Talking to...Alan Whiteley

Champneys’ new group ops director tells Eve Oxberry why corporate wellness and international growth will keep the brand competitive in its 90th year

“It’s time for Champneys to fight back,” says new group operations director Alan Whiteley when I meet him in the newly converted conference room at the brand’s flagship resort in Tring. “Every hotel is now becoming a spa and stealing part of our business mix, so we need to steal the bits of their business that we haven’t explored before.” 

The first of those is the corporate market, and despite having joined the brand just two months ago, Whiteley has been instrumental in establishing the new conference facilities and corporate wellness packages set to propel Champneys into that sector when they launch at the end of May.

With a commercial background at hotel groups including Hilton, Radisson and most recently De Vere, where he was general manager of Daventry resort Staverton Park, Whiteley will lead a new management team headhunted by Champneys owner Stephen Purdew to help develop the spa group’s corporate and international profile. He replaces Champneys group managing director Alex de Carvalho, who left last year. “It was a good, aspirational move coming here to work with Stephen and I can bring a lot to the table in terms of the conference world and commerciality,” he says.

Champneys Tring

Making space

The room we meet in is just one example of previously underused space being repurposed to generate revenue from new sources. “This actually used to be a snooker room but 80% of our demographic is female and there’s not a lot of interest in snooker, so the transition to this room means it’s great for corporate hospitality,” says Whiteley. “It doesn’t necessarily have to be conference led, it could be private dinners, associate meetings, but it’s about space – Champneys has a lot of unused space that we could maximise to drive revenue, whether that’s meeting space, or hire space.”

Indeed with its crystal chandeliers and countryside view, the new room marks a departure from classic conference facilities. “This is high-end BP or commercial bank world; it’s a different environment from that room in a Hilton or a Marriot with a flipchart and a projector in the ceiling. But we’re trying to keep that in tune with our brand by then giving those directors a health check, a stress-relieving massage, a nice dinner,” says Whiteley.

“Then they come back in a much more relaxed state of mind, which keeps the meeting fresh. There’s a vested interest from managing directors and CEOs now because they’ve got to be seen to be looking after their teams.” A typical package, he says, will involve a half-day meeting, use of the spa, plus a fitness test and a health check to test for things like allergies and cholesterol levels. “We hope they’ll then come back six months later to monitor progression.”

Champneys poolTeam effort

The corporate wellness packages are due to launch across Champneys’ four resorts at the end of May with a new, more commercially driven team set to promote them. Whiteley and Purdew are now in the process of recruiting a regional general manager and have just appointed two new sales directors. “I don't think we’ve been accustomed to bringing business in,” says Whiteley. “We’ve had a lot of farmers but we’ve now recruited two people who are going to go out there and hunt, and bring the business to us.”

Another target demographic for that new revenue is international guests, with Whiteley earmarking the Middle East then Europe as key. And in the run up to Champneys 90th anniversary next year, he is keen to leverage the brand’s rich British heritage by stepping up its overseas marketing. “We’re affilitated with Alliance Boots so we’ve got a strong retail presence through them in the US, the UAE and Thailand but we need to bring those overseas customers here to the resorts,” he says.

Street smart

A new retail director is also being recruited to oversee Champneys’ eight high-street day spas, which are retail stores with treatment rooms. “There is plan for growth on that side in some key city centre locations,” says Whiteley, adding that a flagship in London would be the ideal next site. “London’s a huge market for us, with such a multicultural population and so many tourists. It’d be great to give them a real taste of the brand there,” he says. “We also talked about New York, Singapore, Paris and Sydney – and I’ve only been here eight weeks! So there’s definitely opportunity.”

The first step for retail growth, however, will come from pushing Champneys’ own-brand products. “Our amenities that we have in our bathrooms – that’s something we can roll out into other hotels to promote awareness, whether that’s in the US or here. And we could get the products into other unbranded spas too – that’s a chance for them to piggyback on our name,” says Whiteley. “There’s potential for working with P&O Cruises or Royal Caribbean – opening a shop and having a retail presence there. It’s a very affluent market who go on cruises, so it’d be a good representation of our brand being affiliated with a cruise liner.”

While his plans may be numerous and ambitious, newcomer Whiteley is keen to stress that the additional markets he’s targeting will always be just “bolt-ons” to the core spa business. “My plan is to drive new revenue, bring in new skill sets and develop the brand but I have to remember my owners have built a brand from a solid core spa business. We’re the market leader so we have to stay true to the spa brand.”