Focus: Breaking Travel News interview: Michael Bonsor, managing director, Rosewood London
“I think they thought I had been fired,” jokes Michael Bonsor about his departure from Claridge’s, where he had been hotel operations manager.
“I had a great team there, we were doing well, and suddenly I was gone.”
Instead Bonsor had been approached by Rosewood Hotels regional vice president for Europe, Matthias Roeke, who had told him about an intriguing project taking place just across town in Holborn.
Following the closure of the Marriott-operated Renaissance Chancery Court, the Hong Kong-owned company was investing £85 million in redeveloping the original headquarters of the Pearl Assurance Company into one of the leading hotels in London.
“I was not quite aware of what was happening here, with Rosewood, so it was an eye-opening experience,” Bonsor tells me from his office at the hotel.
Initially appointed hotel manager during the redevelopment project, he took a leading role in realising the ambitious plans for the property.
“Being here pre-opening was a new thing for me and something I wanted to get under my belt,” Bonsor continues.
“The process is quite time consuming, exhausting even, so I wanted to do it as early in my career was possible – I am still in my 30s after all!
“I literally lived here for six months, and it was great – a real experience.”
He adds: “We were testing the beds, the management staying overnight multiple times, with different bedding configurations, different pillows, testing a lot of product.
“It is only when you stay in the room that you may hear that pipe in the evening, the alarm in the middle of the night.”
Rosewood London soft opened in October 2013, with around half the rooms going on sale, and the remainder of the hotel coming to market the following February.
“Within our first couple of weeks of business we had a buyout of the whole property, by Bentley, and this was a first real test,” laughs Bonsor.
“Suddenly we were at full capacity, and everybody who was in house had to go places together, so literally everybody was waking up at the same time, having breakfast at the same time.”
Under his guidance the 1914 Edwardian Belle Époque building was transformed, with the original architectural features painstakingly restored by an expert team of craftsmen.
Features, including the magnificent Grade II-listed street frontage and dome, and the grand Pavonazzo marble staircase which rises through all seven storeys of the hotel beneath the 166-foot cupola, are a central focus today.
Looking back at the time he jokes: “I do not think I am a serial hotel opener!”
Promoted to managing director last year, he can now look back at a job well done.
Rosewood London has grown to prominence, attracting younger, savvy travellers, especially from the fashion and entertainment sectors.
The 262 rooms and 44 suites – including nine signature suites, referred to as “houses” – have been crafted from the finest materials and appointed to the highest standards to convey the feel of stylish London residences.
The Grand Manor House Wing, one of London’s most exclusive residences, welcomes guests via its own private entrance and is the only suite in the world to possess its own postcode.
So how did the property become what it is today?
“We put a lot of money into it – and that certainly helped,” explains Bonsor.
“There is a very distinct architectural blueprint here with the private courtyard – unrivalled by any other property in the city.
“Yes, there is an element of the courtyard at the Savoy, but there is a theatre right there.
“To have this private space is unique; an oasis within the city.
“We spent a lot of time on lighting, landscaping and developing that space, which had previously just been a car park.
“There is also the outdoor dining space, which we have added, making more of the footprint of the property.
“The interior design is also unique, we have the nods to the past, the history of the building, but there are also some contemporary spaces in the hotel too.”
He adds: “I think it was smart of the company to use Tony Chi to work on the interiors of the property, but then use Martin Brudnizki for Scarfes Bar and Holborn Dining Room, so they feel like independent spaces.
“They do not feel like a hotel bar, nor a hotel restaurant.”
“As a luxury hotel there is a chance you can be seen as quiet, a little staid, and probably overpriced, while there might be something more exciting elsewhere in the city,” continues Bonsor.
“I think, when you check into a hotel and the concierge recommends the hotel restaurant, you might question that.
“But here, we have tried to create destinations in their own right – you come down from your room and head to Holborn Dining Room, where you are surrounded to 200 locals having dinner.
“Then, crossing the courtyard, you are in a jazz bar where people both the east and the west of the city are coming to meet.”
The changing tastes of luxury travellers have also been a boon for Rosewood London, with the property able to offer a more authentic take on the British capital.
Bonsor explains: “Luxury hotels need to become more local, to speak more to their community to survive.
“We all now want to live like locals in the cities we go to, we no longer want to be in this pampered, alien environment, juxtaposed to the real life of the city.
“Not so long ago we were thinking of the most expensive cocktail, the most expensive experience, and, while I think things can still be very exclusive, this does not have to necessarily have to come with the highest price tag.
“Once of the most popular things we do here is pie making – where you can spend time with the chef in the pie room, learning how to make pies.
“Gin masterclasses, as well, we have guests signing up for 45-minutes.
“We do not bring in a third party to offer these, it is our chef, our barmen, and they leave you with an in-depth knowledge.”
Rosewood itself is also in the process of expanding.
Having been founded in Dallas in 1979, the brand has long been popular with American travellers looking to visit classic properties, including The Carlyle in New York, Las Ventanas in Mexico and Mansion on Turtle Creek.
Now, following the acquired by a Hong Kong-based conglomerate in 2011, it has a growing fan base in Asia, with a flagship property set to open on the Victoria Harbour toward the end of the year.
“It is a very exciting time for Rosewood,” adds Bonsor.
“I was at Four Seasons for ten years; I was there when they had 55 hotels, right before it began to double.
“I feel that same excitement here, where we will double over the next three to four years.”
He is likely to have his hands full in London in the meantime, however, with a number of new rivals – including Raffles, Peninsula and Standard Hotels – all opening new properties in the coming years.
“We are going to have a lot more rooms in London.
“I think the market can support that, if you look at the past three months, we could have had 100 more rooms here,” adds Bonsor.
With Rosewood having just broken ground on its second London property, on the site of the former US embassy, there is still plenty more from the brand to come in the capital.
Rosewood London, centrally located in the heart of London on High Holborn, is housed in a Grade II-listed building combining English heritage with contemporary sophistication.
Find out more about the hotel on the official website.