We had an opportunity to talk to Gordon Cartwright, the Executive General Manager at The Isle of Eriska Hotel, Spa and Golf – a lovely haven located on the west coast of Scotland. Staying on a private island is probably one of the most relaxing and exquisite experiences that anyone can imagine; among else, Eriska’s guests can feast their eyes on breath-taking views of Loch Linnhe and the dramatic Morvern Mountains, as well as enjoy fine dining in Eriska’s Michelin star restaurant. The Hilltop Reserves lodges offer a perfect experience to those who prefer self-catering. We were eager to learn from Gordon what it’s like to run an entire island.
Hello Gordon, could you first tell us what the Isle of Eriska offers to the guests, other than astonishing view and nature?
Gordon: Eriska is about a step change for our guests, a step back from the fast pace of life and a place where they can totally relax in a stunningly beautiful environment.
You’ve managed different hotels in the course of your career – how does managing a private island differ from managing a hotel?
Gordon: Every day is different with challenges for the team you don’t usually get in your mainland hotel. Being remote means you have to plan multi levels of redundancy when systems falter, suppliers don’t make their deliveries on time, or staff have illness. Nothing is on our doorstep here. At times, we have to improvise with a plan B or C that’s as polished as plan A.
An exquisite resort like the one you manage must attract a great number of clientele with high expectations – are you always able to meet them?
Gordon: Yes and No. For the most part our daily planning and focus on the individual guests’ needs more often exceeds the expectation of our guests. But on the occasion, we can’t impress because expectations are out of kilter – it’s our job to bring those expectations round to create a positive result. We don’t get a lot of disgruntled guests but when we do we embrace the guest with increased care.
What is, in your opinion, a common mistake that people make in the hospitality industry? Is there something you consider completely unacceptable in your line of business?
Gordon: Increasingly, driven by commercial pressures, hotels are becoming so process driven that guests aren’t provided with a truly unique and memorable experience. I travel extensively and find myself in so many soulless hotels where staff training and a genuine connection with the guest isn’t really the focus. The definition of hospitality is how well one person builds a rapport with another. This should always be the priority. Sadly, hotels are becoming business models in which pressure on the balance sheet squeezes out the resources required to deliver the WOW! Factor.
The food served in your restaurant must be quite an experience – could you give us a sneak peek into your menu? Which dishes your clients simply must try out?
Gordon: Having dined in literally thousands of top restaurants across the world I genuinely feel that what we deliver at Eriska is wonderfully unique. The kitchen has fully embraced nature to the extent that 90% of our garnishes are either grown or foraged on the island with the daily harvesting of ingredients just a few hours before dinner. This creates an incredibly fresh flavour experience because ingredients are not losing their flavours in the supply chain. To answer your question directly, our clients need to try everything!
What would you say defines a luxury customer experience and takes your clients’ stay to the next level?
Gordon: The key training mantra at Eriska, that one quality that we seek to wow our guests with is, generosity of spirit from everyone who works at Eriska. Whatever facilities we provide might never be enough, whatever interior design we invest in might not suit all, whatever we equip our bedrooms with might fall short to some, but a really genuine, flawless smile with deep engagement with the guest is always well received. This is why 60% of our market are return guests and why most of our guests aren’t met with a corporate smile, but more often with hugs afforded to returning friends.
Your Hilltop Reserves self-catering lodges have been a huge success, and you will soon launch additional four properties on the island. What is the Hilltop Reserves Experience like?
Gordon: I’ve been privileged in my career to have spent quite a lot of time in some amazing accommodation around the world. I would put our Hilltops in the top 1% in terms of sheer unadulterated luxury dropped into a breath-taking wilderness environment. The juxtaposition between the raw setting and the sumptuous luxury behind the glass never ceases to impress our guests.
What is the biggest challenge for you, as the Isle of Eriska’s General Manager?
Gordon: We set the bar high at Eriska in terms of quality and service and not reaching the required standard is not forgiving on either the colleague or the guest. There are no easy days at Eriska as GM, nor should there be and I have no doubt that many of my peers in the industry face daily pressures in pursuit of excellence. The greatest challenge as GM of Eriska is to make sure myself and my team stay focussed on the guest experience and not purely the processes that underpin what we do. We can’t forget how it feels to be one of our own guests.
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