Vidyadhar Patole, Hotel Manager, Sofitel London St James is a collaborative, performance-driven, entrepreneurial and self-motivated hotel professional with over 20 years of continuous advancement and expertise in international hotel operations. After completing his hotel management in Pune he joined Le Meridien Pune’s pre-opening team and after that joined Grand Hyatt Delhi’s pre opening team. After a 4 year stint with Hyatt, he joined Intercontinental Marine Drive which was also a pre-opening project and launched some very unique and successful Food and Beverage venues. He then joined Goa Marriott Resort & Spa for a food and beverage refurbishment and repositioning.
Post that Vidyadhar traveled to UK and continued to work with Marriott in Wales and Durham before joining Fairmont St Andrews in Scotland where he was instrumental in delivering a hotel wide renovation program as well as repositioning the resort alongside the General Manager. When Accor acquired the Fairmont, Raffles and Swissotel portfolio, Vidyadhar moved to London to join Sofitel London St James. He has also been a HIT scholar at Ecole Hôtelière de Lausanne as well as International Hospitality Management Program at ESSEC business school via Accor Hotels Academy.
He is a proactive self-starter with record of accomplishment of initiative, personal responsibility, ownership of work and reputation for removing obstacles and making things happen. Very authentic, ethical and a skilled coalition-builder both within property and ownership level.
What makes Sofitel London St James stand out from other properties you’ve worked in?
Sofitel St James is unlike any other Sofitel and hence is considered as a flagship property for Accor. It is an iconic address where British heritage meets French hedonism. In France, enjoying life is a daily quest, and the Saint James area is the authentic living district where history meets up-to-date true luxury. The Sofitel Saint James creates a luxurious, enriched experience, cultured with a French accent and touch, to indulge in a surprising and genuine hospitality. We are traditional but not formal nor ‘old school’ luxury.
Who is your typical customer?
It would be impossible to define a typical customer as we are very versatile in our offerings and hence attract a lot of varied interests. However, on a broad spectrum we are a mix of high end corporate and leisure business. Most of our leisure travel comes from France, Switzerland, Israel, Australia, Germany, North America, United Kingdom and of course United States.
If you could plan a one-day itinerary for guests looking to explore London, where would you send them?
There is a lot one can do once you set your foot outside the hotel. I would start by walking to St James’ Park and to get to Buckingham Palace (by the way the change of guard will resume from Monday 23rd August). Later to Parliament Square and to visit Westminster Abbey. From there to Westminster Bridge and then spend the afternoon in the London Eye. From there, one can take the river Cruise to London Bridge Pier, where you can visit Borough market to have a bite and drink, take some pictures of Tower Bridge. Then walk along the Thames to visit either The Tate Modern or St Paul’s Cathedral. Finally, one can end the itinerary with Covent Garden or Soho to enjoy the evening and night life of London. So they can go to a typical British pub (I love the Lamb & Flag on Rose Street) and eventually carry on with a musical and a restaurant.
Building the right team is crucial for a property’s success. What are the key skills you look for when hiring new employees?
We don’t tend to hire based on skills except for areas which need those specific trade skills but focus on the ability for an individual to integrate themselves within our hospitality and workplace culture. We have a very strong Heartist® programme (‘Heartist®’ is heart + artist) and we see a ‘Heartist®’ in each employee. Someone who can be a master of the art of hospitality and serves others from the heart, with curiosity and inventiveness. Our culture in the hotel is based on the pure passion and dedication to deliver augmented hospitality day in day out to our guests.
What is the USP of your hotel?
Sofitel London has one of the best addresses in London – close to parks, landmarks, shopping districts, theatres and stations. We even share a postcode with Buckingham Palace (SW1) which is 10 minutes walking distance, just a stone’s throw away. The St James area is an iconic and exclusive area of central London; full of galleries, leading designers, independent shops and world cuisine. An eclectic mix of old and new. Waterloo Place is framed by palatial buildings designed by John Nash, the famed Regency-era architect. It was named in memory of the 1815 Battle of Waterloo, where Napoleon was defeated. Regent Street St James was the passage for the King or Queen of England when travelling north. Built in 1815, the Royal Opera Arcade behind us was Britain’s first covered shopping street, and now houses art galleries and luxury gift shops. It was the last surviving section of John Nash’s Royal Opera House, which burnt down in 1867. The design was influenced by the Parisian arcades, more so than any English precedents. The Haymarket Theatre behind us has been used for theatrical entertainment longer than any other place in London.
Jermyn Street which is nearby has more Royal Warrants than any other London Street – a mark of recognition for those who have supplied goods or services for at least five years to the Royal Family. Our rooms which have been recently refurbished in 2019 are conceived by Pierre-Yves Rochon, our original hotel interior designer and a legendary figure in the world of luxury hospitality designs with other projects such as The Savoy, and the George Cinq (V) in Paris. Our new rooms are inspired by the 1960’s London Pop-Art scene; edgy, striking and capturing the hedonistic, creative and dynamic feel of ‘swinging’ 1960’s London. This was Pierre-Yves best time! The Swinging ’60’s’ was a youth-driven cultural revolution in the UK based on modernity and having fun. Key elements were bands such as the Beatles, The Rolling Stones and The Who, models like Twiggy and Jean Shrimpton and the MOD subculture.
What is the one dish that guests have to try when at your hotel?
We are proud to be working with Anthony Demetre who runs Wild Honey St James. Anthony has been credited to have pioneered ‘bistronomy’ style of offering in London when he launched Arbutus which also led him to achieve a Michelin star in 2006 and later at Wild Honey, Mayfair. I really love his cooking and it’s a perfect setting within the hotel. I would always recommend the Cacio e Pepe with crisp chicken, Bouillabaisse Marseilles-style and Classic English Custard Tart.
2020 was a challenging year for the hospitality industry. In your opinion, how will travel trends change in the second half of 2021?
Regional UK hotels in general are doing much better than London hotels. Weekends are currently stronger than midweek however midweek occupancies have also started to improve. Edinburgh is leading the recovery in the UK in terms of occupancy as well as ADR. We could see good occupancies from August onwards if the new variants can be kept under check. Overall, predictions are very optimistic about the rebound in travel but of course this will only happen if the virus variants don’t make the governments in UK and Europe nervous. London has to be able to welcome visitors as smoothly as possible to facilitate international travel and promote the city as a safe destination.
Was a career in hospitality something you always dreamt of? What is your advice to aspiring hoteliers?
I always wanted to be chef after my mother introduced me to cooking at a very early age. I still remember I used to stand on a stool to get to the stove and cook. Fate had other plans and I ended up in the front and not in the kitchens. My advice to aspiring hoteliers is to enjoy their journey and not be pressurize themselves be in a race to achieve more titles or promotions. The hospitality landscape and business models are ever-changing and hence ensure you first build your foundations be it; innovation, commercial awareness, technology, soft skills etc. very strong. On the other hand, I would also advise them to identify or strengthen their core values as they would also one day be leaders and we need leaders with strong, ethical core values.
You have worked in several cities, which is your favorite city for work and play?
My hospitality career has taken me to different locations, but my favorite city for work and play continues to be London. It has so much to offer and is a cultural melting pot.
When are you happiest?
I am most happy when I see my team enjoying and really having a sense of purpose. When they achieve little wins and the joy which comes from that experience is amazing. I also enjoy my time with my little son and watching him grow is fabulous.