Meet the General Manager of the Luxury Golf & Spa Resort Hotel – Fairmont St Andrews
Written by John Keating, General Manager of Fairmont St Andrews
Originally from Ireland, and with over 30 years’ experience in hospitality management which includes resorts, city hotels, private member city and golf clubs, all at luxury level, John Keating has had the privilege of experiencing amazing cross cultural exposures through employment periods in Russia, China, Indonesia, Australia, Ireland and the UK.
fter hotel apprenticeships in Dublin and Geneva, I completed a degree in Ealing College while working as the restaurant manager of the Ritz Hotel London at the tender age of 25. He took up his position at Fairmont St Andrews in June 2015 and has just overseen a multi-million pound refurbishment program and marketing re-position which was completed in May 2017.
About Scotland & St Andrews
St Andrews is world renowned for its golf, but the destination has so much more on offer for businesses and guests to experience. Being within half an hour drive of Dundee airport and 90 minutes from Edinburgh is particularly appealing for corporate visitors, while our coastal location, among 520 acres, makes us extremely popular for incentive bookers and executive travellers looking for privacy during their stay.
St Andrews is known by people for many different reasons but I’m especially keen to develop our reputation for conference and incentives, as well as our gastronomic evolution. More now than ever venue’s need to offer meaningful experiences which incorporate living space design, smart technology and local experiences to the more ‘on demand’ generation that are the future.
Scotland is also a growing hub for tech and design, but we’re also seeing investment in nearby Dundee, where the impressive V&A is set to transform the local and wider area for cultural and business events, and the new Queensferry Crossing has put Scotland on the map for its pioneering engineering.
Renovations and recent launches
When I first came to Scotland, I was taken aback by the welcome, generosity and hospitality; it was one of the many reasons I wanted to come back and work in Scotland, and Fairmont St Andrews offered an amazing opportunity, too good to turn down.
I wanted to bring some pride back to this part of Scotland, so we planned a multi-million pound renovation programme that has since transformed the hotel’s interiors into a vibrant and modern living and working space. The idea behind the refurbishments was to highlight the depth of innovation across the country, in particular the local region, as well as celebrating our history and heritage in St Andrews.
2017 is the year of ‘history, heritage and archaeology’ across Scotland – as a business, we’ve always looked at ways to contribute and create a positive opinion of the Fife region; from launching immersive dining experiences with local producers to introducing artisan suppliers throughout the resort.
The overhaul of the hotel interiors reflect the heritage and natural beauty of St Andrews and strengthen the connection between the design and surrounding fishing villages. The newly designed interior layout has created imposing features with the spaces, while the use of artisan materials have created inviting areas for guests to navigate and explore.
For an area as naturally diverse as Fife, cuisine is another huge growth area. Guests want to experience something original and unique from their surroundings and our chefs are passionate to utilise the local larder of fresh produce on our doorstep – this is something of a transition for the hospitality and events industry.
I’m a strong supporter of the region’s culinary expertise and our recent gastronomic launches including The Savoy Afternoon Tea, a summer season of International Jazz Sunday Brunch and re-launching our signature restaurant, St Andrews Bar & Grill is shining a spotlight on the diversity of food and drink native to us in east Scotland.
We have a strong community ethos, we’re one of the largest employers in Fife contributing 9% of the local workforce; of our 332 staff employed, 75% come from Scotland and the UK, and over 3% are international.
Importance/ growth of sustainability in hospitality
As a five-star resort, we are in a very fortunate position to be able to provide luxurious experiences to guests, but we’re also aware of developing and supporting green tourism.
Our commitment to sustaining the hospitality industry has seen us collaborate with the Clean the World initiative, designed to encourage colleagues and guests to help with the preservation of the hotel and those less fortunate by recycling all discarded hygiene items from bathrooms.
Throughout my career I’ve been delivering longstanding initiatives. In a bid to become more sustainable, last year we became one of the first venues in Scotland to invest in TESLA charging points for car owners to re-charge their cars. Our staff are also heavily committed to community tourism initiatives which include beach cleaning and maintenance of the Fife Coastal Path.
Working to make conferencing and corporate events sustainable
In response to the growing demand from guests and clients to make their events more sustainable we have embedded new management systems to control room temperature, installed water saving devices, along with combined heat and power units to produce electricity and heating, while LED lighting has been fitted in public areas and conference suites to save energy.
Businesses are often put off setting green targets due to the financial implications of replacing or updating their systems; even if we fractionally reduce waste and energy outputs across all areas of our respective businesses this would add up and make a fairly significant difference.
Corporate offer at Fairmont St Andrews
There has definitely been a marked change in the guest expectation, driven in particular by the popularity of Airbnb. What was primarily a top end of the market service and product industry, guests are now looking for an “Emotional Experience” when staying at a luxury property. For any hotel service is pivotal and that begins from the moment someone books their event or stay. The customer journey is much more than the hours spent in the venue and that is where personal and online engagement is so important.
To meet these challenges, we’re constantly evolving and investing in our guest services, from F&B to smart technology and sustainability. Guests are keen to see innovation without losing that sense of identity, it’s a fine balancing act.
We work in a very competitive and saturated market with trends emerging and fading all the time, we have to be quick to react and understand the changing generational audience who make up our workforce and guests. We need to understand different ways to entice and interact with them to create meaningful experiences.
Getting to know your guests likes and dislikes allows you to pinpoint key attractions and upsell your services, be it an afternoon tea experience or a round of golf. We strive to provide bespoke five-star hospitality experiences, whether it’s the service or the provenance of food and drink served in the restaurants.
Everything is about instant access, hoteliers need to be on hand to deliver and react to guests’ needs. The communication between guest and hotel is just as much a part of the stay as the room and location, it is now a ‘relationship’ – our employees are local ambassadors and have an unrivalled knowledge of St Andrews and the Fife region to deliver meaningful experiences.