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by Cheryl-Anne Sturken | April 26, 2016

Abigail Tan of St. Giles HotelsCheryl-Anne SturkenAfter years of covering the hotel industry, it's rare that I come across a brand I have never heard of. So imagine my surprise when I got a call out of the blue asking if I had time to sit down and chat with Abigail Tan, head of St Giles Hotels for Europe, the United Kingdom and the United States, to learn about the company's new brand campaign. Wait — the United States? Turns out they have two properties here, both in New York City.

Expect to be hearing a lot more from this chain, which has been flying under the radar for some time, because it has big expansion plans. It also has launched a new creative campaign, "Be Central, Be St Giles," a 45-second film that explores the brand's central focus on prime urban locations, along with an overhauled website.

In our chat, Tan spoke candidly about London-based St Giles Hotels' new business strategy and its plans to stake a name for itself in a what continues to be a decidedly crowded hotel field.

Right now the brand has nine properties, with plans to have 20 by 2020. That means St Giles will more than double its portfolio in the next four years. Will the new properties be rebrands or new-build, and what are some of the destinations being considered?

The new properties will consist of new-builds, conversions, rebrands and management contracts. The destinations we are considering are key hub cities that have established or growing transient corporate and leisure business. In Europe, we are actively looking in Madrid and Barcelona in Spain, Rome and Milan in Italy, and Berlin. Asia is still a major growth market for us. Cuba is in high focus at the moment.

How much of the company's business is meetings-related? Is the chain looking to attract more U.S. group business?

Meetings business in our New York and London properties is about 2 percent, and the market continues to grow for us. We definitely are looking to attract more group business to both New York City and London, as we offer an array of spaces to accommodate various meeting styles and sizes, from small to large, and our hotels’ central location makes it very convenient for attendees to access each city.

Is there a central sales team, and will they be ramping up for the portfolio's expansion?

The sales teams currently are based in New York for North America, and London for U.K. hotels. They are ready to set up new locations and expand the sales force as expansion happens. As projects happen, we will be actively ramping up.

Which brands would St Giles consider competition here in the U.S. and in the U.K, where the brand is headquartered?

We have hotels ranging from three- to five-star categories within the St Giles brand, so the comp sets will change depending on category. In London, our comp set would be the Strand Palace, Holiday Inn Bloomsbury and Thistle Bloomsbury. In New York City, our property The Court NYC competes with the Jolly Madison Towers, Shelburne NYC Hotel, Redbury New York [formerly the Martha Washington Hotel] and the Avalon Hotel NYC. The Tuscany NYC, our other New York entry, competes with 70 Park Avenue Hotel [a Kimpton property], Morgans Hotel, Roger Williams Hotel, Hotel Chandler and The Renwick.

The campaign, "Be central With St Giles," is interesting. Do you want to exclusively be in urban locations?

Yes, all St Giles hotels are centrally and strategically located in the world's major cities. Each hotel facilitates an enhanced city experience for business and leisure travelers, as major attractions, transportation, entertainment, restaurants and conference venues are all located within close proximity.

Would you consider St Giles to be a lifestyle brand, one that draws on the local community?

Yes, definitely. All our hotels look and feel different, and this is because we don't believe in rolling out hotels that look the same everywhere we go. We want to utilize local talent, resources and products as much as we can, and work creatively to create something that is locally unique and relevant while respecting local heritage. A key component of our campaign that has yet to be officially launched is called "Hotels With a Heart," where we will be engaging the local community to work with them on charity initiatives, internships/apprenticeships and giving back to those underprivileged in the community.

What are some of the partnerships that your two New York City properties are looking into? Are you looking at F&B or retail options?

We have been busy exploring and solidifying partnerships with both local retail and F&B businesses and entrepreneurs. These include working on specialized in-room amenities using local craftspeople, breweries, coffee houses and restaurants. Some examples include Cooperstown, N.Y.-based Brewery Ommegang, ACE Coffee and Agavi Juice, and we’ll continue to roll out additional partnerships with new brands throughout the year so that guests receive a continuous stream of unique, localized experiences.

In 2015, we opened two new properties: the 415-room Wembley in Penang, Malaysia, and the 280-room Tank Stream in Sydney, Australia. Our most ambitious project in the pipeline, however, may well be the £300 million mixed residential, commercial and hotel development in Central London's Southwark area. Located on close to two acres, the 400-room property, which also will include a luxury residential building, retail and medical center, is slated to open in 2020.