Riviera People – Gwyn Gibbons – a woman in command

Posted by: on Apr 30, 2015 | No Comments

Gwyn Gibbons – a woman in command

The appointment of The Imperial Hotel’s very first female General Manager is a significant milestone in its illustrious history. Anita Newcombe chats to Gwyn Gibbons

Gwyn GibbonsGwyn Gibbons is just the sort of person I would have wished to see leading one of the country’s most iconic and traditional hotels. Charming, elegant with a word for all her guests and staff, could Gwyn be bringing back some of the sophistication and glamour of The Imperial’s heady past?

Opened in 1866, The Imperial Hotel quickly established itself a hotel of rank and fashion attracting exquisitely dressed visitors who stayed for weeks at a time and wined and dined on delights such as Hors d’Oeuvres Choisis, Barquettes de Caviar and Tortue des Indes aux Xeres.

Back in the present, Gwyn and I head to the Britannia Bar for tea as Gwyn explains that times have changed and fewer guests stay for 6 weeks at a stretch (although some still do) and far more visitors come for regular short breaks throughout the year. The hotel is also a family resort, particularly during July and August and special children’s buffets are now popular.

Sipping my tea, I ask Gwyn about her background and wait to hear that she went to a hotel management college and worked her way up through all the departments before finally achieving her first General Manager position. Not a bit of it. Gwyn says somewhat surprisingly, “I trained as a computer programmer and took an HND in Business Studies on a block release programme with British Aerospace as I was good at maths.”

Gwyn then discovered other skills in her repertoire and moved into hotel sales in a property owned by the health service. Her big break into hotel management came when she was offered her first hotel management role, rather astonishingly going straight in as General Manager of Eastwood Park in the Cotswolds.

If this was a big challenge, then Gwyn rose to it in considerable style, increasing its profit dramatically within 18 months. Gwyn reveals, “I had fallen in love with hospitality.”

There followed a whirlwind of personal development as Gwyn took on a variety of specialist hotel roles and further honed her skills with the highly regarded Marriott Hotels. Gwyn recalls, “They provided fantastic training in all departments which is vital to performing well as a General Manager.”

At this point, rather exhausted, Gwyn decided to take 6 months off to reflect on her career and the long hours she was putting in. However, after only 2 weeks of relaxation, she was headhunted into the post of Sales and Marketing Director at Wentworth, one of the world’s finest golf and country clubs and off she went again! Gwyn stayed at Wentworth for 7 years leaving to work in hotel consultancy, helping administrators to prepare hotels for sale.

Just over a year ago she was invited to consider coming to Torquay as General Manager of the Imperial Hotel by Puma Hotels. She enthused, “ It was a beautiful day; the sky was blue and I found that I really shared the values and vision of Puma Hotels. I simply couldn’t turn it down and started in March 2013.”

Since starting, Gwyn has been so busy she has few opportunities to go home to her family home in the Cotswolds. She lives in the hotel and has had lots to do in driving up standards for this ‘grand old lady’ of hotels. In addition to creating a great welcome for visitors, Gwyn wants to integrate the hotel into the local community. The recent bad weather and destruction of the train line has not affected the hotel unduly. Business has been good with the first quarter strongly up on last year and even January’s bedroom occupancy levels running at 53%. Locals are an important consideration too with Mothers’ Day bringing over 200 people in for lunch, most of whom live in the Bay.

I ask Gwyn what her biggest tasks were when she started. She tells me, “The previous owners had left the basic infrastructure such as boilers and lifts in good order so that was a start. However, we are constantly refurbishing – nothing ever stands still and I also needed to work on improving overall quality and service. “

One of the biggest issues for Gwyn is staffing. She is trying to recruit as many local people as possible and ensure that they are properly trained and well looked after so they stay and build up their skills and their career. A recent recruitment day yielded 50 applicants of which at least 35 have excellent potential. Training has taken centre stage as Gwyn works hard to drive up standards, particularly on the Food and Beverage side of things. Her vision is a friendly, welcoming style, plenty of recognition for repeat guests and making every effort to exceed guests’ expectations.

Gwyn says, “Expectations are different now. The rate for a standard room in 1987 was £287 per night and now it is £150-190 per night so we have to achieve high quality with fewer staff and that requires a stable workforce and excellent training. I am working to improve the culture so that staff feel supported and enjoy coming to work.”

The hotel does have quite a few long-standing staff such as William, a porter and Teresa in housekeeping who have 30 years service each and Trevor, also a porter and Alison who does accounts plus arranging the flowers; they both have 25 years service.

There are so many things that can go wrong in a hotel. Gwyn ruefully recalls an experience many years ago when her team packed the wrong guest’s luggage and sent it off to the airport, much to the general chagrin of all concerned.

I’m interested in whether Gwyn ever gets any free time and she tells me that now she has a good senior team, she does manage to get a little time off to spend with her husband Maurice and her son Ian who is married with a young daughter. Gwyn admits that in her first year in post at the Imperial she has hardly been outside but now wants to discover more of the local delights of the English Riviera. She used to come to Goodrington as a teenager and has fond memories of the area.

However, there’s no doubt that Gwyn will be focussing most of her time on continuing to improve the guest experience at the Imperial to bring it up to her exacting standards. “Still lots to do,” says Gwyn.


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