Abigail Tan-Giroud: CEO, St Giles Hotels Group

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Abigail Tan-Giroud is not your average hotelier, because apart from being born into a renowned hospitality family and having deep roots and passion for the industry, in her spare time you may find her flying a helicopter, playing the electric guitar, boxing at 6am, or doing some form of sport, riding a motorcycle, completing Tough Mudder, or most likely, eating. Her youth, energy, and adventurous nature are what drive the uniqueness of the brand and company culture, as she believes that passion and excitement has to live in everything that we do, especially our work. Passion has to be nurtured, and hospitality needs to be a way of life and not simply a job. As she would put it, passion for people, and her team are her passion.

Growing up in Penang, Malaysia, she gained exposure to the hotel and real estate industry at a very young age – her grandfather and his brother ran one of Malaysia’s real estate dynasties and her father is now the managing director of the publicly listed IGB Corporation, the parent company for St Giles, which owns nine hotels worldwide, and over 6000 rooms globally under separate brands. Abigail entered the family business during summer breaks from school as an apprentice and officially joined the St Giles team as Director of Corporate Affairs and Strategic Investments in 2009, involved with the purchase of two New York properties and assisting with negotiations and transition preparations. In 2014, she became St Giles Hotels’ Head of UK, Europe and North America.

Last weekend St Giles held an abseil down 15 floors of the hotel's facade to raise money for Centrepoint, the UK's leading charity for the homeless via their charitable foundation, Hotels with Heart. The abseil is part of the world's first bed, breakfast and abseil package and the Hotels with Heart initiative lies at the core of the St Giles culture to give individual hotels a soul, a face and heart.

How did you get into the industry?

My family has been in the hospitality industry for the best part of 30 years, and so one could say I began to experience various aspects of the industry from a very young age. The interest in the industry continued through adolescence and university. Following on from the completion of my Masters degree in the UK, I had the amazing opportunity to be the apprentice of the then COO of the St Giles Hotels in London, learning the ropes and A to Z of the business from him. And the rest is history – I was hooked.

Any emerging industry trends?

●    The rise of the socially and environmentally responsible guest – while the hotel industry have taken steps to be better environmental citizens, for e.g. the reduction of single use plastics and elimination of straws, we have also seen the rise of guests also requesting that they see a more environmentally friendly stay experience. Here at St Giles Hotels, we launched our #CitizenG initiative at the start of 2018, which supports our mission and promise to be more “green,” by making environmentally friendly decisions across our properties with the goal of eliminating single-use plastic and reducing water and energy use by 2020. We had an internal contest with staff presenting their ideas on where we can make better environmentally friendly decisions and savings. We are now working on implementing the winning team’s list of ideas at our largest hotel – St Giles London, which serves as our incubator -  and once we have finessed the programme, we aim to roll it out to our other properties by the end of the first quarter

●    Solo travel - While not emerging, solo travel continues its upward trend as a key travel segment, so much so that we have decided to extend our Go Solo, Go St Giles programme to cater for our solo travelling guests. For more about the programme, please click this link: GO SOLO GO ST GILES .

Any industry opportunities or challenges?

The beauty of this industry is that it evolves so rapidly that opportunities and challenges always appear, however, these moments make it ‘fun’ for us because it keeps the creative hat on, constantly working so we don’t become complacent and always thinking about how we can go further to enhance a guest experience. I think of opportunities and challenges as working hand in hand. All the while, focusing on putting the emphasis back on service and empowering staff to make in-the-moment decisions that can transform a guest’s experience that can last beyond check-out.

Keeping up with technology for example is a major discussion point in our industry. Years ago, it was IPTV or not? And now technology has moved on to where that is a secondary item when discussing technology in rooms.

We are launching our programme titled ‘Inspired Joy’ which is aimed at how we can inspire joy in both our hotel guests as well as our staff. A challenge and opportunity in this day and age is how can you keep your staff motivated, empowered, and excited, and how can we use that to also ensure the message and energy transfers over to the guest that creates a lasting impression. The challenge is always how can we make it better? How can we continue to go above and beyond and continue to define those limits to exceed guests expectations, using creativity to deliver on our promise of giving each guest a fulfilling and inspiring St Giles Experience.

Inspiration for the business idea, and your vision for the Business?

St Giles Hotels’ concept has always been about keeping things simple, efficient, and impactful. We are not in the business of creating something that tells the guest what to want, but more of understanding our guest needs after years of knowing them and understanding our demographics, and how we can enhance these needs to create expectations that exceed.

So in short, the desired future of the business is to continue to grow on our current model of centrally and strategically located hotels in key city center locations, providing our guests with the things that they value – great experience, great location, great service, and surprising them with quirky gifts and campaigns.

What's next for the Business in the near future?

·       Loyalty Programme - We are in the final stage of developing our loyalty programme to recognize and reward our guests for their loyalty with St Giles Hotels, which we hope to launch by Q2 of 2019. We have very loyal guests, many of whom are our unofficial ambassadors, recommending our hotels to friends and family. In research we noticed that 20% of our guests indicated that their decision to stay at St Giles was influenced by a personal recommendation. With our loyalty programme, we hope to recognize and reward these St Giles Ambassadors.

·       In Q4 of 2019 we will be opening our 9th hotel, The Boulevard SouthKey - A St Giles Hotel in Johor Bahru, on the strait between Singapore and Malaysia

·      In 2019 we will continue with the renovation of our central London property - St Giles London. The lobby and guest lounge renovations were completed in 2017 and the renovations plans now move to the guest rooms.

·       Hotels with Heart - One of our goals for 2019 is to grow Hotels with Heart foundation which was born out of a desire to breathe a deeper soul and meaning into The St Giles Hotels group and our team by being involved in charitable partnerships which can positively impact the lives of vulnerable youth.

Your key initiatives for the success of the Business?

In 2016 I spearheaded the re-launch of StGilesHotels.com unifying and enriching the group’s digital presence with a modern, sleek design that is easily navigable and mobile friendly. With the new website, we offered guests a seamless booking experience across the St Giles Hotels portfolio, allowing us to grow our direct bookings.

In Q4 of 2016, St Giles Hotels launched the ST GILES 360 VR Campaign, becoming the first hospitality brand to use guest-generated virtual reality content. A departure from the industry norm of utilizing VR to showcase the inside of their hotels, we instead choose to connect travelers with enriching travel experiences steps away from our global properties in London, New York, Kuala Lumpur, Manila, Penang and Sydney.

Your most difficult moment at the Business? (and what did you learn?)

At the moment, the most challenging moments for me have been when dealing with making redundancies and changes in senior staff. As a business culture, we believe that we should function as a family, and thus we develop close working relationships and build trust with colleagues. Having to let people go plays heavily on my spirit, but sometimes it has to be done for the business needs.

Ideal experience for a customer/client?

Staying at a St Giles Hotel enables one to be at the heart of the action in a city, as well as enjoy the ‘St Giles Experience’ of warm hospitality and a service determined by family values, and having a local friend.

How do you motivate others?

Everyone is different, we react differently to the same thing, positively or negatively. I believe in trying my best to get to know people on that level, so that I can then tailor my responses and questions that I feel would help make the discussion more effective. In terms of motivation, this includes listening more than talking, taking the lead, or even taking the backseat, and especially empowering people to achieve their goals and ambitions.

Career advice to those in your industry?

We are in a people business - Grow a thick skin, it’s not personal. Always try to listen effectively, be able to think from both sides of the table, and believe in yourself. Form and cherish good relationships. Never stop learning and never think that you are the smartest or most expert person in the room - it is amazing what you can learn from your team of any rank.