Adaptation Key to Success for Skene House
Responding to market changes vital to reaching 40th anniversary milestone
A chance conversation in Edinburgh more than four decades ago led to the dawning of a new era in Aberdeen’s hospitality sector – and 40 years on, innovation is still the name of the game.
Founded by well-known local businessman and entrepreneur Professor Charles Skene, the business now known as Skene House HotelSuites & ConferenceSuites was something of a trailblazer when it arrived on the scene, bringing to the north-east market previously unavailable accommodation options.
Families arriving in Aberdeen to work in the oil industry were often split due to the nature of hotel accommodation, and the demand suggested that something additional was required. Using some of the best-known interior designers in the country, Charles Skene set to work buying and refurbishing an original portfolio of more than 400 flats within old tenement buildings to create one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments. With the added benefit of hotel services as well as short- and long-term lease availability, these new properties provided a cost-effective alternative option for oil company personnel to live in a ‘home-from-home’ environment whilst they were getting settled in Aberdeen.
Nowadays, Skene House HotelSuites & ConferenceSuites serviced accommodation, conference facilities and meeting rooms are spread throughout the city at key locations in Holburn, Rosemount and Whitehall, and offer the luxury of hotel living combined with the flexibility of self-catering accommodation, with stays as short as one night possible.
Mr Skene takes up the story: “Harvard Business School professor, Jeffry Timmons described entrepreneurship as: ‘a behavioural process involving the pursuit of opportunity without regard to the resources currently controlled.’ That was certainly the case when I purchased the portfolio of property in Aberdeen, as I didn’t know how I was going to pay for the buildings or, indeed, exactly what I was going to do with them initially!
“The first plan was to rent the flats as residential properties in the traditional way and, on reflection, that may have been an easier option in the short term, but the then new and booming oil industry presented an irresistible market opportunity.
“At the beginning, what we were doing was pioneering a new way of providing accommodation – indeed we believe we were the only company in the UK offering one- to three-bedroom serviced apartments on a nightly basis at that time. Because it was so new and different, a lot of hard work was needed to overcome the challenge of persuading people as to the value of these new alternatives. But we did it. We rose to the challenge and we shaped our business in step with what the market wanted from us.”
The later addition of meeting and conference facilities brought further value to the business, and continues to add to the city’s event space mix – a unique multifunctional venue nestled under the arches of Rosemount Viaduct. It has hosted everything from children’s birthday parties and hen dos to regular private lunches, dinners, conferences and training days – and boasts enviable acoustics to boot!
But whilst the corporate traveller may have been the desired prize at the outset, the changing shape of the market saw corporate bookings for whole blocks of apartments gradually gravitate towards the individual business traveller, followed by domestic and overseas leisure and tourism markets – with Scandinavia taking centre stage.
Mr Skene continues: “By working hard to cast our net further, wider and deeper, we were able to forge good links and leisure visitors became a large part of our business, offering the ideal balance between our business visitors during the working week and ensuring good occupancy at weekends.
“The last few years, however, have been very difficult not least because of crippling business rate increases. But we have survived them and that is due in no small part to our position as an independent, family-owned business with a long corporate history. We have had to adjust to the changing conditions the North East has gone through due to the challenges in the oil and gas industry, and it has been imperative for us to adjust our supply to meet current market needs. We have done this by listening and acting appropriately to remain current and relevant, and by using lessons learned from our past to help shape our future. Indeed, there is something of a full circle beginning to emerge in our business, as we celebrate our 40th anniversary.
“Our TripAdvisor award-winning Whitehall location has moved away from operating as short-term serviced apartments and will revert to offering longer-term rental properties. More and more people are opting to rent and we can add on hotel services – such as cleaning – as and when they are required, and that’s an attractive, flexible way of living for a lot of people.”
And, if asked to highlight the single most important driver behind Skene House HotelSuites & ConferenceSuites reaching its milestone 40th anniversary, Charles Skene is in no doubt as to the answer: people.
He adds: “Without question, people are what make our business tick. People are our customers and they are our staff, and some of both categories have been with us for many years. Without people, our business would not have grown to become what it is today and it is people who will shape the next chapter of our story.”