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interview MARK MANTELL

The head of Spirit Health Clubs talks to Kate Cracknell about a deep-rooted service culture, competing with the budget clubs, and the benefits of being part of a large hotel group


think hotel clubs can sometimes be lazy, putting on a single member of staff and letting the environment

try and sell itself,” says Mark Mantell, operations manager UK & Ireland for Spirit Health Clubs (InterContinental Hotels Group – IHG). “But I believe you always have to strive to engage people – and even more so since the arrival of the budget clubs.” He continues: “I personally think low-

cost clubs are a good thing: they’re great for someone like me who just wants to get in, do a hard workout and get out. And the new market dynamic is good for the customer too, as it’s really kept operators on their toes. “However, like most operators,

we’ve felt the pinch since the budget operators have arrived. To justify your price point, it’s now more important than ever to articulate a clearly defi ned and very obviously different product. Members expect more these days, and mid-market and hotel operators need to show an increased commitment to them, with higher levels of engagement. There

needs to be a step change, whether in retention or service or whatever. “For us, the obvious opportunity to

differentiate ourselves comes from the fact that we’re part of the world’s biggest hospitality company: IHG has 4,500 hotels around the world, with a strong service culture that we also embrace within our clubs. The depth of that culture, and the support and training that’s in place to ensure it’s consistently delivered across the Group, is unrivalled I think. “A lot of operators will tell you they

provide excellent customer service, and they certainly aspire to that, but they don’t actually back it up with any sort of service delivery training programme. It’s not just about being polite and friendly. It’s about looking through the eyes of the member at all times, understanding exactly what each individual wants and not cutting corners. “The other benefi t of being part of

IHG is the ability to offer a whole host of additional benefi ts to our members: discounts on hotel breaks, for example, as well as on food and beverage in the hotel lounges and restaurants after their workout. There are coffee mornings and lots of social evenings – curry nights,

Mantell says effective club operation is “about looking through the eyes of the member at all times” and understanding what each individual wants

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quiz nights, race nights – and events such as Christmas parties held in the hotel facilities. Hopefully our members feel they’re not just part of the club but part of a bigger picture. “The club managers also work

very much as members of the hotel management teams. They have their own business to drive, but they’re very conscious of the role they play in delivering a broader experience for both members and hotel guests.”

a sporting background Mantell joined the fitness industry from a background in playing and coaching sport. “I was a professional swimming coach in Australia for a while, where I used to train kids up to national standard.” Back in the UK, he played rugby for Blackheath and even turned his hand to Aussie Rules Football, representing Great Britain at the inaugural World Cup. Moving into the fi tness industry, and

up through the ranks, Mantell went into regional management with Hilton Hotels before joining IHG in 2008 as head of Spirit. “Since then, I’ve also had other roles within IHG. The health club industry can be very insular, and it’s nice to be part of a wider organisation where you have lots of opportunities to diversify and develop. Those other roles have included a

12-month secondment to the hotel side of the business as area sales director:

“I think any good organisation is always looking to give its leaders some cross- exposure. We’d had a very successful year or two at Spirit and we were interested to see if we could take some of the thinking, some of the strategies, across the company.” It makes a change for the hospitality

sector to believe it could be learning from the fi tness industry, rather than vice versa, I suggest. “You’re absolutely right. However, at Spirit we had successfully created a target-driven

april 2012 © cybertrek 2012

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