General Manager of the Year: David Morgan-Hewitt of The Goring

Pictured: David Morgan-Hewitt, managing director of The Goring, loves the pomp and pageantry of a luxury hotel, but at heart believes protecting the guest is his number-one priority.

David Morgan-Hewitt, managing director of The Goring in London, loves everything about hotels. In fact, even though he clearly spends most of his day in an actual hotel, his idea of a fun time is to visit other properties, whether in London or when he’s vacationing throughout the world.

“I’m never happier than when I’m in the lobby of a hotel. I love watching the staff, I love watching the guests and getting the feel of the place,” he tells Luxury Travel Advisor.

Pictured: David Morgan-Hewitt, managing director of The Goring, loves the pomp and pageantry of a luxury hotel, but at heart believes protecting the guest is his number-one priority.

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Morgan-Hewitt, who last year celebrated his 25th year at The Goring, was also voted “Top General Manager Worldwide” by the readers of Luxury Travel Advisor in 2015. We say it’s his passion for the day-to-day dynamics of the business, and for the luxury travel advisor community that clearly made him stand out (see sidebar).

Of note as well is that Morgan-Hewitt’s entire hotel career has been spent at The Goring, a luxury property set just a few blocks away from Buckingham Palace, that’s been owned and run by the same family since it was opened by Otto Goring in 1910. A member of Relais & Châteaux, it has just 69 rooms and suites; some think the hotel is larger, since it’s so widely known for its five-star elegance that is English in every way. Members of the Royal Family visit regularly, including The Queen. In fact, in 2013, The Goring was granted a Royal Warrant of appointment to HM The Queen for Hospitality Services, which Morgan-Hewitt is responsible for maintaining. Those considered for the warrant are companies that have supplied The Queen’s household for at least five years; The Goring in fact is the first hotel to be awarded a Royal Warrant by The Queen.

Aside from a consistent business from the royal family, The Goring is where Kate Middleton, now Duchess of Cambridge, stayed with her family just prior to her wedding to Prince William. That singular event drew 2.2 billion sets of eyes, via international TV, to the front door of the hotel, which handled the publicity in an intensely understated and discrete manner. But that’s how it handles all of its clientele.

“What’s lovely about this hotel is that no one bothers anybody,” says Morgan-Hewitt. “We have no cult of celebrity here. Of course, not everyone is the same but everyone is the same. Everybody is our guest and we’ll do everything that we can to make sure that they have a wonderful time.”

 

“There’s a lot of respect here,” says Morgan-Hewitt. “There’s a lot of respect between our clients, our guests. They respect each other’s privacy and space and privacy really matters here. There’s also a lot of respect from our staff to the clients and there’s a lot of respect among the staff. When they come on shift they’ll shake hands with each other.”

It’s this intimate dynamic that keeps Morgan-Hewitt at The Goring; it was never his intent to move around the industry to climb up a corporate ladder.

“What I’m interested in is running a hotel and I’m interested in the interaction between the people and the hotel, and the staff and the hotel. I’m an old-fashioned hotelier,” Morgan-Hewitt tells Luxury Travel Advisor.

First Love

Morgan-Hewitt was fascinated with the fundamentals of hospitality ever since the age of 14 when he saw a TV show about a hotel in Germany and thought, “Oh, that’s what I want to do.” He was brusquely reminded by his father that no, he was actually going to study law. So off he went to University when it was time, but during all his breaks he worked at hotels. And although in love with the lodging business, he first fell in to working in restaurants for some high-profile industry players, with some success. Hotels were in his blood, though, and he started at The Goring on December 10, 1990, as its restaurant manager during the hectic Christmas season, (“My goodness, I remember I had to soak my feet in salt water for the first week!” he recalls) with the goal of moving over to the hotel side as quickly as possible.

He became general manager in 1996 and managing director in 2006, graciously handling The Goring’s esteemed and varied guest roster with a demeanor that is calm and cool with a dash of merry wit artfully sprinkled in here and there. An avowed gastronome, Morgan-Hewitt used to say his main hobby in life was food and wine but lately he’s realized his hobby is humanity.

“I love people and if you love people, get into a hotel and work because our day is full of people,” he advises. “It’s full of fascinating people. If you’re five-star luxury like this, there are a lot of achievers and they’re high achievers. One gets to meet prime ministers, presidents, royalty, top businessmen and top sportsmen. You get a wonderful opportunity to meet people who are fascinating and have created success. You get others who have inherited lots of money and done wonderful things with it. You can get people who inherited lots of money and have done terrible things with it [but not at The Goring].”

He also encounters those who have selected The Goring as the venue for significant life celebrations. Because of its proximity to Buckingham Palace, those being honored with investitures by The Queen (which could include being knighted or being decorated for, say, gallantry) often celebrate with a family lunch in the hotel’s Michelin-star Dining Room. Investitures at certain times of the year are held twice a week, so The Goring then will be “packed with ladies in glamorous hats, men in uniforms, and people who are often having the very best day of their life. They’ve just been knighted or they just got an OBE [Order of the British Empire], or they’ve just been awarded some other honor, and it really is the highlight of a career, of a life, and of a family,” notes Morgan-Hewitt, who says creating and protecting special moments on those days is vital as a hotelier.

“They’re really putting those memories in your hands and so you have to work really hard. You have to, first of all, understand how important it is. It’s not just lunch for them, it’s part of the most amazing day,” he adds.

He, of course, is as passionate as when it comes to those who are actually staying at the hotel. “All good hotels are about creating memories, whether it be the way in which you arrive, the way in which your room is prepared for you, or the things that they do for you.”

Morgan-Hewitt tips his hat to the Goring family, which has owned the hotel since it opened its doors in 1910.

“I’ve only known two generations, but they both have utterly believed that this is merely a custodial time for them,” says Morgan-Hewitt. “This is the family’s jewel. There’s always a member of the family here and they know it’s their job to make it better than it was, before they pass it on.”

The current family member protecting the legacy is Jeremy Goring, who is now the chief executive of the hotel. He came on board 10 years ago and is extremely passionate about guest satisfaction, says Morgan-Hewitt. “He is obsessed with looking after clients. Jeremy is so focused on getting everything perfect and wonderful for the clients; it’s just great,” he adds.

The family also invests the profits from the hotel directly back into The Goring.

To commemorate its centennial anniversary five years ago, they launched a massive renovation of the hotel to the tune of $120,000 per room, to bring it up to a stunning new standard.

The Goring is filled with luxury elements. Even though it’s in the heart of London (Belgravia, to be exact, in that Buckingham Palace neighborhood), it has a lush, expansive green garden out back where a statue of Otto Goring, who opened the hotel, presides in a peaceful corner. Overlooking the Goring Gardens is an outdoor terrace that for this winter has been transformed into an alpine venue, thanks to a partnership with Badrutt’s Palace in Switzerland (think craft cocktails served by waiters wearing vintage sweaters and ski gear).

The Dining Room in 2015 was awarded a Michelin star, thanks to Chef Shay Cooper and his team. Also in 2015, The Goring closed for the first time ever (it hadn’t even done so during either of the world wars) to completely revamp and elevate the look of its Front Hall, which now sports exquisitely hand-painted wallpaper by Fromental depicting the English countryside with wild animals hiding amidst the trees and bushes. Specially commissioned Gainsborough Silk now drapes the windows in the Front Hall, echoing the look of the bedrooms upstairs.

With the hotel's reopening came the addition of footmen to assist guests, dressed in bright red traditional uniforms, all the better to complement the muted grays and whites of The Goring’s freshly redesigned interiors.

The addition of the footmen was a carefully thought out strategy, says Morgan-Hewitt.

“Someone said to me, ‘What are we going to do when we reopen? We need to have butlers. Everyone has got butlers for their suites and their top rooms.’ I said, ‘Well, that’s absolutely right, but we’re The Goring so let’s do it differently. Let’s not have butlers, let’s have footmen. Any household can have a butler, but only the very grandest have footmen.’ If you look at Downton Abbey, which everybody’s watching, footmen really were an extravagance. They were extra people to help. They were often good-looking young men and they were glamorous. If you had them, you were showing off your wealth,” says Morgan-Hewitt.

Back to the Basics

Morgan-Hewitt loves the pomp and ceremony that comes with running The Goring, but what’s really top of mind for him is maintaining the fundamentals of being a true hotelier. “I love the beautiful rooms and the beautiful experiences, but ultimately they are the staging grounds for your being hospitable. I think sometimes we forget that being hospitable means just that, that you’d give up your own bed for someone to have it. That’s the philosophy of my business life.”

He is a member of several prestigious U.K. associations, including the Master Innholders, a group of 120 prominent hoteliers, whose credos hearken back to those ancient days when trade guilds controlled a variety of industries, including bakers, goldsmiths, butchers and innkeepers.

“We’re no different from innkeepers of the medieval times,” says Morgan-Hewitt. “We stand at a door and when someone comes up to us and says, ‘I’m not at home,’ we say, ‘Right, come on in, we will feed you, we will give you something to drink, we will give you a bed, and we’ll look after your horse.’ That’s basically what we do but now we park their car. We do all that, and that has never changed.”

A clear example of maintaining those fundamentals was when the Middletons stayed at The Goring prior to the Royal Wedding in 2011. Several hotel staff members were offered substantial amounts by media to reveal details of the stay, yet not one did so. Morgan-Hewitt says that’s because the team has a natural pride and a desire to look after their guests.

“We protect our guests from problems, we protect them from things that don’t work. We protect them from having to fight their way through traffic. You get them a car, you get them a taxi, you protect them from the rain, you protect them in all sorts of different ways, but you also really protect them. You do everything you can for them. Which is wonderful. It’s a real pleasure to work in an environment where everybody is nice to each other and cares about each other.”

In fact, to hear this Master Innkeeper describe it, a hotel can be a pretty fabulous place to spend one’s day, and even one’s career.

“It’s an amazing thing to work somewhere where people are driven by love of the job, an obsession with perfection, and a real desire to care for people,” he says. “If we had a world where everyone was hotelier, I think we’d be in a much nicer world, because we all open doors for people, we all think about someone else first. We stand up when people come in through the door.

“A world full of hoteliers would be a glorious place, actually,” Morgan-Hewitt says. 

ADVISOR INSIGHT:

David Morgan-Hewitt was voted “Top General Manager Worldwide” by the readers of Luxury Travel Advisor in 2015, an audience that he considers vital to the success of the hotel’s business.

Case in point: When The Goring reopened to great fanfare after several weeks of intense renovation of its Front Hall, on hand as guests of honor were top travel advisors from the United States. They even had the chance to have lunch with the Duchess of Cambridge after she officially reopened the hotel by adding a final stroke to the hand-painted wallpaper in the Front Hall.

The meeting rounded off a whirlwind of festivities for the travel advisors, a market Morgan-Hewitt is quite dedicated to.

“They’re our partners. It’s as simple as that,” he says, noting that he feels the luxury travel advisor community is undergoing a renaissance. “Clients realize how good they are and how much knowledge they have and what a difference they can make, especially when things go wrong. They make a difference when things are going well because they can advise you of the best rooms to stay in, they can call up the hotel and pull strings for you, but when they really come into their own is when something goes wrong and they can sort it out. The other renaissance is that you are seeing so many more young people becoming travel advisors. You only have to go back 10 to 15 years when there was a worry that there were not going to be a next generation of travel advisors. Now, you go into an office and there is a full spectrum of advisors of all ages.”

Morgan-Hewitt says those who are used to being serviced by their accountants, their lawyers or their stylists, also know the value of a great travel advisor in their lives.

“The people who really want to go places and want to invest their personal time on holiday or even on business are going to pay to have proper advice of a travel advisor and to have them fighting in their corner should anything go wrong,” he says.

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