For most hoteliers, hosting events during the pandemic is either impossible or next to impossible. Having already managed the impossible while hosting ISPS HANDA UK golf tournament last year, The Belfry Hotel & Resort in North Warwickshire is preparing to host the Betfred British Masters this year in May.
Hotel Owner caught up with Chris Eigelaar, the resort’s new general resort manager, to discuss hosting the golf’s biggest event, event management during Covid and the importance of connecting with guests.
Can you tell me about your new role as The Belfry’s Resort general manager?
I joined the resort as general manager back in 2018, but this new role gives me more of a hands on approach in all the areas and I love having the opportunity to do that.
In the role itself, I manage all aspects of the business, from the golf course, leisure and spa, food/beverages and meeting events. I work with the leaders of each department to influence and support them. Together, as a team, we continue to drive the business forward successfully.
What have been the specific difficulties of taking on the job during the pandemic?
It’s been challenging since March of last year. Of course, we’ve not been allowed to be fully open since I’ve taken on my new role as a resort GM. We went into lockdown in November, we partially reopened in December, then we went into lockdown again in January.
From a general perspective, the pandemic has had a significant impact on the entire hospitality industry. It’s a difficult time for everyone. I think the most important thing that I’ve learned is the importance of keeping in touch with our teams to ensure everybody is motivated.
How has the Belfry’s business priorities shifted during the pandemic?
I think the pandemic has highlighted the importance of the stakeholders in the business, which includes The Belfry’s owners, the resort’s team, suppliers and guests. We’ve made sure to communicate, stay engaged and support one another.
Given the situation, we’re very focused on our key members’ engagement, ensuring we continue to communicate with the team during all three lockdowns. We also have a virtual platform which we use to connect and support with our team and customers everyone daily.
It’s also the health and safety and safety of our team. This was the number one priority and continues to be the number one priority since the pandemic. We’ve introduced a pledge initiative which shows our commitment to meeting the highest standards of cleanliness procedures and protocols across all areas of the resort.
We’ve also worked with AIM (an industry-wide mark of excellence focussing on offices, venues and service providers) to get their accreditation. We wanted to make sure that from a Covid perspective, the priority was to look after guests’ health and safety.
Can you tell us a bit more detail about the services The Belfry is providing during this time?
It has changed quite a lot during all the lockdowns, pre-lockdowns and various tier systems. The resort is open for key workers and essential business traveller meetings. People have had access to the meeting and event spaces for small essential meetings, and wedding ceremonies.
As a result of the ongoing restrictions, we launched several new facilities. This includes the Business Daily package, which offers guests the opportunity to work in a luxurious space setting, with a scenic view of the iconic golf course and no distractions. This package includes free parking, WiFi, refreshments, and a light lunch as well.
As mentioned, we have a virtual event space set up, Belfry Live and Belfry Studio. This hosts virtual meetings online, so conferences, meetings and events can take place safely.
How are you preparing for the British Masters in May?
In August last year, we hosted the ISPS HANDA UK championship, which was a great success. We were absolutely thrilled to be back on the European tour. Of course, the business was chosen to host the British Masters in May. We’re very excited as it’s the fourth time the Belfry has been picked as host, and the first time since 2008, so it’s been many years.
The highest health standards and safety protocols that we’ve had in place will be showcased, going above and beyond the UK government’s Covid-19 guidelines to ensure that everything runs as smoothly as ISPS HANDA. We received great feedback from the European tour and the players.
We will use experience from what we delivered in August last year, that gave us a great blueprint. The Masters will be hosted by Danny Willett, a golf champion, which is fantastic. From a Belfry perspective, we just feel honored to welcome back the best in the game to this iconic resort. It’s just a great opportunity to put us back on the European tour.
Has the pandemic resulted in any permanent changes to the way you do business?
In regards to permanent changes, there are two areas that we’ve focused on. One is the health and safety protocols and the other is advancements in technology.
We’ve enhanced cleanliness procedures and protocols across all areas of the resort, with physical distance measures in place for as long as required to ensure everybody remains safe. This includes remaining safe from a guest perspective and from a team members perspective.
We’ve also invested heavily in new technology to ensure a seamless journey for our guests and enhanced communication with both our teams and guests. The new permanent changes to technology includes, Belfry Live and Belfry Studio, which has been designed to ensure the conferences, corporate product launches and award ceremonies can happen safely.
It also allows our clients to connect with the wider teams across the globe. We are constantly adapting to meet the needs of our clients and the ever evolving industry. New technology comes from ensuring a contactless experience for the guest.
We’ve invested heavily to ensure you get the seamless check in experience, but still have the human contact available. We try to maintain a balance between the two.
How important is maintaining that human connection, despite Covid restrictions, to hospitality going forward?
It’s at the forefront of hospitality and always will be. The new norm is that it’s up to the guest to decide how to utilise it or not, but it will always be there. Doesn’t matter if you need to wear a mask or you need social distance, it’s still important to deliver the same service and warm welcome in different ways, but in a safe manner. However, it’s still an expectation and always very good to have that available.
Chris Eigelaar is the resort general manager at the The Belfry Hotel & Resort