Welcome Back!

Arena's first live event of 2021

Arena's first live, in-person event of 2021 took place on Thursday 22 July 2021 at the luxurious, 5* award-winning hotel, Cliveden House in Taplow, Berkshire - part of Iconic Luxury Hotels. This exclusive Arena event gave guests the opportunity to once again re-connect, face to face with industry friends and colleagues whilst enjoying the fabulous hospitality of this Grade I stately home set upon 376 acres of National Trust grounds.

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Attendee List


Take a look at the attendee list for this event.

Event Review

‘Welcome Back’ by Karis Thomas, Chair, Arena Futures

Arena face-to-face networking is back! After a 71-week covid-induced hiatus, I was delighted to attend Arena’s first live event where industry colleagues came together in person amongst beautiful surroundings to enjoy tasty food and drink and hear from guest speaker, Andrew Stembridge, Executive Director at Iconic Luxury Hotels. For those in attendance, it provided a welcome break from Zoom meetings and a good excuse to get dressed up once again.

The appropriately named ‘Welcome Back Event’ took place at Cliveden House Hotel on Thursday 22nd July and played host to 50 guests and industry friends from across our sector.

It was a stunning summers day, perfect for visiting the iconic country house venue, with welcome mocktails provided by The London Essence Company and delicious BBQ food which included plant-based Sensational Burgers provided by Garden Gourmet.

The surprise guests were the Premier League and English Football League Cups, kindly brought along by Manchester City Football Club due to the teams’ partnership with Garden Gourmet.

During his speech, Andrew Stembridge spoke openly about his 30-year career in hospitality, from washing dishes aged 14 to approaching a new hotel in Scotland to become their GM aged 30, introducing the famous treehouses at Chewton Glen hotel and launching the Iconic Luxury Hotels brand.

Stembridge spoke of his ‘yes’ attitude and a willingness to try, as well as his desire to employ the best people and look after them. His mantra that people buy from people has ensured that guests who are brought through the doors by good marketing and PR, continue to visit his hotels again and again thanks to great service and experiences.

“My job is to do what’s best for the business”, he said, “making sure I drive profit and that the ROI is sound and growing. This has meant that I’ve broken the rules of marketing. Instead of focusing on one target customer, I ensure the hotels are busy at all times by targeting multiple markets.” For example, Stembridge pitched the idea of the family-friendly tree houses at Chewton Glen to the family owners of the hotel, and thanks partly to his belief in them, they opened with 98% occupancy and paid back their investment in just three and a half years.

When the same family who owned Chewton Glen bought the lease with Cliveden nine years ago, it was agreed that they could invest in the inside of the hotel with additions such as air-conditioning, whilst the National Trust would continue to look after the grounds. It was after the Royal Wedding, when Meghan Markle famously stayed at the hotel the night before she married Prince Harry, that the hotel was catapulted to success with international exposure.

Prior to this, Stembridge had pushed for the owners to form a company and in 2017 Iconic Luxury Hotels was set up in a bid to produce synergies across all the hotels in the group. What the hotels have in their DNA includes investment in the building, new ideas, stories, strong digital presence and making sure that the whole team have an attitude of doing their job because they care.

Stembridge shared an important lesson which has inspired his approach to training his team: “After a long flight to Dallas once, I stayed in a hotel where eight people asked me the same question on arrival, and nobody focused on what I needed. Instead, they focused on the point that my room wasn’t ready but missed the fact that I needed help with my lost luggage and could have done with a cup of tea or a G&T.”

As a result, he focuses on getting his team to have the right attitude and listen to customers and respond rather than being ‘over-trained’ in set processes.

Stembridge also spoke openly about the ongoing employment crisis our sector faces, as well as some of the challenges posed by the pandemic, such as when Iconic Hotels Group opened the new Mayfair Townhouse Hotel and had to close it due to lockdown just two weeks later.

Following the speech by Stembridge and plenty of opportunities for networking over the BBQ, the event ended with a guided tour of the hotel where guests were able to see the famous Cliveden House outdoor pool and the dining table dined at by royalty and many famous faces.

Overall, it was great to be back doing what Arena does – providing opportunities for networking and sharing common ground in stunning settings with good food and drink. We look forward to hosting more face-to-face networking events moving forwards including some of our annual favourite formats, as well as combining these events with our new-found love for some convenient and informative Zoom seminars in between.

We hope to see you soon.