When picturing a hospitality leader, one doesn’t typically envision a person who loves jumping off tall objects, riding a Ducati, partaking in Thai kickboxing, or flying a helicopter. But that’s just what Abigail Tan, head of U.K., Europe, and North America for St Giles Hotels, does in her spare time.
This adventurous lifestyle has greatly influenced Tan’s approach at St Giles. “I find inspiration in everything. My activities and traveling give me a good perspective on people and on cultures,” she says. “Every time I travel, I try to find the experience that most embodies the local culture and find a way to bring it back to our company and incorporate it into the way we build the St Giles brand.”
Tan’s father and grandfather have deep roots in the industry, and her love for hospitality manifested at a very young age. “As a kid, my favorite part about going on vacation was always the hotel,” she says, laughing. Her love for the experience was palpable—she would walk into a hotel, take in her surroundings, and be visibly content. Tan was fascinated by the entire experience, and her curiosity soon took her to hotel back offices, where she met staff and asked them questions about their jobs.
Tan first became involved with St Giles when she was attending university in Exeter, England. She would attend board meetings of the St Giles London hotel to feed her growing curiosity about the business, to experience part of the world of hospitality, and, most of all, get a taste of a professional environment. “I really loved the people I met. I also loved the energy in these meetings, and the way you can fuse so many different types of expertise into an industry,” she describes. In 2009, she joined the St Giles team as director of corporate affairs and strategic investments. In this position, she became involved in the company’s acquisition of two New York hotels. “It sent me on a learning trajectory,” Tan explains. “I was talking to banks and lawyers, looking at management and sales contracts, and just learning on the fly as I went.” In 2014, Tan was promoted to her current position.
Over the course of eight years, the St Giles brand has grown from two London-based hotels to a brand with nine privately owned and managed properties in Asia, Australia, Europe, and North America. In her time with the company, Tan has spearheaded numerous initiatives to develop the St Giles Hotels brand. This included creating a customized brand-culture training program based on feedback and surveys from within the company as well as her own ideas on what the brand should stand for at its core; it also involved streamlining systems across the entire hotel portfolio for greater cohesiveness. Now, Tan and the St Giles team have set their sights on expanding from nine hotels to 20 over the next two years.
To achieve that growth, Tan’s approach has been laser-targeted and very specific. She’s currently focused on meeting the needs of solo travelers, drawing from her own personal experience in this arena. She began the practice of giving solo guests pre-arrival surveys, which the St Giles team then uses to ensure those guests have everything they need to feel comfortable during their stays. “This gives us a chance not only to meet one particular guest’s needs, but also find ways to create better experiences for guests overall and bring a human touch and community to those who are traveling on their own,” Tan says.
Tan’s enthusiasm for hospitality expands beyond expanding St Giles’ business—she is also passionate about Hotels with Heart, a charitable initiative founded by her for St Giles Hotels in 2014. Through Hotels with Heart, the team at St Giles creates opportunities to help less fortunate people who live in the communities surrounding their hotels. Hotels with Heart has become part of the company’s culture, Tan says. “We are always looking at how we can make an impact and how we can find a permanent solution to issues in these communities. We are not looking to make a temporary impact—we want it to stick.” Hotels with Heart’s initiatives encompass everything from community service to events to fundraising.
Ultimately, Tan says that St Giles Hotels is more than just a hospitality brand—it’s a family. The comradery between the staff members is imperative to the brand’s ongoing growth and success. Making sure that those on the team are not only happy with their fellow colleagues, but also with their jobs in general, is also key. “At the end of the day, we don’t want robots,” she says. “We want people who have a passion for the business and experience satisfaction in all aspects of their work.”
Top photo: The Tuscany, New York City