Michael Helling, general manager of the Aviator Hotel in Farnborough since 2008, is gearing up for his busiest time of the year and ensuring that standards do not slip as preparations for July's air show gather pace
How long have you been at Aviator and what were you doing before?
I came to the Aviator having worked at the Hong Kong Club for three years. I've been here since the hotel opened just before the 2008 Farnborough air show.
What attracted you to Aviator?
The idea of working at a hotel that had a different driving force behind it was really attractive. With the proximity to Farnborough airport we have an almost "built-in" clientele who need a convenient location close to the airport. We're noticing passengers choosing to save travelling time by using the hotel as a base for meetings or even as their UK office.
Your key responsibilities?
As general manager I'm responsible for pulling all the different elements of the hotel together. We have an extensive front of house team who offer very warm hospitality. Food and beverages are very important. Our team of chefs serve amazing modern European food. Housekeeping is essential. In a hotel as stylish as Aviator you need to keep on top of the details. Obviously marketing and sales are important and they depend to some extent on the rest of the elements coming together. My role is to make sure that they do.
Describe a typical week
I'm not sure there really is a typical week in hospitality, especially when you combine it with the world of business aviation. I have daily, weekly and monthly meetings to ensure we're all communicating and to ensure we are consistently delivering fabulous service, generating business and managing commercially.
There are meetings relating to particular strategic focuses - at the moment many are related to the air show. I also try to spend as much time as I can front of house.
What are your unique qualities?
The hotel is right next to the UK's only private airport and we are owned by the TAG group of companies. This means that we, above all hotels, understand the needs and requirements of the aviation community. I can't think of any other hotel that has this singular type of location and access to a specific aviation community.
Describe some recent initiatives
Most recently we've been promoting our "chalet without a chalet" concept, which is focused on aviation companies who wish to attend Farnborough but don't necessarily require a chalet. We're also offering corporate lunch tables with complementary terrace space from which to watch the air show. This is new this year.
What are your main challenges?
It's a real challenge trying to bring together the requirements of our high-net-worth individual clients who are keen to experience the best of everything and the crew who just wish to relax. Mix that with corporates holding business meetings here and we have to be many things to a lot of different people. Add to this the Farnborough air show, which adds a whole new level of hospitality, and it's quite different to any other hotel I've worked in.
What are the main challenges with the air show coming up?
Our main challenge will be to make sure we maintain our standard of service. There will be a lot of quick change-rounds.
What have been the highlights?
The opening of the hotel ranked among my biggest challenges ever. Coming on board a mere month before the opening may have added to it. During opening week, no fewer than 200-300 people roamed the hotel and on day two we had 100% occupancy.
My philosophy has always been service, service and service with a focus on a relaxed, friendly manner. Being awarded Tourism South East's Outstanding Customer Service accolade in 2009 was fabulous for the whole team.