The Belfry Hotel & Resort: Interview with Chris Eigelaar
Chris Eigelaar is Resort General Manager at The Belfry Hotel & Resort, which will be playing host to the much-anticipated Betfred British Masters 2021. He tells Hayley Bortolotti about the retraining initiative for team members returning from furlough, the exciting launch of new facilities including virtual event setups – The Belfry Live and Belfry Studio, and the new Discover campaign connecting guests to the local area.
With many of your existing people returning from furlough, how are you supporting their return to work in terms of engagement and retraining?
The last 12 months has been difficult for everyone, so it has been more important than ever to keep in regular touch with the team to keep everyone motivated and to boost morale. We also want to ensure that those who have been on furlough feel supported, comfortable and happy returning to work.
To ensure everyone is well prepared for when the resort fully reopens, we are arranging two and a half days of training for all team members to settle in before they interact and serve guests. This includes our team members being fully retrained in health and safety, including on all Covid measures and fire safety. We will also retrain all team members on customer service.
As part of this programme our teams will walk around the entire resort to see it from a guest perspective, and this is also helpful for those who haven’t been on property for a while to find their bearings and to help rebuild their confidence. It also gives the teams a chance to see other areas of the hotel that they wouldn’t normally work in so that we can also arrange cross training across different departments. Our team training sessions will also give everyone a chance to talk about the last year, their experiences, their thoughts and ideas, and settle back into work at the resort.
Following this, everyone will return to their departments for a day of training in their specific role supported with online training. This will allow our teams to learn about any changes, find out what’s new and what’s coming up, and give them time to focus anything else they need.
How are you dealing with the huge challenge of getting newly recruited teams trained and ready for opening?
We are always mindful of ensuring we do everything we can to retain and motivate our team members, even more so during these times. It can be daunting for new recruits, so we make sure everyone receives all the training and support they need so they feel comfortable and secure in their role. We have a pairing system where new starters are paired up with someone who has been in the team for a few years to support them, and so they can get to know their colleagues, for their first 30 days at the resort.
New team members also have 30 and 60-day check-ups with the senior team to see how they have settled in, to make sure they are comfortable in their new environment and to resolve any concerns or worries.
We are very focused on personal development, engaging with the team and ensuring we continue to communicate with everyone regularly. As we haven’t been able to see each other face to face over the last year, we have been using a virtual platform to ensure we connect with and support everyone daily because it is the people at The Belfry who make it such a fantastic place to work and visit. I am really looking forward to welcoming back our teams and our new colleagues to The Belfry family.
Are you concerned that newly recruited people from outside the industry are likely to leave you once other sectors recover? How have you adapted your employee retention strategy to reduce this risk?
I’m not concerned about new recruits being especially likely to leave once other sectors recover – I’m hopeful that it’s been an opportunity to recruit some excellent team members who can see a bright future for themselves within the hospitality industry. Of course, there is always a small percentage who will leave but this is something we have always worked with in our industry, and we completely understand. The most important thing is to make sure that everyone has a good onboarding process, they feel part of the team, and our engagement is right. Then we will retain most people.
We may have students who come to work for us to learn different skills and enjoy the flexibility of hospitality who may move on, but some do stay on to become managers and supervisors. Many of my colleagues have been at The Belfry or worked in hospitality for years – some have over 20 years’ experience in the industry, showing that you can have a progressive and enjoyable career in hospitality.
What marketing campaigns are you putting in place to attract the staycation market and what impact are you seeing on forward bookings for summer?
Our new Discover campaign puts The Belfry at the heart of the region. The UK staycation market is huge this year and we are already seeing an influx of bookings. Our Discover campaign connects guests to the local area and showcases the facilities available at The Belfry but also what there is to do locally. This is attracting families to stay at The Belfry for longer, between five to seven nights, and explore our region. We are also seeing leisure and golf guests wanting to stay at the resort for an extended period which is brilliant.
Our Discover campaign connects guests to the local area and showcases the facilities available at The Belfry but also what there is to do locally.
Due to the demand in self-catering properties, we are also promoting Brabazon Lodge. Located within the resort over-looking the legendary 10th tee of The Brabazon course, the private lodge is a luxury home away from home with space for up to eight people. Located down a private driveway, the lodge offers four bedrooms, all with en-suite bathrooms, and all the essential amenities to ensure a relaxing stay including a spacious lounge area which overlooks the lodge’s garden, and an outdoor hot tub. Perfect for those looking for a post-lockdown retreat with friends or family.
We are very excited to start welcoming guests back to the resort, to showcase our fantastic accommodation and world class facilities and golf courses, while also showing all the amazing activities and attractions the region has to offer.
At the heart of your local community, you offer a lifeline to small local businesses. Without the international traveller the impact will surely be felt amongst them. How will you encourage the domestic staycation market to engage in what the local community has to offer?
Our Discover campaign is all about supporting the local region as we are encouraging guests to discover the attractions which surround the resort. We are proud to show off all the fantastic businesses which make our region the place to visit. We work with several local attractions by partnering to create packages for our guests to experience, or by recommending them to guests during their stay and on our website.
We are proud to show off all the fantastic businesses which make our region the place to visit.
There is something to do for everyone at the resort and in the surrounding areas. For families, we work with Twycross Zoo, Drayton Manor and Cadbury World to create packages which include tickets to the attractions during their stay. For those looking for adventure, we are located close to The Bear Grylls Adventure featuring high ropes, a free fall tunnel & PADI courses, and Snowdome, an indoor skiing and snowboarding centre with an ice rink. For guests who would like some retail therapy, we are a short drive from The Bullring and Grand Central in Birmingham City Centre and Resort’s World which offers a shopping mall, casino, and cinemas.
Many businesses have been forced to pivot their offering over the last 12 months; what changes and innovations have you introduced that you are most proud of?
We have made a number of changes over the last 12 months and I’m very proud of how well the team has adapted and the innovative ideas we’ve been able to put into place.
The health and safety of our teams and guests is our number one priority. We have adapted with The Belfry’s ‘Our Pledge To You’ initiative, which showcases our commitment to meeting the highest standards of cleanliness procedures and protocols across all areas of the resort. We have also been awarded AIM secure accreditation (the UK’s only recognised quality standard for the meeting industry) and the ‘We’re Good to Go’ industry standard (which recognises that we have followed government and industry COVID-19 guidelines.)
As a result of the pandemic and the ongoing restrictions, we have also launched several new facilities including our new permanent virtual event setups – The Belfry Live and Belfry Studio. These are professional virtual meetings and events solutions that allow organisations to connect live with audiences across the world – so conferences, award ceremonies, meetings and events can take place safely. Our virtual event set ups have proved very successful and we have hosted several events and award ceremonies including the Women in Security Awards 2020 and miaList 2020.
As a result of the pandemic and the ongoing restrictions, we have also launched several new facilities. Our virtual event set ups have proved very successful and we have hosted several events and award ceremonies including the Women in Security Awards 2020 and miaList 2020.
With staycations on the rise, we have invested in new facilities for our guests ensuring there is something for everyone to enjoy. This includes investing in areas for families such as our playground, located next to the Woodland Walk and our Adventure Zone equipped with swings, a climbing obstacle course, zip wire, slide and more.
In April, we also launched Toptracer Range at our newly refurbished PGA National Academy which is very exciting. Toptracer Range offers a fun experience for guests with any level of golfing experience from beginners and non-golfers to frequent players, to enjoy a wide range of games and activities with family and friends or to simply perfect their game.
We will be playing host to the much-anticipated Betfred British Masters 2021, from 12th until 15th May 2021. We are absolutely delighted to have been provided with this opportunity as this will mark the British Masters fourth visit to the resort, The Belfry has hosted the championship on three previous occasions between 2006 and 2008. The news comes on the back of our successful hosting of the ISPS HANDA UK Championship in August 2020, which firmly placed The Belfry back on the tour agenda.
We will be playing host to the much-anticipated Betfred British Masters 2021, from 12th until 15th May 2021. We are absolutely delighted to have been provided with this opportunity as this will mark the British Masters fourth visit to the resort.
Our iconic Brabazon course has undergone a number of enhancements to bring it up to date with new technologies and to make it more challenging. The new tees will be available from the first day of play of the British Masters but will remain in place after the tournament for golfers visiting the resort wanting a challenge. It has been amazing seeing golfers back on the course again after lockdown restrictions were eased. The demand for golf has been high with people appreciating the chance to spend time outdoors more than ever, and it is a great way for people to socialise safely.
For your personally what has been the biggest learning curve over the past 12 months?
The pandemic has highlighted the importance of the stakeholders in the business which include the owners of The Belfry, the teams across the resort, the suppliers, and our guests. It is important we communicate, stay engaged and support each other.
Given the situation, we are very focused on our team members. I am so proud of the resilience of the team – how they have adapted and how creative they have been during the pandemic. We have all worked together to ensure we continued to adapt for our guests and clients and covered all elements across the resort. It has brought the whole team together and we have worked hard to launch new services, such as The Belfry Live, to ensure everyone feels safe with us and that business can continue for our clients.
Over the last 12 months we have learnt a lot about ourselves and I am very proud of the strength and support of everyone at The Belfry. I feel confident that we can continue to adapt to whatever is thrown at us like we have over the last year.
Chris Eigelaar, Resort General Manager at the award-winning The Belfry Hotel & Resort, brings over 22 years’ experience in the hospitality sector to the renowned resort. He has excelled in a career in leading hotels and resorts across the UK including DoubleTree by Hilton, Locke Hotels, Sofitel and QHotels. Chris joined the hotel as General Manager in 2018 and was promoted to Resort General Manager in 2020. Having grown up in the hospitality industry in South Africa, Chris Eigelaar’s vast experience within the sector is a huge asset to The Belfry.
In his role as Resort General Manager, Chris has been tasked with continuing the success of the award-winning West Midlands resort with the assistance of a highly motivated and dedicated team. Chris’ impact within The Belfry Hotel & Resort has led to substantial strategic developments and numerous awards being achieved including England’s Leading Resort, England’s Leading Conference Hotel, World’s Best Golf Hotel, Europe’s Best Golf Hotel, and England’s Best Golf Hotel, just to name a few.