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1834 Hotels plans for growth

Exclusive interview with CEO Andrew Bullock who talks about his journey with 1834 Hotels & sights set on increasing the group's reach to managing 50 hotels over the next few years

1834 Hotels CEO Andrew Bullock has worked in hotels for over 20 years and finds the work as exciting as his first day on the job.

After graduating from university with qualifications in tourism, Mr Bullock connected with a leader of the industry- Ian Conolly. Joining Mr Conolly’s hotel management group, Mr Bullock worked his way up from a marketing role to group general manager in the space of a few years.

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Sadly, Mr Conolly passed away from blood cancer in 2008, but it was Mr Bullock who was entrusted to carry on his vision.

“It was a very difficult time, but with the support of Ian’s family I undertook to take over the hotel management company that he had developed,” he said.

“From there, we consolidated the group of four venues, and we started to plan for growth.”

The structure of the business changed to performance-based revenue streams and the company rebranded under 1834 Hotels. For owners and investors, 1834 Hotels provides every aspect of hotel management, from sales to marketing.

“We essentially become an extension of the owner,” Mr Bullock said.

“So, we tend to come in and operate it from the ground up, be part of the management of the property manager or general manager, and then we report back to our owners on a monthly basis.”

During the next decade, 1834 Hotels grew significantly and is now managing 26 hotels Australia-wide with its sights set on increasing this to 50 hotels over the next few years. The group was not immune to the impact of COVID-19 on the hospitality and tourism industries, but Mr Bullock said it also provided an opportunity for the industry to expand into new and innovative areas.

“COVID clearly presented significant challenges for the industry however likewise has provided some interesting opportunities as the industry recovers,” he said.

“I expect that challenges will become quite different in the coming years. Labour is and continues to be an area of focus.

“We continue to invest heavily in technology advancement as it gives us the potential to focus the labour skills, we have on improving the guest experience.”

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Mr Bullock said that he looked at the airline industry for inspiration for providing seamless processes for guests.

“We’re about to roll out across our network a fully integrated guest platform where guests will be able to have mobile key check-in,” he said.

“I always use the example of airports. I can go and jump on a plane this afternoon and fly to Sydney and not have a clunky check-in process, I do it all on my phone.

“And then those labour resources can then be recalibrated and used for more specific guest experience, things that are actually going to add real value to the consumer rather than, you know, waiting in a line.”

When it comes to selecting hotels to add to their portfolio, Mr Bullock said there were a few key things he looked for.

“Good bones are critical- hotels can be repositioned by refurbishing but in order to do so you need a few key elements,” he said.

“The location needs to be good, bathrooms of a decent size are a big positive, and additional land around the hotel that could be developed is another factor.

Outside of these considerations, Mr Bullock said that the current state of the hotel was not a concern as refurbishments and renovations could provide solutions.

Additionally, a number of hotels are aimed at economy or mid-range travellers.

Mercure Kangaroo Island Lodge

“We operate a number of mid-scale and economy hotels in the portfolio. These are sometimes overlooked by investors however can be seriously good financial performers.

“Offering good quality clean rooms in great locations is a really enjoyable part of the industry as well.”

“That’s one of the great things about working at 1834 – we have the opportunity to work with both 5-star offerings right through to economy hotels – each with different brand positioning and brand partnerships.”

Mr Bullock said that as an executive, the variety of hotels within the 1834 portfolio meant that no two days were the same.

“We deal with a lot of owners who are at the top of their industry, and we’re working alongside them as well as the teams on the floor to improve the guest experience,” he said.

“Every day is certainly different and that’s one of my favourite aspects, I get to work over a large cross-section of both investors and also our team members.

When it comes to future goals and projects for 1834 Hotels, Mr Bullock said that the future was looking bright.

“We have a very strong pipeline of new hotels coming into our network and that continues to gain traction,” he said.

“We are developing venues within the network as well with growing key numbers at existing hotels by building new product.

“We see that as a great opportunity to achieve great returns – taking a pre-existing asset, developing its positioning and growing its key count through developing new rooms.

“The base product is often there – it’s about creating scale that achieves greater efficiencies and amortisation of fixed costs. Currently, we have just brought online additional 30 keys at the Berri Hotel, 19 new rooms at John Pirie Motor Inn and developing a further 9 high-end eco villas at Mercure Kangaroo Island Lodge.

“These have outstanding returns as they develop already strong existing base businesses.”

Berri Hotel

Additionally, Mr Bullock said that they were looking to expand into Tasmania and Queensland, as both states had experienced huge growth through the regional tourism boom.

Despite working as a CEO of a hotel management company, when it comes to his own holidays, Mr Bullock prefers to spend time in the great outdoors.

“I am quite partial to a few places in South Australia,” he said.

“As a family, we’ve travelled quite extensively around South Australia and one of my favourite holidays is the far north of South Australia, around Innamincka.

“It’s very interesting, I work a lot in hotels and with some very beautiful 5-star hotels, but I really enjoy getting out camping as well.”

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