Please knock: £25 million hotel seeks A-list attention
Ex-City boy Alon Bejerano is hoping some celebrities will help make his new venture pay off.
Alon Bejerano has opted for a more creative role. The 31-year-old former investment fund manager is now busying himself with colour charts, wallpaper patterns, lampshades and the like. That's because Mr Bejerano is now the co-director of AB Hotels.
Founded by his father, Abraham Bejerano - a veteran in the hotel industry - the firm owns luxury hotels in south-east England. It has recently launched its latest development, The Arch, a £25m, 55,999 sq ft boutique hotel in Marble Arch, central London, and Mr Bejerano, project manager for the site, is hoping the hotel will be a hit with celebrities.
He has spent the past three years overseeing the development of the hotel, which has 82 bedrooms - each designed with its own colour scheme and state-of-the-art furniture.
Mr Bejerano is confident that occupancy will be at 70 per cent in 2010, and the group a target of 80 per cent for next year - but he admits that there were difficulties. He says: "We had quite a lot of problems. Because it was such an old building, we uncovered a lot of unknowns such as rotten floors and structural failures."
And of course, there was the economic climate. "We were building right in the mix of the trouble and two of our contractors went bust just over half-way through. But we felt that by the time we would be finished, hopefully we would be out of the worst of it." And are they? "Things are picking up in the market and we are now opening in position for the upturn."
Inspect our gadgets: the hotel has 82 bedrooms, each with Sky HD and flat-screen TVs — in the bathrooms
AB Hotels was established in 1981. Israeli Abraham Bejerano, 63, had spent several years working his way up in the hotel industry before buying the George Hotel in Leicestershire, which he sold in 1983. He then bought the Chesterfield Hotel in Derbyshire, which he sold in 1988. Today, the AB portfolio comprises Sopwell House - a luxury 129-bedroom country house hotel and a favourite among premiership footballers; and Five Lakes, Essex. Plus, most recently, the Arch.
Alon Bejerano joined his brother Rafi as co-director of the company in 2007 after seven years working in finance, during which time he worked for HSBC and the Royal Bank of Canada. "I got a bit bored of the City," he says. He cut his teeth working on a couple of refurbishment projects at Sopwell House before overseeing the construction of The Arch.
He is finding his new role "more rewarding" than being in the City. "You have a product at the end of it. The City is more about moving money around and making money for other people." However, the hours are just as long, he says. "When you are working for your own company you never really switch off. Even on holiday I am looking at other hotels, furniture, lampshades, and especially in these tough months, it's on your mind a lot."
The project has been a long time in development. The company started buying parts of the site in 1995 and was granted planning permission in 2004. Building work started in 2007.
Today, Mr Bejerano's focus is on boosting occupancy levels, which is currently at less than 50 per cent. "We need to bring people in to see what we have to offer, and then we are confident they will come back."
As far as the target markets are concerned, they are aiming for 50/50 leisure/business, 30 per cent UK, 25 per cent North America, 25 per cent Europe and 20 per cent from the rest of the world. And there has been little expense spared to ensure they can attract and win over guests.
Situated on Great Cumberland Place - Madonna owns a property opposite - the hotel boasts the HUNter 486 open plan bar and restaurant, which takes it name from the 1950s district dialing code for Marylebone; the Martini Library; and eye-catching modern British art. It is believed to be the first hotel in London to provide rooms with Sky HD boxes and an iPod docking station, as well as bathrooms with flat-screen TVs. Nightly rates are between £200 and £1,500.
Surely it's a difficult time for the hotel industry? "There has definitely been a dip, a few hard times, but I don't think it has been as bad as what the UK financial sector has experienced. And it has given us a chance to reorganise and try and cut the costs back a bit so hopefully going forward the hotels will be in better shape than they were."
That said, he acknowledges that the corporate side of Sopwell House's business was affected with a considerable reduction in the reduction in the number of conferences, functions, Christmas parties and charity events. He adds: "I think London gets affected differently. Even during the recession I never noticed places being particularly empty. The good places are always hard to get into.
"There is a lot of demand for hotel rooms in London, so if you are good enough, you should be able to get people in."