Kew & A with Holiday Inn Taunton's new General Manager

Starting a Career in a Crisis

Robert Holmes started with Kew Green Hotels on 19th February 2020 as Holiday Inn Taunton’s General Manager. Almost immediately, COVID-19 took hold of the UK, we went into lock-down and only a handful of our hotels stayed open to support key workers. Just a normal day in the office, huh?

What was your onboarding like?

Originally it was going like clockwork, but where restrictions were being put in, things started to get moved around.. then they were cancelled… there are a lot of visits and meetings that just weren’t feasible. But, given the circumstances, my onboarding was brilliant.

I came from a much bigger franchise, and so when everything started kicking off, I worried about the level of support that would be available. This is where I was wrong to worry, not only is the support by the bucket-load, but it’s so much more personal than I’ve experienced before. Every day I receive at least one phone call from my manager, Michael Lyons, just to check-in with me on a personal level and make sure I’m doing ok.

There have been some incredibly difficult conversations to be had in this time; a couple of weeks ago I had to cancel a wedding just the evening before, as the bride was setting up. It was really hard for everyone and, at the end of the day, I had a phone call from the Managing Director of owned hotels, Neil Sewell, just to encourage and support me in how I had handled it.

There is also a WhatsApp group between General Managers which has been such a crutch over this trying time. No matter what time, day or night, I can pop a question on there and someone will get back to me. Michael will be responding late in the evenings just to makes sure we’re all ok. And it’s not just business-talk, there’s a lot that goes on there to keep our spirits high – it really shows what a team and family we all are. Speaking with friends in similar roles elsewhere, they don’t have anything like this as support.

How has it been leading a team through this?

We’ve been very honest with the team. That’s been the most important thing for us. And when we don’t know the answer to something, when it’s because the Government hasn’t answered it. As we’ve known if hotels will need to close, we have kept them in the loop – also utilising the tools HR quickly put together online to keep us on the same page.

It was clear early on that the choice had to be with our team members as to whether they work. This could have been a worry  but when so many volunteered, them choosing this has allowed them to feel part of the national support movement and has brought us so much closer.

How do you feel about being so new when COVID-19 hit?

I don’t feel new. It feels like the whole world has changed; just 3 weeks ago it was normal. It’s really given me the opportunity to bond with the team quickly – I’ve been able to get them on-side and we’ve done all of this together. If nothing else, this has brought out an incredible sense of community in everyone. There will always be little disagreements in working environments but, when the whole world starts imploding(!), everyone comes together and puts aside their differences.

How do you feel this has affected your experience and impression of KGH?

I don’t think I expected them to care so much. It’s surprised me how inclusive they are, how much they want to involve everybody. A lot of places have just closed their doors, but KGH wants to be there to support their community. It’s not about profit – we’re not actually making money right now. We’re offering a flat-rate of £35 a night to all key workers.

One of our neighbouring hotels closed, kicking 2 senior nurses out as soon as the lockdown news happened that Friday. If we weren’t open they would have had to go home, 5 hours away, and the NHS would have been 2 more nurses short.

What has been your favourite moment so far?

The thanks we’ve had from the guests recently about everything we’ve done for them. Also the way the team has just stepped-up with no question.