Leading Light: Jonathan Raggett of Red Carnation Hotels Collection

Following a period of ambitious growth, Red Carnation Hotels Collection has emerged as one of the UK’s most eminent luxury hotel groups.

MD Jonathan Raggett speaks exclusively to Hotel industry Magazine about leading the company through expansion and investing in its people.

Managing director, Jonathan Raggett, embodies many of the values that have built Red Carnation Hotels. Personable, warm, supportive and committed to the quality of the guest experience are all qualities that derive from his hotelier background.

“From the very outset, I’ve been a hotelier at heart,” said Raggett. “After completing my HND in Hotel Management, I worked from the bottom upwards. And I think that having performed all the tasks in a hotel myself at one time or another has really benefited my style. I’m able to get into all the nooks and crannies of the business.”

During his twelve-year tenure, Raggett’s quiet determination and forensic attention to detail has seen the collection blossom from just three properties to fourteen award-winning hotels.

“We’re not done yet,” added Raggett. “Our ambition is to grow to 25 hotels, so we are always actively looking for the right deal.

“We look for hotels in the right location to which we can add something – perhaps invest in the facilities, provide training or extra manpower.

“We tend to do better in city locations; but the issue at the moment is that in the locations we are most interested in, everyone to want to be a hotelier!”

Jonathan Raggett’s Business Mantra:
No request is too large; no detail is too small

People, People, People

Raggett is at his most passionate when talking about people – a passion that has filtered down through the organisation.

It is no coincidence that Red Carnation was the first company to achieve the Investors in People Gold Standard across its entire worldwide operation, and last year appeared in The Sunday Times Top 100 Companies to Work For list (71st place).

“One thing that I’m really proud of is what we do for our people. Training and development is at the core of what we do and, as a result, our employees know their responsibilities and choose to work hard for us – and it’s that working spirit that keeps us competitive.

“You see, as a relatively small company, I don’t have the loyalty programmes or the same marketing budgets that my larger competitors have access to, but I do have brilliant, well-trained employees.”

Raggett makes a strong business case for his heavy investment in training.

Recruiting and meeting the training needs of new employees is expensive, so investment in this area simultaneously improves quality and reduces staff turnover – which at Red Carnation runs at a refreshingly low 28%.

“Guest feedback shows that the most important things is how our guests were greeted, remembered and treated upon arrival. So it makes good business sense if our returning guests can recognise faces at the hotel property – equally, we want our key customer-facing employees to remember our guests and welcome them back.”

The Next Generation

Raggett’s investment in people extends beyond Red Carnation Hotels with his involvement in the youth charity, Springboard.

“I’m involved because the hospitality industry has served me well. It’s the sort of industry in which people with the right attitude can quickly rise. And I have to say that the young people I meet are bright-eyed and bushy-tailed – they understand that you can’t simply work nine-to-five and get on in any industry today. That culture doesn’t really exist anymore.

“So, we have young people from Springboard join us here at Red Carnation on a work experience programme and we have the option to take them on if they perform well.”

The Ultimate Question

Raggett holds high expectations around the quality of the guest experience, and introduced a simple initiative called the Net Parameter Score in which guests are asked to rate their stay between one and ten.

One question – what Raggett calls the “ultimate question!”

Raggett is aiming for scores of nine and ten because these guests will return and promote the collection amongst friends and family. Guests that score between six and eight will happily go elsewhere if the right deal exists, so a focus on exceeding their expectations and promoting them into the top bracket is vital.

It is for this reason that Raggett decided to partner with Tripadvisor and include ratings and reviews on Red Carnation’s own website.

“I decided to embrace Tripadvisor simply because it’s foolish not to. Certainly, some will write unfair reviews, but the majority of guests write it as they see it – and that’s why it’s so important to take care of the guest.

“It is estimated that 70% of first-time guests to a hotel check online reviews before making a decision, so it is important to be active in that space. Also, the top three rated London hotels on Tripadvisor are all Red Carnation Hotels: Hotel 41, Egerton House Hotel and The Milestone Hotel only ever seem to change position amongst themselves!

“If you’re in the top three, then you are starting out with a commercial edge.”

Actionable Intelligence

Jonathan Raggett’s advice to hotel group leaders in 2013:

  1. Be “brilliant” – a term we use to describe excellence and positivity around every aspect of a guest’s stay
  2. Have a strategy in place to steal market share
  3. Have fun and enjoy everything you do – it is an important part of what we do

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