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This year's winner was chosen by the judges because of a number of different factors, not least the fact that the Soho Hotel is a prime example of the Firmdale group's ability to keep pushing the barriers of hoteliers' and guests' expectations.
General comments made by the panel about the group as a whole included: "Firmdale hotels make all their properties special and exciting. Each one is done very differently with imaginative and individual features."
Another added: "I really like that they reinvent the wheel with each new property and drive the market on and the fact there's still a personal touch to every hotel. The guys all get ‘it', whatever ‘it' is."
More specifically, the Soho hotel is the property that earned the group this prestigious award because: "It has got courage and boldness to it, lots of style, it's sexy and good for the country. It's the best new hotel in London. This is definitely no flash in the pan," according to the judges.
Within the property, owners and designers Tim and Kit Kemp were felt to have successfully mixed contemporary design with classical in the ultimate culmination of style, managing to create a country house feel mixed with urban chic in the middle of the city.
Judges comments about the look and feel of the product ranged from: "They bring to the table what most independents don't have - interesting culture, intelligent design and great taste," to, "There's a great deal of passion and attention to detail."
Another added: "There's an intellect to the product. The one thing it is not is ‘cookie- cutter'. There is a positive energy to it and the product is evolving and diverse."
But it was not just the ambience of the Soho hotel that was praised by the panel; the staff were also singled out as a differentiating factor. "The staff are very proactive and engaging. The enthusiasm from when they first opened has been maintained. A lot of people are inspired by their product and this clearly rubs off on the staff, it's not about airs and graces."
The food and beverage operation also praised: "The food and beverage operation is very clever and is a modern concept that can be all things to all people - it's all-embracing and versatile."
Other, more general comments about the hotel ranged from "You know you can recommend people to stay there without any worries," to "It's a big addition to the London scene although, as yet, not particularly well known."
Owners Tim and Kit Kemp set up Firmdale hotels in 1985 with their first boutique hotel, Dorset Square, having been turned down by 14 banks before they could finally secure funding.
Twenty-one years on, the properties run at nearly 100% occupancy all year round and employ around 600 staff. The judges also recognised the Kemp's achievements overall, saying: "They have redefined the luxury market. They have a great product and are creating a great brand. There's a genuine excitement about what they're doing."
Another added: "They are very good at what they do. It's something special for London and very good news for the city to have something with such great service."
- Gordon Campbell Gray, managing director, Campbell Gray Hotels
- David Hornby, commercial director, Visit London
- Simon Johnson, analyst, UBS Investment Bank
- Simon Numphud, key accounts manager, AA Hotel Services
- David Orr, chief executive, City Inn Hotels
- Noel Pierce, chief executive, Pierce Design International