Crafting a legacy18 July 2023
After taking over the reins in 2018, David Orr was well aware of the legacy he inherited when he joined Resident Hotel’s brand The Resident. As CEO, the change in leadership marked an evolution of design direction for the hotel and has sought to build on that reputation ever since. Phoebe Galbraith speaks to Orr as he discusses his career in the industry and his expectations for the future.
Brought up on the west coast of Scotland, David Orr describes his beginnings in the industry as a “slightly frustrated property developer” with an unusual penchant for cricket – for a Scot anyway. “Commercial property and hotels were always kind of in my family background,” says The Resident CEO. “It became more and more clear that I wanted to try and be involved in combining commercial buildings or property environment and development and design with hotels.”
The fruits of Orr’s labour resulted in City Inn (rebrandedas Mint Hotels in 2010 and acquired by Blackstone Group in 2011) of which he was co-founder and CEO. “We opened our first hotel in 1999 in Bristol, which was called the City Inn Bristol,” he adds. “The starting point was creating a premium budget brand that was a bit different to other budget brands at the time.” Looking back, it really was an interesting and exciting time to get started in the business according to Orr. Having started from scratch, every moment was a learning opportunity for him as he tried and succeeded in bringing his vision to life that emphasised the guest and employees and brought a difference to the norms of operations. “[I was] very lucky to have amazing people working with me all the way,” he admits. “I particularly enjoyed really opening up all the opportunities for people’s careers, because I find that incredibly fulfilling.”
His enthusiasm for helping both employees and guests has not wavered over the years either. In Orr’s role at The Resident, he has even more opportunity to engage his employees across different generations to help guide them to their dream career within hospitality. “The good thing is we’ve given lots of people opportunities and in my current role it’s really great to have the chance to do more,” enthuses Orr. “I really hope that everyone feels they’re working in an environment that really gives them oxygen for their own careers in whichever way works for them.”
A place of residence
It is safe to say that Orr is keenly aware of the legacy he has inherited at The Resident. The innovative brand of city centre hotels in London and Liverpool was in no way suffering when Orr took over. The city break-focused hotel had a strong business model to work from Orr explains, so his main focus from the very start was growing the brand significantly and ensuring the Resident brand related to the hotel guest. “Resident Hotels is a management company, which manages the Resident as one of its brands and also manages Cityroomz and Sleeperz, which are brands that the owners acquired middle of last year.” The hotel group, as Orr puts it, is a company that can develop, create brands, and also operate and manage those brands. One look at the hotels’ achievements over the past few years and Orr’s success is clear with The Resident Covent Garden ranked 2nd and 15th in the UK and Europe respectively by the Tripadvisor Travellers’ Choice Awards, and The Resident Kensington, The Resident Soho, The Resident Victoria and The Resident Liverpool all ranking in the top 10% of hotels worldwide.
Orr’s role in the hotel brand was not without difficulty, as all hotels have experienced over the past few years due to the pandemic. When the first whispers of the pandemic hit, however, Orr called on his experience of SARS in 2003: “My personal experience was being really quite scared about all that, so when in late January 2020 there were these reports, I kind of panicked early,” explains Orr. “It felt like an overreaction. I think a lot of people were kind of ‘what are you going on about?’ But the immediate reaction was obviously to really look after everybody and get everyone aligned.
“We actually closed the hotels only three days before it became legislated, but we were, I suppose, slightly ahead,” Orr continues. While an extremely challenging environment for all hotels, Orr’s leadership style and preparation spoke for itself, as 93% of The Resident employees were retained during the crisis.
As we move further away from the shadow of the pandemic, moreover, the most fundamental thing for Orr and the brand is reputation. “That’s the one word that unifies all of the intent, behaviours and responses – for our business we want to be well regarded and keep on innovating and thinking about how to work in a better way that is more fulfilling for everybody.” A crucial thing for Orr, he puts the recovery of the brand out of the pandemic in large part due to its reputation as a small business. “Reputation is much more important than an awful lot of other things which will [be] commonly said... but I think reputation is the most important thing because that’s the bit that connects the guest and the team.”
Reacquainting guests with the world
While the industry as a whole is “wrestling” with myriad issues, be it inflation, cost of borrowing or cost of living, the renewed traveller post-lockdown has been incredibly helpful for the industry, explains Orr. “The other consequence of the pandemic, in part, has been a reconnection of people’s relative importance of experience and actually travelling, seeing and witnessing in person, because we’ve seen how far we can get with technology.” The growth of tourism post-pandemic is an expression of freedom of travel, Orr explains, which offers The Resident the opportunity to grow. “We are a very small business, so we are looking to grow and we’re under construction up in Edinburgh at the moment.” Due to open next year in June and another pre-application in progress for London that could hopefully be open in 2026, the growth is an exciting prospect for the brand and Orr with more plans for the hotel group’s brand as well. “The Resident Hotels as the operating company will be growing the brands it operates, but it’s not like we’re going to be to a big company anytime soon – that’s not on the agenda,” Orr clarifies.
When it comes to the industry as whole, Orr feels it is important to regard it as a profession. “I think it’s quite important that it’s not just a process, it’s not just commoditised, it’s not just numbers – its real lives, its real experiences,” he explains. “Hospitality and tourism has – one way or another – had a greater voice through the pandemic, and I hope we manage to put it to good use and we are able to continue to develop the sense of it being a profession that is something that really has got flexibility and career options, and accelerated career paths.” There is a significant societal benefit through hospitality, Orr continues, whether it is through showcasing art and culture, the urban experience or both, the industry plays a vital part in “social fabric, economic welfare and growth for the future”.
One aspect of the profession that needs focus, Orr emphasises, is guest and employee satisfaction. “They should be aligned,” he says. “I would love to see the employee equivalent of Tripadvisor, so that they’re taking this seriously because if you’re really a good employer then your teams should be happier and more able to enjoy the mutual respect that they should get and share with guests.” This is something that The Resident tries its best to create, as Orr highlights the brand recognition and rankings that reflect its great guest experiences – The Resident Covent Garden Hotel, for example, was shortlisted for ‘Best Team’ in 2022 Boutique Hotelier Awards and shortlisted ‘Team of the Year’ 2021. “There’s no way you get that without having a really happy team.” Gone are the days of a “hierarchical attitude” states Orr, and there is plenty of progress to be made for employers and plenty of opportunity to raise the bar for guests and employees.
Reputation is the main message for Orr. “It’s the only thing you can take with you, and the only thing that helps people have an understanding of what they’ve experienced with you.”