As London reawakens, we catch up with Sholto Smith, General Manager of the Great Scotland Yard Hotel, part of the Hyatt Unbound Collection. We speak to him about resilience, his love for London and the city’s comeback … as well as what he is most looking forward to when visitors (and guests) start to return to the greatest city on earth.
How are you feeling as London prepares to reopen? What has it been like to be a hospitality leader of a property right in the middle of the city, during the pandemic?
This past year has been incredibly difficult for hospitality, as we found ourselves at the epicentre of the Covid. We had just opened the doors of the Great Scotland Yard Hotel, only to have to close again, then reopen before another lockdown was called. We did manage to stay open during this last one, while many others had to shutter, even if it has been at a very limited capacity. We were pleased to be able to welcome essential business travellers and key workers, which enabled us to keep more of our staff working during what has been such a difficult and challenging time for everybody.
We are now thrilled to be officially re-opening on May 17th and we look forward to welcoming back Londoners and guests from further afield over the coming weeks and months to experience the hotel, our extraordinary food and beverage venues and warm hospitality. As we say here, “expect the unexpected!”
What can we all look forward to in London in the coming months?
There are some that say that London is “over” – I do not believe for one minute that’s true! In my mind, London is still the centre of the universe, it’ll take much more than a pandemic to get this city down. Just think of the history, and the people who have walked the same streets that we all walk on a daily basis. That’s something I always think about and it still fascinates me. As much as the city has become so modern and a go-to for so many things; I continually have those thoughts about what took place here so long ago and what’s now taking place! They saw and survived many things, and yet this great city continues to thrive. London and Londoners are rather resilient and I know we’ll find our stride once again.
As the saying goes, “when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life!” So true. I just adore this city.
What’s also to remember that after lockdown 1.0, London did reopen but our world-class arts scene; the likes of the Royal Opera House, The Coliseum, Theatreland and long-running musicals didn’t. That’s such a huge part of London and also what makes it such an amazing place to visit and to be … and it’s all going to rebound hard. I cannot wait to rekindle my show tune relationship with some famous and much-seen shows like The Phantom of the Opera; and also the actual opera!
What are your hot tips for the summer in Central London?
To enjoy the summer in the area around the hotel I would recommend; Somerset House where they will be hosting an open-air experience in their spectacular courtyard, featuring bold installations from acclaimed artists. It is a great place to spend a long, warm, summer evening.
As I’ve already indicated that I enjoy the shows, you won’t be surprised that I am excited about the West End returning. So I would definitely recommend going to the star-studded, Les Misérables – The Staged Concert.
At Great Scotland Yard Hotel we have over 150 pieces of art, most of which has been specially commissioned for the property by Sarah Percy-Davis of Hollandridge Group, who worked closely with our owners to collate an amazing collection, including an installation in the hotel lobby by Nicola Green and a collection of works which were purchased from Koestler Arts, a prison arts charity, plus much other incredible work. As we are great fans of art, we’re very excited for all the amazing galleries to finally being able to reopen their doors. I always ask people to check out the Royal Academy and there are fantastic exhibitions on show there this summer. Although the hottest ticket in town is Van Gogh Alive – a multi-sensory experience showcasing the work of the incredible artist.
What about hidden gems in London, further away from the hotel?
I just love it around Queen Anne’s Gate! I mean, wow, what a street and a step back in time! Also, The Wallace Collection on Manchester Square (the Sèvres porcelain collection alone is to die for).
Lincoln’s Inn Fields a particular favourite of mine, as are The Silver Vaults on Chancery Lane … quite literally an Aladdin’s cave of treasures. Then there are also some of the mews around Mayfair, Chelsea and Knightsbridge where one can always find incredible pubs, fabulous architecture and a village-like atmosphere. I love anywhere with a Georgian façade, really (although that’s not to say I do not like the modern skyline of the City of London … as I most certainly do).
I enjoy all of London, there is always something ready to become another favourite.
What have you got planned for the summer ahead?
I’m feeling rather positive and some warmth in the weather would also be most welcome! I don’t think I’ll get too much time to take a break this summer, but hopefully, I’ll be able to get out to the Cotswolds. I love the area around Burford – and there’s also Swinbrook and Bibury – what’s not to love about exploring a Cotswolds village? There’s so much charm and history too, not to mention some amazing pubs; all in the most idyllic settings and chocolate box architecture galore. I also have a love affair with South Devon around Kingsbridge, I have family there and hopefully will be able to go down and visit them.
But all only if I’m lucky enough … as there is a lot happening at the hotel as we return to more normal operations. I can’t wait to get my team back in action and implementing some creative ideas. Our food and beverage revamp is what I’m most excited about, starting with the launch of our Afternoon Tea which will be served in our “The Parlour” in a collaboration with Floris London, perfumers since 1730 and still family-owned right up until this day. We’ve also got some top-secret restaurant news coming, so do watch this space.
What’s your prognosis beyond summer? What does the future hold for hospitality in London?
It will certainly be a bumpy ride, but I think it is important that we as hoteliers instill confidence in the hospitality sector. From a pandemic perspective, I believe that some of the safest places to visit now are hotels. We were already an industry that paid so much attention to high levels of cleanliness and service and the pandemic has meant that we have stepped that up a notch or two and what was perhaps taken for granted in the past, now is something we can all promote as being standard. Our main focus is ensuring the ongoing health and safety of our guests and staff … and we have achieved GBAC Star accreditation for our policies and procedures to ensure the hotel is ultimately safe.
Now that London is reopening we must focus on promoting London as a safe destination to visit and showcasing the attractions and things to do that are perhaps less crowded, to change the perception of London in the eyes of visitors from near or far. The city is what you make of it and the London experience doesn’t always have to be “metropolitan.” For instance, it actually has great green spaces and interesting walks, many of which are just on Great Scotland Yard’s doorstep.
Sholto Smith is General Manager of Great Scotland Yard Hotel, one of London’s most historic and cherished buildings that holds more hidden stories than any other kind in London. For two centuries, Great Scotland Yard was home to the world’s oldest police force and has played host to poets, royals and madcaps. Now lovingly refurbished into a contemporary hotel, the history talks through the interior design and overall personality of the space, encouraging guests to stay curious. It’s a perfect blend of an experiential and luxurious stay.
Photography courtesy of Great Scotland Yard Hotel