The hotel and venue world is changing fast. With heaps of new hotel brands on the block, we have seen plenty of big players investing in and evolving their existing portfolios – including property giant Starwood Capital Group. As we have previously reported, the group has been streamlining its UK hotels and venues into two key brands: the chic, urban Principal (exemplified by the revamped Principal Manchester) and De Vere, its collection of country estate hotels and modern event spaces.
After more than £100m of investment in its 22 properties, 662 event spaces, 1,200 acres of grounds and more than 4,000 bedrooms, De Vere officially unveiled its brand transformation this autumn. So what does it have in store for business travellers?
“The De Vere rebrand ensures that customers receive a consistent, extremely high-quality offering across the portfolio and that they have a productive and memorable time with us,” Laurie Nicol, chief operating officer at De Vere, told us. “From our bedrooms to our meetings and event spaces, through to the surrounding country estates, the refurbishment has created a product that is contemporary and characterful, in-keeping with each property’s history.”
Behind the scenes at De Vere Tortworth Court
The rebrand is focusing on the group’s country-house hotels, which are being carefully renovated to make the most of their British heritage and enviable outdoor spaces.
With a significant chunk of the refurbishment programme already complete, the newly revitalised De Vere Tortworth Court in Gloucestershire is typical of the group’s transformation. One of the county’s hidden gems, this country estate originally dates back to 1343. De Vere has spent £5m revitalising the property, sprucing up interiors including the elegant grand staircase, and adding 11 spacious new suites to bring the total number of guestrooms in the mansion house and courtyard wing to 201.
It also offers 10 flexible meeting and events spaces, including the self-contained Victorian Orangery, plus a fully refurbished spa. As Nicol notes, the new-look De Vere is all about preserving the historic character of its venues, while adding modern comforts. “By restoring these stunning historical buildings and breathing new life into our event spaces, we’re creating inspirational locations where traditional values meet the latest luxuries,” she says.
Why it’s great outdoors at De Vere
The benefits of outdoor meetings have been a hot topic recently in the events industry, and De Vere is wisely investing in its outdoor spaces to make the grounds “a natural extension of the hotel”.
The group has been recruiting new talent to help make the most of its al fresco spaces, in the shape of a dedicated new head of estates management, Justin Turner. “Justin’s role focuses on creating, enhancing and managing our venues external landscapes to ensure they offer guests beautiful, inspiring and functional outdoor spaces,” Nicol explains.
To encourage people to get outdoors, De Vere has also been introducing super-fast WiFi that works up to 100 metres from its properties. Other typical outdoor features include new sculpture commissions, new kitchen gardens, and bee hives and bug hotels to encourage local wildlife.
De Vere Tortworth Court, for example, has also added a boot room, where guests can borrow Hunter wellies to explore the 30-acre grounds. It’s a thoughtful, quintessentially British touch that is typical of the rebrand. Tortworth Court’s fine arboretum, meanwhile, makes a tranquil space to go for a wander between meeting sessions (or even hold a walking meeting).
Healthy meeting spaces
It’s not all about the great outdoors, however, with the group also taking the opportunity to boost its offering for meetings and events customers. “The De Vere rebrand has allowed us to focus our offer and create new bespoke services that effectively communicate our business across the De Vere portfolio,” says Nicol. “As part of the rebrand, we’ve introduced the Principal Hotel Company’s Smart Space product, a highly responsive and personalised meetings and events service.”
Alongside all the benefits you might expect from a conference-savvy hotel brand, such as characterful meeting spaces, personal hosts for your event and smart tech support when you need it, Smart Space includes a fresh emphasis on healthy eating for delegates. Demand for healthier catering is one of many events industry trends we are seeing right now, and De Vere is rising to the occasion.
“We have been creating new roles to help enhance our offer for meeting and events clients, including the appointment of Wendy Martinson OBE, who joins us as group nutritionist,” notes Nicol. “Wendy has been assisting with the creation of new nutritionally balanced menus for guests, as well as the offering at the new Burr & Co. coffee outlets that now feature across the portfolio.”
For conference bookers, Martinson has developed an innovative new conference menu, which uses ingredients specially selected to help maintain delegates’ energy levels and concentration. In addition, nutritional values are listed alongside each menu item, so delegates know exactly what they’re eating. (Great if you’re on a diet – not so good if you’d simply rather not know just how many calories in that rather tempting dessert…)
Meetings and events at De Vere Wokefield Estate
One of the stars of the group’s meetings and events offering is De Vere Wokefield Estate in Berkshire. The property recently relaunched its dedicated conference building, Wokefield Place, to offer the latest audiovisual and WiFi technology and no less than 51 meeting spaces. The largest of these, the Maple Suite, can host up to 350 guests.
Wokefield Estate is also among the first De Vere properties to benefit from a brand-new Burr & Co. coffee outlet. This relaxed spot will offer an alternative to the usual breakout spaces, where hotel guests and visitors can chat informally over a cuppa and a slice of homemade cake.
The new-look properties are already attracting plaudits from guests, reports Nicol: “We’re delighted that the rebrand of De Vere has been so well received by both existing and new customers.”
What’s next for De Vere?
The brand will be putting the finishing touches to the revitalised De Vere Wokefield Estate in early 2018, along with similar improvements at its De Vere Beaumont Estate, also in Berkshire.
With the rest of its refurbishment programme due to be completed in 2018, Nicol confirms that investment in the portfolio will continue: “We never rest on our laurels, and are always looking at ways to innovate,” she smiles. “We look forward to making more announcements in the coming months, so it really is a case of ‘watch this space’.”
It might be time to think about heading to the country and pulling on those wellies.