INTERVIEW: Simon Ewins, COO, the Hub and Premier Inns
‘It’s novel, it’s not gratuitous and it works’
The folk behind the opening of Whitbread’s latest hotels in Scotland certainly wanted to make their presence felt.
Dozens of guests swarmed into the new Hub in Market Street, Edinburgh, and the neighbouring Premier Inn, the first phase of a £35 million investment in the city.
They were entertained by a troop of dancers, a children’s chorus, a harpist, some ghoulish characters from the Edinburgh Dungeon, and, of course, a piper.
Donald Wilson, Lord Provost, welcomed the company’s investment before, first, a cake and then a giant ribbon were cut by former Scotland rugby international Andy Nicol who added a slice of celebrity to the event.
In the midst of the celebrations, Simon Ewins, chief operating officer at Premier Inn and Hub, managed to squeeze in a few words about the hotels and the company’s other plans for the city, which include two more Hubs, in Haymarket and Rose Street.
Speaking to Daily Business he says the latter will be opposite the Travelodge, his knowing smile confirming that the choice of location is not exactly a coincidence.
He does not take the bait, instead focusing on what his new charge has to offer, and he’s clearly convinced that the technology-focused Hub concept will be a hit.
“Four or five years ago we did a piece of work to consider what hotels would look like in the future and this is what we have devised, based on the research.
“The feedback we got from customers was that they wanted a hotel designed for today in great locations and with the ability to help them with their online life.”
The rooms are half the size of those in a Premier Inn and there are showers instead of baths. But what they lack in space, they make up for in technology.
He points to the various screen monitors in the coffee lounge and the vast glass map of the city in reception, and runs through a list ways that guests can use their devices to book a room, log on to emails and wi-fi and use digital maps to find their way around the city. The Hub in Edinburgh is the first to be linked to the Apple Watch.
He rejects any suggestion that it is a bit gimmicky.
“Everyone does things through their phones these days and we have to respond to that. The Hub in particular is designed for the tech-savvy generation. It’s novel, it’s not gratuitous and it works.”
There are three other Hubs in London and Ewins hopes that this being the first to open elsewhere will prove an attraction in itself.
London, he admits, suffered a downturn from the Paris terror attacks, as reflected in recent figures from the parent company, though the Hub in Covent Garden has a 95% occupancy rate in its first year.
“It demonstrates that the proposition is attractive,” he says.
Education and career : Went straight from school into the government’s Youth Training Scheme; worked in factories and pubs; moved into private equity and 12 years ago joined Whitbread as operations director in the restaurants division.
What makes you angry?
My passion is flawless execution. I am driven by making an operation consistent.
I am involved in charity work with Great Ormond Street Hospital and with Water Aid in India.
Photo (top): Andy Nicol and Simon Ewins sporting Apple watches (by Terry Murden)