Stewart Moss of Cedar Court Hotels

H&E North ‘meets’ Stewart Moss, Group Director of Sales for Yorkshire’s Cedar Court Hotels to chat about lockdown life, keeping motivated and the future of the hotel industry post-coronavirus.

Hi Stewart, hope you are keeping well! How’s lockdown been for you?
Hi, same to you. As for my personal lockdown experience, it has not been that bad at all, in the grand scheme of things. My family and I are lucky to live in a nice little village that has plenty of amenities, it is a short walk to some woodland and I already had a home office set up.

We also bought a puppy at the just before lockdown who keeps us all busy. We haven’t much to grumble about and we definitely don’t take that for granted. The unpleasant part of all this for me has been seeing so many former colleagues and friends suffer due to the knock the industry has taken. I hope to see better days for them all soon.

As for the business, I know I can speak for all our senior team when I say, I genuinely believe that we have used this time as well as we possibly could have done. We have revisited all our key strategies and marketing collateral and have looked at different outlets to expand our company’s reach – plus, we have all added a great deal of value to our communities which is a real source of pride.

What will be your best memories of the last few months?
Aside from the aforementioned puppy – who has been an excellent addition to the house – we have all enjoyed the weekly dose of Jay’s Online Pub Quiz on YouTube where we’ve been exchanging answers with a large WhatsApp group of friends and family. I have also really enjoyed taking the time to listen so many obscure albums from start to finish and have spent a serious number of hours with my guitar. TV-wise, we recently watched Judd Apatow’s series Love on Netflix, which is very funny and has a truly great soundtrack. I am also currently finishing bingeing The Larry Sanders Show, which has me in stitches.

So, how did you get into the hotel industry?
I grew up in a village just outside of York, and there’s a hotel within cycling distance from our family home called Aldwark Manor. I was advised one day that this place was looking for evening casual staff and as I already had a weekend day job (selling cars at a family friend’s garage…as you do) I was pretty excited to see if I could get some shifts to support my ever-growing CD collection (remember those?).

Upon completing my first evening shift, I immediately fell in love with the industry. Hotels were pretty formal affairs in those days – I had to change from a morning suit to evening suit on shift for example, but everything about my evenings there were great. I loved the atmosphere and the buzz. Plus, we used to welcome our fair share of celebrities which could often be very interesting to say the least! I also met a close pal of mine at that hotel, so I owe that place a lot!

How have operations for Cedar Court Hotels changed recently?
The priorities for our collective focus were immediately clear as we entered lockdown: we had to ensure that we continued to keep our customers informed as to just how hard we would work to ensure our business operates safely post-virus, and we had to continue to keep our teams engaged and aware of ‘what we will look like’ upon their return.

In addition – and a quick scan of our social media will attest to this – we have had a completely different focus during lockdown; our sole aim has been to ‘add value’ to natural and new business friends alike. Kindness became our new currency, and this has resulted in some spectacular efforts across all the hotels during a difficult time, we have behaved in a manner that has further highlighted who we really are as a group.

As for my own commercial team, I am fiercely proud of what we have achieved together during this time, more so of how adaptable we have become, where we are heading next as a group…I think may surprise people. I am excited for our collective futures. Cedar Court Hotels is ‘fighting fit’.

And your role?
Naturally, being a leader during lockdown has posed a challenge to us all – we have had to adapt quickly to the fact that we all needed to change and revisit our known methods of interaction and commercial focuses. I have asked myself a lot if I have been doing enough for my team during this time; I envisage that we will come out of this an even more robust and agile unit.

The key learning for me though has just been further affirmation of what we all knew about the hospitality industry to begin with…that companies housing those truly great people, with their truly great personalities, are going to come out of this the best. I am sure that by now we have all directed our own goodwill towards the businesses in our communities that we feel ‘deserve it’. You simply cannot duplicate or centrally replicate ‘personality’ and I think this is a mistake many companies have made. We will now see more and more evidence emerge now of how well (or not) many of them have looked after their people.

Our industry has taken a huge hit commercially, how do you see the recovery?
It has indeed, and we have already seen such an enormous number of businesses fold which has been both saddening and alarming in equal measure. Fundamentally though, I believe that the need for social interaction and the desire for travel are potent drivers that are going to see our industry overcome this.

The forecasts for key cities are finally starting to display a better picture – as too is our own pick up – so a healthy amount of optimism is slowly creeping in again…which is refreshing. That being said, we are ‘phasing in’ our optimism and at the moment, this looks like a very carefully controlled business that will be operating at an assumed gradient of occupancy return. We expect Cedar Court to be starting off well though, with a good summer driven by our new package #TheGreatYorkshireEscape.

Meetings and conferences will take a different form in the coming months. What are Cedar Court doing to ensure the safety of delegates?
As a group, we were pretty far ahead with the technology we offered pre-COVID, but we’ve gone a step further now and the guest’s mobile phone can be employed to do everything from checking in, opening their door to pulling up our menus. We’ve also produced extensive collateral to really put the guest at ease, pre-empting everything from the signage for corridors to a door frame sticker you break upon entry into your meeting room or bedroom, there is also a video arriving shortly to further highlight just how much we’ve done to ensure the safety of our guests and team.

Our Managing Director (Wayne Topley) has been very clear that with our extensive new operating processes – he no longer wants hotel cleaning and disinfecting to be ‘part of the mystery’ of hotel operations, he wants that hard work to be visible to our guests. Subsequently a great deal of training has been underway at Cedar Court to equip our team with the confidence to communicate how the procedures will keep their guests safe.

You’ve headed up large teams and implemented new initiatives across the UK in your career. What has been your secret to driving results?
When I look back, I can see just how much I have benefitted from the wealth of experience that comes from having worked my way up. You get to learn what is important in so many people’s working lives and you get to understand how to then ‘reach’ those people. Ultimately, it is your team management skills that will ensure any success – nothing else. So, my answer to this is always my learned understanding of how to look after people.

I spend quite a lot of time talking to junior managers these days, even more so of late, and I seem to end up saying a lot of the same things to them – in which I have tried to distil 20 years’ experience:

‘Your job is to move obstacles out of your team’s way’

‘Cut through the noise’

‘Future proof’

‘Make your team look great’

The final thing I say a lot is ‘Have fun. We aren’t sewing arms back on here! Don’t ever fall into the trap of taking yourself too seriously and go to work to enjoy it.’

There is some wisdom in there…somewhere!

Do you have a message to event planners who are feeling cautious about organising events this year?
Have faith in the industry’s ability to overcome these operational hurdles and that your venue can still provide you with a safe and engaging environment. As a group, we have worked incredibly hard to hone our ‘new welcome’ as mentioned earlier. This is the same across the board, because we all want to get back to doing what we do best: looking after people.