Luxury isn’t clinical

Campbell Gray: You can’t programme service

TRAINED by the big boys in hospitality and having learnt the arts of service, commercialism and profitability from the very best, Gordon Campbell Gray, founder of Campbell Gray Hotels, has practically unlearned it all, and has moved away from the modern-day multi-billion empires where service, according to him, is a mechanised response.

He has created his own definition of world ‘luxury’ and has surprised many with the kind of success he has achieved in creating his own unique brand. Starting from a small hotel in English countryside, his brand is now established in London and the Caribbean, and is built on the strong foundation of ‘services par excellence’.
“Individuality in contemporary design with timeless themes have set us apart from the fancy and impersonal concrete and steel structures that people call hotels nowadays,” Campbell Gray told TTN. “Guests come stay with us, and at the end, ask one question: ‘Can we have the same luxury in such-and-such a city?’ This is a vindication of my belief that individuality, personalised service and luxury in its simplest forms are what people look for.”
The owner and creator of London’s iconic boutique property One Aldwych and the luxury Carlisle Bay Hotel in Antigua, he says the responses of service staff – no matter which brand you talk about – are so mechanised that they cannot think beyond the training manual. “The crispest sheets and the best beds do not define luxury. There is nothing complicated about service. The way I look at it, it has to be simple yet exclusive,” Gray points out. “I worked with big chains, but let me tell you, luxury is not a clinically executed procedure.”
Campbell Gray Hotels is unique in the sense that it has firmly checked an urge to expand at breakneck speed and carefully considers locations even before looking at the financial viability of the proposed project. “We don’t believe expansion is the only way to survive,” he says.
“For big corporations and hotel chains, the only way for their continued existence is growth. If they fail to grow they are bought over by others who have the resource.” However, being small and exclusive has given Campbell Gray Hotels the option of being selective when considering future hotel ventures. “We don’t have to expand for our survival. Obviously any organisation has to be financially viable, but for me there have to me more reasons than mere commercialism and profitability. I see Campbell Gray Hotels very comfortably placed say 10 years down the road with a small and exclusive collection of 10 to 12 hotels in carefully selected destinations.”
As any hotelier travelling to the Middle East would, Campbell Gray has studied the hospitality market and does not think the hyperactivity automatically translates into an excellent investment opportunity. He believes Dubai is a wild market that needs to settle down a bit. “A ski slope with a hotel, I mean, tell me how wild can you get. We are aware such concepts sell and there are people who believe this is luxury but the kind of luxury we provide in Campbell Gray Hotels, Dubai is not ready for yet,” he says. “We’ve been asked to come here and give this market the taste of what we believe in and of our success but I would prefer to wait till the dust is settled.”
In the region, however, it’s Lebanon – the versatility of Beirut – that have made an impression on him. “Beirut has a character of its own and the city is as timeless as its people. Nowhere else can you find such a combination.”
Gray is scheduled to open his first hotel in Lebanon in 2007. “We’ve done the designs and are at the mock-up stage now. The theme, again, is contemporary but with touches of our trademark exclusivity, and inviting colours that accentuate a feeling of comfort and luxury.”
Oman is the second place where he wants to open a hotel, and he isn’t considering anything else at the moment – but will evaluate offers. “Oman is a beautiful country with very lovely people and for me, it is important as by expanding there we create employment opportunities.”
He does not share the opinion of many industry leaders that it’s difficult to find properly trained staff in the region. “If you intend to do it right, you will. We believe Omanis are up to it and can give us the human resources we require. To train people you have to bond with them and think out of box and we are sure we will be able to deliver the kind of service we are known for, even in Oman.” He says the company faced the same challenge in the Caribbean but handled it there. “Our hotel is known for best personalised service and people want to return again and again to enjoy the magic, to be pampered in a way unique to Campbell Gray Hotels.”
It’s staff that he spends his time with, he says, not with his guests. “I visit their homes and try to find the bond of trust that automatically translates into exceptional performance in the jobs. We don’t have a training manual for staff when it comes to service. It can never be programmed. For us, it’s the way of life that makes us different. Service without authenticity is very sad.”

by Sarmad Khan