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Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons is synonymous with gorgeous food, unparalleled luxury and, of course, its founder, uberchef Raymond Blanc, who created the hotel in 1984. Throughout the past 27 years the business has never rested on its laurels, reinventing itself while staying true to its classic core.
In fact, the personal service and individuality at Le Manoir is so legendary that few guests are aware that it is in fact part of a group. It may be Blanc's baby, but it is ultimately owned by Orient-Express, which operates more than 40 elite hotels and trains worldwide.
What impressed the judges of this award, however, was that the 32-bedroom Le Manoir in the Oxfordshire village of Great Milton is a destination in its own right - and a financially successful one at that.
Unbowed by the tough years many hotels endured during the recession, the hotel took 2010 by storm. This vigour was no doubt driven by Philip Newman-Hall, who returned as general manager in July 2009. He pumped £2m into a number of projects, including four new suites, which cost £1.2m. The biggest, Blanc de Blanc, was occupied for 89 nights at a rate of over £1,000 a night. It's easy to see, then, how turnover was boosted by more than £1m (ex-VAT) and profitability rose by 8.5%.
"The performance for Le Manoir in 2010, a very difficult year for a provincial hotel, was absolutely phenomenal," said Ufi Ibrahim, chief executive of the British Hospitality Association.
But, Le Manoir is not all about the bottom line. It has, for instance, retained its two Michelin stars for a remarkable 26 years and has held five AA rosettes for 18 years, serving more than 80,000 meals.
It's also an industry beacon for staff training. It hosts stages as well as sending its own staff to other hotels for cross-training. Its focus on career development and the introduction of a new performance and development review system is largely credited with reducing staff turnover by 8% over the year.
Not to be forgotten are the hotel's ecological achievements. These include the long-term savings made by opening a bore hole for water and reducing energy use.
Stuart Procter, managing director of Cuban Group, summed it up: "In 2010, not only did Le Manoir stick to its guns in maintaining high standards, but the increase in occupancy and exceptionally high room rate while the rest of the market slashed rates is a credit to all involved. This is a great example of how a hotel should be operated, which isn't by any accountant or asset manager. Le Manoir is a shining example to all."
â- Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons, Great Milton
â- Summer Lodge Country House Hotel, Evershot
â- The Dorchester, London
The JudgesLaurence Beere, proprietor, the Queensberry Hotel & Olive Tree Restaurant
Gordon Campbell Gray, chairman, Campbell Gray Hotels
Stephen Carter, managing director, Cameron House on Loch Lomond
Ufi Ibrahim, chief executive officer, British Hospitality Association
Andrew McKenzie, managing director, the Vineyard Group
Stuart Procter, managing director, Cuban Group
Marvin Rust, global managing partner - hospitality, Deloitte