The Hotel Culture

Roberto Pajares, Ampersand Hotel

“I think that the value proposition aspect for hotels is huge. I feel people are looking at taking out all the stuff you don’t need and focusing on the things you do need, or want.” Roberto Pajares, Ampersand Hotel

Robert is the General Manager of the Ampersand Hotel. He has a family background in luxury hospitality and 20 years experience in hotel and restaurant operations and development, working for independent owners and management companies. His roles include being the opening General Manager for the privately owned Ampersand Hotel in South Kensington, Asset Manager/Owners representative for Manhattan Loft (the developers of the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel) and hotel projects/development and operations for Selfridges Retail Ltd, D&D (previously Conran Restaurants) and Terence Conran as well as previous experience with Hilton and InterContinental Hotels in the UK and overseas.

THC: What inspires you and why?
Roberto: I get inspired by people. So obviously working with people like Terence Conran and realizing you can do things differently from the past. And I guess every day things that capture my attention, but mainly, I’m inspired by people who do things consistently well. Travel is a huge inspiration, and of course time inspires me. I take the time to think about things, different aspects of the business, or strategy, it is important to give ideas that kind of attention. Also, I’d say New York inspires me, I get upset if I don’t get to go every now and again, because I find it so inspiring as a city.

THC: How did you get into your business?
Roberto: So my father was in the hotel business, I started my first job at age 16, working at Claridges as a page-boy, that position doesn’t even exist anymore. From there I always said I wanted to work in hotels. When you live in a family who work in hotels, or certainly the way my Dad did, you talk about it, it becomes all consuming. What’s interesting to me is I got  disillusioned with hotels. When I finished university, I went to work for an International hotel group, in Athens, I remember a moment when I was standing in the restaurant, and it just felt so dated. After that I left and joined Conran restaurants, with a view to not going back to work in hotels, and so I worked my way up through food & beverage. Then as it turned out I ended up going into the Great Eastern Hotel on the back of the restaurant angle because of Conran designing the project and I ended up back in hotels. Looking back on it now, I’d have been so sad to not come back to this business.  I love doing hotel openings in particular.

THC: What are you working on right now?
Roberto: The Ampersand hotel will be two years old in August. The business has stabilised and we’ve had a great response but there are always things you can do better. The owners are also looking at finding another site, which could potentially be very exciting for the team.

THC: How do you see your space evolving?
Roberto: I think that the value proposition aspect of it is huge. And I feel people are looking at taking out all the stuff you don’t need and focusing on the things you do need, or want. If I’m a business traveller I don’t need someone to carry my bags for me, if I arrive with lots of luggage I need help, if I arrive with my own bag, I can carry it. I like to pour my own wine in a restaurant. I know it’s happened a lot in the budget market, but I think and hope it will have more of an impact in the luxury market as well. Really stripping out those services, that I personally think are just so dated and I am amazed at how much of it there still is. I find the stuffiness of it all frustrating; even now with fine dining like Dabbous they have really stripped it back. Also, I am a fan of modular building, building offsite and then bolting it together, like citizenM do.

THC: Who’s your hero or icon?
Roberto: Terence Conran, that’s who I’d say has moved my thinking. He definitely had the biggest impact on my personal thinking. He’s quite contrarian and direct, which I found so refreshing after working for big hotels. My wife used to work for Conran on the retail side. She always said when they chose retail products, they had a simple process, was it Conran or not. Such a clean and simple method, I’d like to think I’ve taken a little of that with me.

THC: Where’s your favourite spot around the world?
Roberto: I love Spain, not just because my father is Spanish. I love the food and the heat but specifically the south of Spain places like Andalucia, Seville, Granada. But where I’d buy a house – Majorca.

THC: What’s your favourite injection of culture into a brand? 
Roberto: Selfridges, there is something about it. My wife and I used to say let’s go to Selfridges, we didn’t need to buy anything, but off we went to wander around, just browsing and looking. There’s also spirit of generosity in what they do with things like the windows on the corner, they give those windows over to art projects. There’s commerciality to it, but they start with an idea and then commerce follows, which I think doesn’t happen enough, it makes perfect sense. They always had this thing about the prime parts of retail like the cultural area, which is worth a fortune, and they give it over to large-scale projects, which I think is just fantastic.