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Grove of Narberth - Hoteliers' Voice S4E1 with Karen Weisheit: Leadership, recruitment and retention at an independent hotel

Updated: Mar 14

In this episode of Season 4 Hoteliers' Voice, we speak with Karen Weisheit, Hotel Manager at the Grove of Narberth in Wales, with 25 bedrooms. Spotted as one of Boutique Hotelier's women in hospitality 2023 Karen shares her career ladder so far and what makes her tick. We look at the challenges in recruitment and retention as she shares some of the initiatives they employ at the property as we discuss cross-departmental training and a four-day week in hospitality. 

Karen also shares:

  • 2024 Market outlook

  • Challenges for this year

  • Changes in booking patterns and event business

  • How the industry can be a more attractive place to work

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Programme Notes

This episode has been automatically transcribed by AI, please excuse any typos or grammatical errors

0:00:22 - Ryan Haynes

Hello and welcome to season four of Hotelier's Voice, and we're going to be speaking to Karen Weisheit, the hotel manager of Grove of Narberth in Wales, which has 25 bedrooms. We're going to be exploring how the market is currently performing the management of staffing, crisis events business and how she's looking at investing in the hotel property. Let's hear from Karen.

0:00:53 - Ryan Haynes

Hello Karen. Thank you so much for joining us today for Hoteliers' Voice season 4. So how is the market currently performing for you in 2024?

0:01:01 - Karen Weisheit

Hello. Yeah, thank you for inviting me. Yeah, so for us, 2024 is looking to be an interesting year. At the moment we are seeing a substantial rate, a growth in rate compared to 2023, and kind of coming out of the back end of the COVID years. Now we're really seeing that business is kind of going back to normal a little bit in terms of seasonality for a well-shortened like ours, and at the moment our rate is very good for this year and we're just hoping that we can maintain that for the year to come. We remain kind of optimistic, but we're under no illusion that it might be a bit of a tricky year. So we're just kind of working very hard and on being proactive for the year ahead and making sure that we can really maintain that.

0:01:58 - Ryan Haynes

I mean, it's been a fascinating few years, just in a way, that rates been behaving really and, as you say, you're expecting this rate to be increasing throughout the course of 2024. In part, I guess you need to make sure that rate increases because of inflationary costs at the same time. How much more is that really at the forefront of your minds as you look at rates going through this year?

0:02:23 - Karen Weisheit

It is. But we're also kind of looking at making sure that what we have currently on the books in terms of the rate that we have quite ahead, that we can maintain. That is very important to us, especially the way that bookings have been behaving A lot of more last minute business, so it's kind of quite tricky to predict and forecast. So we really need to make sure that what we've currently got on there we can keep. So we're hoping there's a few different things that might affect us in terms of that. For this year. We have got quite good overseas business on the books and in the last few years it was a bit tricky because the Americans weren't quite confident yet to travel. But it's looking quite positive for this year. But things like the Warner Middle East that can affect us. So we're really hoping that that doesn't affect things too much and that we can keep that business that we've got on the books already.

0:03:30 - Ryan Haynes

I mean it's been interesting, particularly around booking patterns, because I think last year was really the first proper year after a couple of years. This year we're starting to embed again, but some hoteliers are particularly noting that things are very different to the past. You referenced the fact that you're getting back into some seasonality there in Wales. Are there any two or three things that you're noticing is particularly different for 2024? Grand, say, pre-pandemic or your typical patterns you expect to see?

0:04:00 - Karen Weisheit

Yeah, I think I guess especially the lead time for bookings has changed and the last minute business in the last year and it's looking similar for this year People are a little bit worried to commit almost in booking. Unless they really are sure that they can travel, they don't book anything. We've seen that people are more interested in actually booking our rates that have got more flexible cancellation terms rather than maybe the offers that have got the non-refundable cancellation terms with them. That's been actually quite interesting to watch.

Yeah, it's just tricky in terms of just staffing because you never quite know what you're going to deal with. Last year especially, it was tricky for us no-transcript kind of the staff on the books for, like you know, the COVID levels after COVID years. You know we were so busy and just constantly running around, you know, and we we were hoping for that business to happen the same last year and it just didn't pull through like that. So it was just a bit more for normal Year again with some of the seasonality over winter. So we're definitely going better prepared into this year and just making sure that we're on our front foot.

0:05:25 - Ryan Haynes

Now let's talk a bit more about the staffing side of things, because it's an it's a challenge across the industry and you're there in rural Wales and I guess staffing in the first hand, that are being able to have a pool of people that you can pull from, must be a slight challenge there. But I mean, how do you effectively manage staffing and that challenge at the Grove of Narberth?

0:05:48 - Karen Weisheit

Yeah, so over the last, well, in 2022, we Changed the team to a four-day working week and that has made a massive impact for us in terms of our recruitment and also Maintaining the staff that we have got here, because we are enabling people to have a work-life balance. So that has been a big thing for us. We're trying to think outside the box a little bit and just, you know, hospitality is a brilliant profession to work in and we want to showcase that. We are doing a lot of cross-training across departments just to help us in terms of flexibility. So if the covers do pick up, we can.

You know, most of our reception team are trained on in the restaurant. Now I'm the hotel manager, I'm in the restaurant most days, so we're just a very flexible team that will support where needed so that we can kind of react to that flexing bookings. And then we've introduced milestone rewards, I think last year, where our team members for kind of, you know, the longer they stay, they get different awards, like a dinner in the restaurant or an overnight stay, and that kind of really has helped us as well and the staff, you know, feel rewarded for staying longer. And then, just in general, as a company, we really invest on our people. We put them through courses, working closely with the colleges as well and just kind of really trying to inspire the next generation of To come through and into the industry.

0:07:35 - Ryan Haynes

I think that's really important because yeah, I mean, let me step onto that. I mean that's particularly interesting how you're working with the local colleges or universities. Tell us about that relationship, that partnership there. How do you work with them, just so that we can give some ideas to other listeners out there.

0:07:54 - Karen Weisheit

Mm-hmm. So what we do? We go to their careers fairs and talk to the students on site really Douglas Baylor, shower head chef, he goes in a college and sometimes cooks with them and we invite them to the hotel as well, first of all for show rounds, but then we also have placements here at the hotel and just really show them, inspired them, how brilliant our Profession is and what brilliant industry you know, just in terms of Showcasing them what's possible and what's so special about it.

0:08:34 - Ryan Haynes

Excellent. Thank you very much. That's a wonderful initiative and certainly we're seeing that happen a lot more and and certainly investment as well by some businesses in Apprenticeships. And obviously, if you're bringing people in so early, I just say that they get to see the opportunities of a career and we'll be looking at talking to you about your career in just a moment, but a bit more about the hotel there I'm. You know you do a lot of events business. How is that looking? And then how has that changed in the last few years?

0:09:04 - Karen Weisheit

So since the corvettes years we get a lot more inquiries about smaller weddings, because people are kind of shy away from the big events and are looking more for the sort of for the 20 30 people kind of weddings, just a bit more intimate. But for us as a small hotel this works really well because we can run our normal business alongside it and that's worked really well. And then we've seen kind of a big increase in terms of bookings for events like we do. We offer reef making and flower arranging, garden tours. People want to learn new skills and be a bit more hands-on. So we've really upped the amount of events like that kind of thing that we're doing this year and, yeah, it's worked really well. So we're just kind of going with the flow, adapting and trying to be ahead of the game where we can.

0:10:02 - Ryan Haynes

Interesting Sounds like. Does that mean you're involving the local community that much more, especially if you're holding some of these like day events?

0:10:09 - Karen Weisheit

Yeah, absolutely. We've got a lot of regulars that come to the flower tours, the reef making we're going to do an autumn reef making one this year as well, and not just the Christmas one, just because we've seen such high demand and there's a lot of regulars that keep coming back but also locals, which is really nice and it just engages them a bit more with us and our property in the gardens and just to see it throughout the year. And we are doing a course called Gardening for Beginners this year Just for people to come in and learn, see the garden, engage with what we've got here. We've got such beautiful gardens and grounds that we really want to share and engage with the community.

0:10:54 - Ryan Haynes

That's a great way of being able to market exactly what you have, isn't it? So that sounds wonderful Talking about, you know, sort of operations and managing a hotel. I mean, one of the things that we've particularly seen over the last few years is this necessity to invest in technology, the digitalization, the guest journey and how they're expecting sort of digital services or digital bookings and reservations and all that Like. What investments and developments have you been making at the Grove of Narberth?

0:11:28 - Karen Weisheit

So for us, we've made a big investment into our bedrooms Since literally last year. Now our hotel full hotel has been refurbished. All of our bedrooms are up to the same standard. We built a housekeeping facility building so that our housekeepers just have got more space. We're very old building that was never really originally built to be a hotel. It was a family home, so storage and that kind of infrastructure is always. We're always looking for more storage and things like that. So that was really key for our housekeeping team to be able to work more efficiently.

We have joined an initiative called Hotel for Trees. So that is kind of on the sustainability side from us. They planned a tree for every guest. That kind of skips a service of their room. So for us that means we save on the towel replacement and things a lot and we're doing something good for the environment and we basically pay for those trees to be planted. It's a great initiative. It's really worked well for us and the guests love it. Then we've built a new composting base literally just over the last three months. We're kind of just trying to future prove our property in terms of sustainability and keeping on reducing our waste. So we're just kind of trying and challenge our thinking almost constantly to keep evolving. We're very clean business, but there's always more we can do. So we really I personally challenge our HODs and every department, every team member to see if they can find solutions of why we're doing it this way. If we do that, then we can save paper on this front and just kind of engaging them all in that project, because it's almost never ending.

0:13:37 - Ryan Haynes

I can imagine, yeah, I spoke to the Lamington Group recently, particularly around the area of sustainability and what they were doing and how they work with their suppliers. Where's your considerations? Have to go there, because it's difficult, isn't it, I guess, to find the suppliers that match your sustainability goals and to make sure it's all in keeping with what you want to say as a brand. What has been your approach there?

0:14:07 - Karen Weisheit

Yeah, so we try whatever possible to build a relationship with the brand or the company and make sure that they do align with our values. We work with a Welsh company called Goodwash who produce all of our sort of amenity products in the rooms and they're a non-profit organization. Every order products are vegan and cruelty free and Mandy the owner she comes and sees us, she knows the hotel, she knows us and we're always looking at ways, together with her, to find solutions for things. That kind of partnership is so valuable and we benefit from each other and we have the same values. That's really important. And we're ever challenging our supply chain I think I'll speak on the agenda for the next couple of years and really understanding where all of our products come from, because, as you can imagine, in a hotel there's so many products that we work with and kind of keep on challenging the suppliers and also their suppliers when do our products come from and just questioning that and not just accepting it.

0:15:21 - Ryan Haynes

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0:15:50 - Ryan Haynes

Now you've really carved a career for yourself in the hospitality industry and I know it was coming up to two years in which you were promoted to hotel manager there at the Grove of Narberth. So what really got you into hospitality in the first place?

0:16:06 - Karen Weisheit

So I grew up in Germany and I was weight-dressing as a teenager and just absolutely loved it. I've always loved looking after people. I've got great care for what I do and then in 2018 I went to Austria. I did an apprenticeship in a hotel there. I came to the UK 12 years ago to learn English and just never left.

I fell in love with Country House Hotels and I met my fiancé as well and worked in Country House Hotels across the UK and it just kind of found my happy place because it gives you time to spend with the guests. I joined Sarah and the Grove seven years ago now and I absolutely loved the company that we work for now and everything kind of that it stands for. So they also try and do things a little bit differently. We just really found our home in Pembrokeshire and yeah, no, I think it's just, you know, I carried on doing what I loved and it sounds cheesy, but it's not a job for me, it's a lifestyle, and if you don't inherently have that in you, like just love for looking after people, then it can be quite hard, but because I enjoy it so much, it just gives me great joy.

0:17:37 - Ryan Haynes

I mean, did you envisage yourself as a leader or did it just happen for you?

0:17:43 - Karen Weisheit

It did kind of just happen. I guess I've always had a very strong work ethic and I take big care and pride in everything I do. I love teaching people and it gives me so much joy to see them develop, and also myself. So I just kind of always keep challenging my thinking and trying to improve myself. And, yeah, just try and keep learning at every opportunity that I can.

0:18:15 - Ryan Haynes

So really that would be the advice you give to many people who have been looking at entering a career in hospitality.

0:18:20 - Karen Weisheit

Yeah, and what I would say is kind of be patient, find a company that fits your values and beliefs and put yourself out there, kind of. You know what I've always done. I've taken part in a lot of competitions, challenged myself. You know it's not always easy, but it just gives you such a chance to grow and challenge yourself and learn. And the other thing I would say is that loyalty will bring you far. You know, I've been with the company here for nearly seven years and every year there's something else that I can learn and it pushed me. It's yeah, it just was really the right kind of company for me to join, because they really just aligned with my values in terms of to care that they show for their people.

0:19:16 - Ryan Haynes

That's excellent. I mean I was going to ask you you know what the industry could potentially be doing to make it more of an attractive place to work, and you started off our interview really talking about sort of the benefits and the way you attract staff. But that's obviously Grove of Narberth and you have a little bit more control over that because it is an independent, privately run owned hotel. So you know, what would you say to the wider industry about what they need to be thinking about to get more people coming into the hospitality sector?

0:19:49 - Karen Weisheit

So a few things I would say is just look after your people. If you care for them, they will care for your business and your guests, and that is something we see day in, day out. Invest in the next generation and, you know, the generations that are coming after us now, like Gen C and Shen Alpha, we've got very different priorities and we need to adapt to that and see how we can kind of challenge our inherited mindsets and think outside the box. Just because I've learned to do something a certain way doesn't mean that it's going to work for the generation after me. So I think that is, you know, just kind of challenging that mindset. And one big thing for me is lead by example, for very important for us is the work-life balance, and that is, exactly for those generations coming after us, so important, and I try and lead by example on that front.

It's not always easy because you know hospitality is what it is, but if I don't challenge myself and that thinking, I can't change it for the people coming after me. Some sometimes feel guilty about working four days a week, but I always say that to my manager. You know I need to get over my own guilt of that to make it easier for the people coming after me. And yeah, just support and teach your staff, because that is, honestly, the greatest joy, and they will give you the loyalty back which I think you know. That is very important for us to keep hold of the right people.

0:21:33 - Ryan Haynes

Wonderful positive note to end on, Karen. Thank you ever so much for joining me today and talking about your career, the hotel and what's happening in the market right now.

0:21:43 - Karen Weisheit

Okay, thank you so much for having me.

0:21:46 - Ryan Haynes

So that was Karen Weisheit, the hotel manager at Grove of Narberth, talking to us as part of season four of Hotelier's Voice. Don't forget to check out the rest of the seasons of Hotelier's Voice on and the latest episodes coming to you through LinkedIn or on your podcast channel. Don't forget, you can also leave a review and we'd love to hear from you and hear what you have to say. And if you'd like to be part of our panel groups or feature on Travel Market Life, please get in contact with us.

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