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Hotel’s rebranding more than skin deep

PUBLISHED: 10:18 24 September 2016

Alastair Thomann with Blue singers Simon Webbe and Lee Ryan Picture: Paul Nixon Photography

Alastair Thomann with Blue singers Simon Webbe and Lee Ryan Picture: Paul Nixon Photography

Paul Nixon Photography 07904296577

The pentahotel in Ipswich last week celebrated the completion of a £2m refurbishment with a party featuring stars from the worlds of music and television. Before the partying started, 
DUNCAN BRODIE went along to speak to pentahotels global managing director Alastair Thomann about the chain’s approach and why it has chosen to invest in Ipswich

The gym at the pentahotel in Ipswich.The gym at the pentahotel in Ipswich.

It is two years since what was originally known as the Ramada Encore hotel in Ranelagh Road, Ipswich, close to the town’s main railway station, became part of pentahotels.

But the German-based chain, part of the international hotel management company Rosewood, which also includes the Rosewood Hotels & Resorts and New World Hotels brands, first cast its eye over the Ipswich property four years ago.

And its rebranding of the site as a pentahotel is much more than skin deep, with the recently completed refurbishment having involved the roll-out of its “lifestyle neighbourhood” concept across all 126 bedroooms and the public areas of the hotel.

A key feature of the concept is the “pentalounge”, an open-plan ground floor including a bar, which doubles as the reception desk, seating areas and a restaurant.

Paul Barnard of Marriott Motor Group and his wife Claire at the pentahotel opening in Ipswich: Picture: Paul Nixon PhotographyPaul Barnard of Marriott Motor Group and his wife Claire at the pentahotel opening in Ipswich: Picture: Paul Nixon Photography

Alastair Thomann, global managing director of pentahotels, says the aim is to attract local residents as well as business and leisure visitors, so creating an atmosphere and experience which encourages guests to spend less time in their bedrooms – and to increase their spend.

The pentahotels brand was created in 1971 by a group of airlines including Lufthansa but disappeared from the market after it was sold in 1993. It was revived and repositioned as a mid-market lifestyle brand following its acquisition by the New World Group in 2007.

Alastair, who became managing director last year, says: “Our approach was to create a completely new product for the guest, with a laid-back, authentic atmosphere, while also developing a viable hotel business for hotel owners and investors alike.

“When we were creating our hotel concept, we wanted to provide something special that would not just be for our hotel guests, but for the local community as well. Our priority was to improve the business results, which would in turn benefit our guests.”

Nick Fayers of Barnes Construction and his wife Juile at the opening of the pentahotel in Ipswich.Nick Fayers of Barnes Construction and his wife Juile at the opening of the pentahotel in Ipswich.

“The world is full of hotels that take over other establishments and simply rebrand them. We, on the other hand, change everything from the ground up, to create our own unique world.”

For example, he says, bars and restaurants in many hotels remain much of the time because the potential of local patrons is ignored. “Our pentalounge serves as a gathering place for both out-of-town visitors and the people who live in the neighbourhood of our hotels,” he adds.

In the case of Ipswich this means, in particular, the substantial residential development on the site of the former CompAir Reavell factory off Ranelagh Road which also includes a number of business premises, so representing potential bar and restaurant demand throughout the day.

However, the hotel attracts a local clientele from across the town and the surrounding area, says Alastair, and while the “look” of the hotels might appeal most obviously to a younger people they do in fact attract a share of over-65s alongside “millennials”.

Alastair Thomann with Blue singers Simon Webbe and Lee Ryan Picture at the pentahotel opening in Ipswich: Paul Nixon PhotographyAlastair Thomann with Blue singers Simon Webbe and Lee Ryan Picture at the pentahotel opening in Ipswich: Paul Nixon Photography

“You will notice a mix of young and old in our pentalounges,” says Alastair. “We try to create an atmosphere in which everyone feels at home.”

The staff “uniform” consists of Diesel jeans and T-shirts, which contributes to the atmosphere. “We notice many of our business traveller guests loosening their ties at check-in as they realise they can finally switch off,” he adds.

Overall, around 60% of pentahotel guests are business travellers but, of course, the balance between business and leisure varies hugely across the week, with the leisure element building from Thursday into the weekend.

“In the last two years, we have invested £10m into opening and refurbishing pentahotels around the UK,” says Alastair.” Our UK hotels will be the first from our global portfolio to have newly-refurbished rooms throughout.”

The terrace at the pentahotel in Ipswich.The terrace at the pentahotel in Ipswich.

Other pentahotel locations in the UK include Birmingham, Derby, Inverness, Reading and Warrington, with an opening in London in the pipeline. In total, the company currently runs 27 hotels in seven countries across Europe and Asia.

Alastair says the decision to invest in Ipswich was a “no-brainer” for pentahotels, and that he believes other operators within the sector will also invest in the town over the next few years.

“Although we have hotels in cities such as Vienna, Beijing and Paris, we also choose mid-sized towns, which we see as perfect for our growth strategy,” he says. “Besides big cities we also look for up-and-coming destinations because that is where you get the biggest returns.

“We looked at quite a big portfolio of hotels to decide which would make the best long term investments. Coming to Ipswich was always a no-brainer. We knew we had to be in Ipswich because there is so much happening here, and relatively little hotel capacity in the mid-market sector.

A double room at the pentahotel in IpswichA double room at the pentahotel in Ipswich

Among the factors which attracted the company to Ipswich were the level of investment in the town’s Waterfront and its buoyant business and technology communities, says Alastair.

“I am sure we will not be the last brand to come here and that other hotels will follow in the next few years,” he adds.

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