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  • Writer's pictureRyan Haynes

Hoteliers' Voice S3E6 - How Foxhills evolves to remain relevant

Tej Walia, Managing Director, The Foxhills Collection joins us for Hoteliers' Voice season 3 to give us a rundown of the investments the hotel has made through the last year and how it defines needs from infrastructure to guest services to digital development.

The Foxhills Collection is an independently-owned collection of golf clubs and resorts in Surrey delivered by a talented team of 300 led by the Hayton family. It’s a 400-acre Surrey estate - Foxhills is an award-winning hotel and country club with three golf courses, spa, family-friendly facilities, five swimming pools and three restaurants, while Farleigh is a golf club with 27-hole courses. In conversation with Tej, we look at;

  • Assess and identify where you need to make the investments

  • Role of digital solutions

  • Recruitment and retention

  • PR to build business


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Programme Notes


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


Ryan Haynes:

And welcome, To Travel. Market Life. I'm your host, Ryan Haynes and this is part of series three for Hoteliers’ Voice, where we speak to Hoteliers about the investments and developments that they've been making in their brand and portfolio today. How Foxhills evolves to remain relevant. Joining me will be Tej Walia, Managing Director of the Foxhills Collection. The Foxhills Collection is an independently owned Collection of golf clubs and resorts in Surrey in the UK, delivered by a talented team of 300 led by the Hayton family. It's a 400-acre Surrey estate. Foxhills is an award-winning hotel and country club with three golf courses, spa, family-friendly facilities, five swimming pools, and three restaurants.


Ryan Haynes:

While Farleigh is a golf club with a 27-hole course. In. our conversation today, we are going be looking at how to Assess and identify where to make the right investments, the Role of digital solutions, Recruitment and retention, and the role of PR in building business.


Ryan Haynes:

So, on the line now is Taj. Thank you very much for joining us. Now, remaining relevant is incredibly important for luxury hotels and with changing consumer demand and expectations, the Hospitality industry has got to keep on top of the guest expectations. Dave, can you tell us what initiatives and new developments you've introduced at the Foxhills in recent years?


Tej Walia:

Sure. First of all, Ryan, thank you for having me this lovely Friday, sunny morning. Thank you very much. I think from Fox's point of view, and if you can, it is for any establishment to be, to be relevant, you have to have a continuous improvement and development plan for two reasons. So that you keep on, refresh, and keep your property fresh for your customers, whether it will be in the form of visitors or members. And also, to keep on adding Annu things so that you, for especially your regular customers, which in our case of the member, you have something more to give from our point of view.



Tej Walia:

So far, I have been at Foxhills for just under five years. We so far have invested just under 17 million, whether it's in the form of refurbishment or whether it is in the form of a new facility in the refurbishment. We have done some bedrooms, we have done the golf courses, we have done refurbing, the whole restaurant. Apart from the fact that we have car parks and things like that we have kept on doing more, most importantly a flagship 1700 square meter pavilion, which is a family-friendly facility with an indoor-outdoor swimming pool, spinning studio, dedicated spinning studio, multipurpose studio box, studio games, room, a restaurant, I can go on, but that's what it is.


Tej Walia:

Now a future plan is to, is e equally exciting. We have plans to invest in by building refurbishing new bedrooms and building an additional 25 to 30 bedrooms which we have planning permission for the state-of-the-art paddle tennis and pickleball coats, which will be floodlit to suit all the, and also your future. They will be covered. We have recently refurbished space in our garden, which was used as an art studio for our art classes and a reading club and also an extension of the car park.


Tej Walia:

Again, the extension of our restaurant. Most importantly actually, which I'll say is we're investing currently in the staff engagement platform. The conversation is going on and I know there are a couple of questions that will be relevant because as of right now some of our heads are in a meeting room to discuss what they need, what we should have from the staff engagement platform, which is to engage the staff as well as it can do. Their admins both actually they are there to do the needs analysis and also staff launch. Let's not forget in the 21st century, we have to be keeping up with the online digit.


Tej Walia:

So, we are in the process right now of keeping up with the trend of implementation of GA four for our website, which will help us to track our customer journey online. So yeah, these are just a bit some of what we have done and what we have future plans for and I'm sure amongst everything there will be more things there, which I've just highlighted only the some of the key aspects of the refurbishment to come.


Ryan Haynes:

I mean it's all-encompassing. I mean talk about covering so many areas of a business and since you offer so many different services and facilities as a luxury hotel with a golf course thrown on top and all those swimming pools, obviously that's a lot to keep track of now, I mean because it's so vast, one of the things that you, as you mentioned you've introduced is the family facility now to start targeting and catering to that segment, but then also the upgrading of some of your other existing aspects within the property. How do you Assess and identify where to make the investments and build that timeline out?


Ryan Haynes:

As you say, this seems to be a five or six-year plan that you've been executing already. So how do you then look at, okay, what are we going to do next year and then identify sort of those priorities?


Tej Walia:

Actually, to be honest, Ryan if you're running a resort with the empowered and switched on managers, nothing should be a surprise for you. That is the first rule of thumb. Your hands should be on the pulse anyway, so you should know which areas are there. That's a different issue sometimes depending on the season. And yes, let's not forget we, it's a business depending upon the money, cashflow constraints what it is and the priorities you choose to lose a certain time. On the other hand, we do have, we have new members coming in, so we do a new members survey, and induction survey to Assess how their first 30 days have been with the club.


Tej Walia:

So, for that, we need to understand from them when they have joined it, what we can do better, and what we need to improve upon. And also having over 5,000 members sometimes through the challenges, which you highlighted is not one shoe size fits all. So actually we need to still get our understanding from the new members, from the old members in terms of surveys to do it from visitors who perhaps frequent as our members, but they still come to use our golf facilities, restaurant facilities bedroom or for function or ME facilities to what we can improve upon and most and above all is the management opening their eyes and ears to on the daily walk around to then marry what people are saying against what you're observing.


Tej Walia:

And from that basis, surveys are actually in one way or the other, they're already rubber-stamping what you should already know if you and your managers are keeping their eyes and ears open. Thank


Ryan Haynes:

You. I mean technology as we know is enabling hoteliers to work a lot smarter and deliver those new experiences to guests. Where are you seeing within the Foxhills, the Role of digital solutions for your overall service and experience delivery today?


Tej Walia:

Sure. Right. I have to be honest; we have at Foxhills, we have room to improve in this sector. I'm not going to deny because, and let's, and I'm sure Ryan, you know, technology moves on year on year. So actually, being in a standalone property that's makes it slightly harder for us to catch up. So, we have to catch up. I'm not going to deny that I'm being totally upfront and honest there. However, saying we do have a lot to offer, which is good, which is a USP, a selling point, but it's actually where it comes in the technology, it becomes challenging how we have one technology, one platform which can, which can do justice to golf, tennis, you know, swimming lessons, swimming classes, yoga going on various things.


Tej Walia:

IT and plus f and b bedrooms, m and e, you know, it is a challenge. But we do have four years back we invested in the new PMS system for the resort. Now it enables our visitors and members to journey, from the moment they log in to the moment they, what their spending habits are, which classes do go to, what time they come because they have to use the card, what time come and what all various classes do. Attendance and all, it helps us to make informed decisions if we want to add on more facilities, more classes or we have to remove certain kinds of classes or certain kinds of you know, facilities helped us to make an informed decision.


Tej Walia:

So, for us, where we have just 5,000 members to start and visitors Davis says, technology is key and the platform right now acts as a CRM as well as to capture the data. So that is the key, but we can do much better and we are continuously learning and learning from our peers in the industry with their best practices, with what is in the market and everything. So, we are learning from that.


Ryan Haynes:

I mean with the amount of money that you've already invested and the developments you've made over the last five years, it's of no surprise that you know, you have to really have that type of rope balance between, you know, the investment in the actual physical infrastructure as well as the digital side. But then in addition, what is quite remarkable for a sort of rural property is that you have a 300-strong team in a remote location delivering over 200 activities, some of which you've already mentioned to guests every single week. So how do you manage Recruitment and retention so well and how have you had to adapt this in recent years, particularly in light of the industry suffering from staff shortages?


Tej Walia:

Yes. Well to be true, be told Ryan, we are not, we are also in the same boat, that the other industries are. So, I share their pain and I sympathize with them and empathize as well because I'm also in the same, we are a family-run resort. The resort has been part of our family for four, same family for 40 years. We are celebrating 40 years in September this year. Foxhills being in the family, a hidden family for 40 years. So that's a USP in itself. There are not that many resorts of this size which are freehold, and which are in, which are still owned and run by a family without any third party or second party, any minor shareholding or anything like that.


Tej Walia:

So that is, that gives us a good story that we are a family. Okay, that was good. Yes, it is. We are in a rural there. We are not connected to any major transportation system. So that throws another challenge we, I utilize. So we have got one simple, we recruited our marketing manager last summer and when we were talking to the marketing manager in terms of Recruitment when we were interviewing the conversation was not only about how we market Foxhills to a customer and that conversation was also equally weighed on the fact that how we can portray foxes and how we can market foxes to our potential stuff and I think that is the change of mentality which we have done.


Tej Walia:

We are, we are using marketing tool, which in the past perhaps 10 years back or something like that, marketing was purely, solely how you can get the customers. PR was purely how you can get the customer now both applies equally to our staff because we have to make Fox desirable not only for customers to come and spend here, but also for our potential staff members to come and perhaps start their career here or or spend some fruitful years of their career development with us. We are not only looking for LinkedIn, which used to be the key tool to recruit Instagram majority, but the majority of our staff now are also 21 Gen Zs and Gen X kind of a thing.


Tej Walia:

You can say to them they are Instagram, they are, and they are very vocal which is a good thing. They will hold the company accountable. They are very vocal with their thoughts, which is good, also it keeps us on our toes. We challenge our ideas; they help us to devise our ideas. How can we recruit fellow staff members and team members, when we pay just above minimum wage? But what we do is we try, because at the end of the week can never be perfect. We are still learning from it, and we still want to do better in how we can improve the facilities and the benefits of the team members.


Tej Walia:

So, we have got 17, 18 departments on the property and the staff members have got the freedom that if they want, they can move kind from one department to the other. We do not hold against them. We want people, the basic principle is supervisors should be promoted from within. If we do not have, if we cannot promote supervisors from within, we are doing something wrong During troubling times economic, when we had the coming out of the covid, we still key was we maintained our training manager where people were cutting down the staff. We made sure the training manager's position was still there because that was key.


Tej Walia:

And we have got a development plan, continuous development plan for the key performance in all the departments, whether they want to pro progress in their department or different department. We treat our staff team as a member. So, when you join as a contracted staff member or a casual after completing your probation, you get a membership card with your photograph, which exactly looks exactly the same as a paying member. Okay. So there, there are no restrictions for you, for you using the facilities, whether apart from golf there are certain key times and all that, but otherwise, there are not even a single, you can use any classes, you can use anything which human, and we actually, we actually shout about it, our members that you might find a server serving a coffee to you in the morning, but in the evening you're going to a yoga session and that same server will be a mat next year and doing a yoga session or exercise.


Tej Walia:

We take pride in saying that some of the permanent staff, after a certain period of their service, they can, their family members, their family members can become members.


Ryan Haynes:

One of the tools that you said that you use as well within your team is WhatsApp. And that's an important tool for communicating.


Tej Walia:

It is the WhatsApp reasons. One is, or in two is that is, let's be honest, it's most economical. We can get fancy, you know, platforms and all that kind of thing. But at the end of the day, let's not forget, let's not shy away from the fact that we are running a business. So, we have to look at what is more impactful for what we are. So it is, so we use WhatsApp not only for staff but as well as from members. We have got communities within the community. So, we have got like for example, David Tennis Club, we have got babies and parents club.


Ryan Haynes:

Now. I mean you mentioned the importance of marketing as well and you, you, you touched on PR. Now this is an area that you specifically used as a channel to build your business. Can you tell me as a hotel brand and a luxury resort offering all these facilities, what value you see in this approach versus standard traditional marketing?


Tej Walia:

As you mentioned Ryan in my prep, there is no right or wrong answer in this one, which is, so this is my interpretation, whereas marketing is called for action. PR is not a call for action. It is building your brand for perhaps when you do send a call for action marketing ad or something like that. People do pay attention to it. Now PR is, in my opinion, very important because otherwise we can spend as much money as we want. But if people don't know what's happening, then it is then it becomes a fruitless or unfruitful exercise.


Tej Walia:

So, PR is for me is the most important from a brand recognition point of view. And without brand awareness, as I said, there's no point in spending. We have lots and lots and lots of stories to tell nowadays we are PR is more important to subtly put what we are good at, and what we are doing.


Ryan Haynes:

Thank you. And then finally, I mean you working with obviously a lot of different partners and suppliers to bring about some of these changes within the property. Have the technology make developments across the portfolio. What's your procurement method and how do you select your suppliers and technology vendors to work with?


Tej Walia:

Actually, the first is most important is what are we looking for. So right now, as I said initially when some of our HODs are sitting in a meeting room with the key departments, HR and all, we are in the process of looking for Annu. I will use that as an example. That's a perfect example happening right now we need an Annu staff engagement platform as well as, you know, an attendance and HR platform. So key HODs who have a large team and complex team. They're in a room right now with certain stakeholders from the business to asset to, to come up with a needs analysis. What do we need from that? What are our constraints what will make life easy for us and what will be wish ideal World Water, we can go and that's kind of a thing.


Tej Walia:

Then we go out to our vendors and say that these are the things which we are, are you happy to work with the independent VR? So, we need somebody who is able to understand us as a business and what is there in the market to patch it up and their vision and their business, does it align with our values. And if there does, they are the ones.


Ryan Haynes:

But TAs, thank you ever so much indeed for being available today and sharing your story with Hoteliers’ Voice. Congratulations. It sounds like you've had a phenomenally busy few years and you've got a lot more plans lined up. Thank you again for sharing them with us.


Tej Walia:

Absolutely. So, thank you for having me. Thank you.


Ryan Haynes:

Thank you very much. That was Tej Walia, the Managing Director at the Foxhills Collection, looking at how to evolve and remain relevant. Check out the rest of our episodes as part of the Hoteliers’ Voice series season three, and you'll be able to hear from so many other hotels, from independents through to larger boutique properties and brands. I'm your host, Ryan Haynes, ciao for now.

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