Neena Jivraj Stevenson has been with Point A Hotels since their arrival on the budget-boutique scene in March 2017. In reality though, their story together goes back much further. Neena joined Point A’s family-run parent company, Queensway Group, back in 2015 – with planning for the development of a hotel brand of their own beginning as far back as July 2016. Neena, grand-daughter of Queensway’s founder Nurdin Jivraj, is now the Group’s Chief Cultural Officer, overseeing close to 900 staff members through their careers across nine Point A premises as well as the Group’s other businesses which include franchised food & beverage outlets, residential property, a private member’s club and two boutique hotels.
We spoke with Stevenson to talk about her role at Point A Hotels, the company’s views on human hospitality and overseeing a workforce speaking 34 different languages.
“At Point A Hotels, we believe in the value of human hospitality. Operating in the budget boutique hospitality space, it’s fascinating to see how customers’ expectations have shifted over the years. Today, it’s the norm for technology to almost replace the traditional role of hospitality in budget boutique hotels – none more so than the infamous digital check in experience. Obviously, technology is essential to any business in the 21st century, but we don’t believe it should be at the expense of human hospitality.
“This approach has been in our DNA since day one, when Queensway’s hotels business was just a family-run bed and breakfast. The challenge for us was not to lose this connection and care as we grew, and I can confidently say it’s still intrinsic to what we do today.
“We try to adopt a challenger mentality, with a focus on humility and kindness, this stems from a genuine wish to make the world a better place.
“We talk a lot about ‘emotionally intelligent hosting’. We want our guests to find their stay comfortable, rather than transactional (as can happen in the budget sector). Whether this is achieved through one of our team members sharing their insight to the local area with guests, or greeting guests in their native tongue, we want to ensure that a stay at Point A is as special as possible.
“I’m immensely proud to work alongside a diverse team that between them speak 34 different languages. It’s quite normal to be by the front desk and not hear a conversation take place in English all morning. We believe this is all part of the Point A experience, and can really make a difference to tired guests who might not have a masterful handle on the English language.
“As Chief Cultural Officer, overseeing an environment that ensures these high standards are consistently met is one of my favourite parts of the job. Again, this comes back to our belief in the human side of the business. Specifically, this belief needs to be reflected not just in the way we treat our guests, but in the way we look after our team members.
“We encourage our team to challenge everything, and everyone has an opportunity to challenge what we do and how we do it, contributing ideas to the business.
“This is especially true with ways to live up to our values, values that are felt and lived. We have a People Steering Committee and through this encourage contributions to the business culture. We evidence our culture through our recruitment and through the whole employee lifecycle.
“Our strategic framework is based on long term plans and targets are referenced within the business as ‘rocks to break’ in line with our challenger culture, challenging all in the business to be their best and contribute.
“At Point A Hotels, our team is just as important to us as our customers. We need them to feel like part of a family, if guests are to truly feel at home. That’s why we ensure that everybody in the organisation is approachable and transparent – whether that’s members of the Leadership Team taking an interest in day-to-day operations, or companywide events throughout the year.
“At our annual Awards Night we thank those who have gone the extra mile – from our cleaning teams to senior strategists – and at the summer Family Festival every employee’s nearest and dearest are welcome.
“Apprenticeships are another way we motivate and support our workforce to achieve their ambitions and be the best they can be. It’s wonderful to work with enthusiastic young people, whilst training them in-line with our people focused philosophy. We understand that hospitality is a sector with many opportunities, and staff may be tempted to move elsewhere – that’s why our apprenticeship provision strives to be part of a long career at Point A, rather than just a training platform. From day one on the scheme, we’re preparing future team leaders, cluster managers and – who knows – potential executives.
“We currently have thirteen people in the business doing an apprenticeship with eleven more joining us next month.
“Our people focus doesn’t mean technology is insignificant. One of my main drivers for joining the family company from Deloitte in 2015, was to offer a level of digital expertise to the company.
“Since I joined, I’ve overseen a lot of changes to the technology architecture of the company. The most notable of which would have to be the revamped website we launched in 2018, which led to an increase in online bookings by 60% and a 40% jump in our conversion rate. Naturally, this is crucial to our success – but ultimately, we will always prioritise the human touch.
“Following such a philosophy doesn’t come without its challenges. Planning for Brexit is on the mind of every hotelier in the UK, but with so much uncertainty remaining it can be difficult to pinpoint a meticulous plan.
“In a recent interview with the BBC, our Managing Director, the brilliant Nic Wenn, spoke about the importance of retaining our EU team members. It’s critical that we maintain the strength in our diversity, and one of the ways we can do that is by ensuring our staff see clear pathways to career progression and feel supported in a working environment which is based on trust, kindness, collaboration and having fun together. We’ve also been doing all we can to make sure that our team has everything they need to complete the government’s new EU Settled Status application forms. The latter is something we certainly would encourage other hospitality organisations to do, given that figures show that one in three EU employees have not yet applied.
“In 2020, we will continue to put the people at Point A front and centre. Regardless of what happens with Brexit, the UK will continue to be an incredibly attractive tourist destination. Providing those that come across to visit London, Glasgow or Edinburgh with the human hospitality that defines us isn’t going to change any time soon, even if the world around us continues to be more and more tech-orientated.
H&C News would like to thank Neena for her time and insight to Point A Hotels and its culture.