for input or to trial new concepts within our hotels. For example, we’ve developed and refurbished Holiday Inn Express properties from IHG’s Generation 1 set-up right through to the current Generation 4 property design.”
And RBH will not rest on its laurels, with four major new-build openings coming up in the next two years – on top of signing hotel management agreements to add existing properties to its growing portfolio.
With two decades of experience in major capital projects and new builds under their belts, it makes sense that the RBH team would look to expand its project management offering.
A real area of focus for us is looking to use our expertise on capital projects and development outside of the managed estate. We have extensive experience that could benefit any number of projects across the UK that are currently in the pipeline, so we are looking to expand our offering this year.
Outside of that, we’ll be keeping our focus on the new openings at the core of the business this year and next year, as there are some exciting ones coming up. The Gantry (Curio by Hilton) in London and Westin London City will make their UK debuts this year, whilst Holiday Inn Blackpool and AC by Marriott Glasgow are coming in 2022.
Those are just our confirmed projects. We really are using the past two decades of experience to build for the future.”
RBH new-build openings to date:
Holiday Inn Heathrow - 2000
Holiday Inn Express East Midlands - 2000
Holiday Inn Express Hammersmith - 2001
Holiday Inn Express Swindon - 2001
Holiday Inn Express Luton - 2002
Crowne Plaza Marlow - 2002
Holiday Inn Express Cambridge - 2003
Ramada Encore Swansea - 2003
Crowne Plaza London Docklands (Opened as Holiday Inn London Docklands) - 2003
Holiday Inn Express Bedford - 2004
Holiday Inn Express Hemel Hempstead - 2004
Holiday Inn Express Newport - 2004
Ramada Encore London West - 2004
Holiday Inn Express Newcastle - 2005
Holiday Inn Express Leeds Armouries - 2006
Holiday Inn Express Doncaster - 2006
Ramada Encore Milton Keynes - 2006
Holiday Inn Chessington - 2007
Holiday Inn Express Antrim - 2007
Holiday Inn Express Hamilton - 2007
Liverpool Staybridge - 2008
Holiday Inn Express Epsom - 2008
Ramada Encore Doncaster - 2008
Ramada Encore Derby - 2008
Ramada Encore Chatham - 2008
Ramada by Wyndham Belfast - 2009
Ramada Encore Warrington - 2009
Ramada Encore Birmingham - 2009
Ramada Encore Inverness - 2009
Ramada Encore Ipswich - 2009
Holiday Inn Express Dunstable - 2012
Moorfield Hotel - 2013
Aloft Liverpool - 2014
Ibis Styles Glasgow Centre - George Square - 2015
Holiday Inn Express Middlesbrough - 2015
Travelodge London Belvedere - 2016
Holiday Inn Express St Albans - 2016
Courtyard by Marriott Edinburgh - 2017
HbH London Docklands - 2017
Indigo Cardiff - 2017
Courtyard by Marriott Edinburgh West - 2017
Ibis Styles Glasgow Central - 2018
Courtyard by Marriott Luton Airport - 2018
Holiday Inn Express Bridgwater - 2019
Aloft TECA - 2019
Hilton TECA - 2019
Holiday Inn Express Barrow in Furness - 2019
Courtyard by Marriott Inverness Airport - 2020
Hilton Garden Inn Stoke On Trent - 2020
Hampton by Hilton Manchester Northern Quarter - 2020