Norfolk hotel’s new manager has plans for expansion after making return to county
- Credit: Copyright: Archant 2018
The new general manager of a Norfolk hotel hopes to use his national experience to make it more of a focal point for the local community.
Shaun van Looy, who has worked for the past 15 years with major hotel groups Hilton and Hallmark, formerly Menzies, returned to his home county of Norfolk to take the top job at Barnham Broom Hotel, Golf and Spa this month.
In familiarising himself with the 300 acre site, Mr van Looy – a former manager at what was the country's biggest hotel, at Birmingham's NEC – thinks he has discovered an opportunity for better local promotion.
While the majority of 200,000 annual visitors to its hotel, two golf courses, spa and conference and function facilities come from NR postcode areas, Mr van Looy feels more can be done to fix the hotel in the heart of the community, for example by encouraging more people to its restaurants and health centre.
'Barnham Broom is an established business, but I think because previous general managers have not been local it has not plugged into the local community. Part of my being here is to change that,' he said.
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'We want a lot more people to come through our doors and experience what Barnham Broom has to offer.'
Having worked on the boards of destination management organisations, Mr van Looy said he understands the importance of a local network.
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The hotel, which employs more than 130 people, has invested around £2m in refurbishments and renovations in the past five years – but Mr van Looy has plans for a bigger development project, including expansion.
'I am quite a commercial manager so I look at business opportunities,' he said.
'At the moment it is about developing the business as strongly as we can so in three to four years when we expand the resort we are in a good place to do so.'
With restaurants like Jamie's Italian and Prezzo fighting for their futures, Mr van Looy said providing individuality and being agile in the face of new trends are keys to success which some casual dining chains have struggled with.
'More and more people are moving away from big brands: I think that is well documented,' he said. 'Being independent means we can respond and react to things quickly that would suit our market.'
The journey to general manager
Shaun van Looy's mother, a hotel worker, told her son not to follow in her footsteps.
While studying at City College Norwich he took a part time job at Norwich Sports Village and discovered a 'knack' for hospitality.
He went from chef to assistant food and beverage manager with a Norwich hotel group before being snapped up by Hilton.
Following a management training course he worked at Hilton hotels around the West Midlands for seven years before being head-hunted by Menzies Hotels, which became Hallmark, with which he managed hotels in London and the East of England.
He said the owners of Barnham Broom, who have been at the helm since it opened in 1977, had been 'patiently trying to find the right person' to take charge before hiring him this year.
'They wanted someone with the skill set and who also had a tie to the area,' he said.
'I came back [to Norfolk] because I want to build something that I can become a part of for another 20 years.'