A career spanning some of the top hotels and resorts in the world – including The Ritz in London – has led John Keating to Fairmont St Andrews. With vast hospitality experience accumulated in China, Russia, Australia and Indonesia, the well-travelled GM is spearheading a transition at the St Andrews hotel and resort into a relentlessly customer-focused operation based on excellence and ‘emotional experience’, as well as a celebration of the region’s many culinary delights.

Recent past

I’ve been fortunate to work in some amazing hotels and resorts around the world from China, Russia, Australia and Indonesia, before joining Fairmont St Andrews in June 2015.

I have just overseen the completion of a multi-million pound interior refurbishment programme as well as the launch of The Savoy Afternoon Tea and a gastronomic summer season of International Jazz Sunday Brunch. With the re-launch of our signature restaurant, St Andrews Bar & Grill, also during this time, it has been an exciting and busy period.

The renovations have elevated the hotel and proudly celebrate the heritage of St Andrews, with a nod to golf, our coastal location and strong seafood ties that make this part of Scotland so special.

Before that

I was introduced to the industry by my uncle who was the Sommelier and Maître d’ at the Shelbourne Hotel in Dublin.

I started as an apprentice when I was 16 and covered all the food & beverage side of the business. This was followed by a year in Geneva to improve my French and a Management Traineeship at the Ritz Hotel in London with a degree in Hospitality & Tourism from West London University.

My early career was mainly focused on food & beverage, becoming the Ritz Hotels Maître d’ at the age of 25. After several senior restaurant and food & beverage positions in five-star hotels I became a general manager some 20 years ago.

Industry

St Andrews is world-renowned for its golf, but the destination has so much more on offer for businesses to experience. The recent refurbishments and luxurious interiors are reflected in our purpose-built 15,000 square foot conference centre – these are large, flexible spaces but still intimate.

Being within half-an-hour drive of Dundee airport and 90 minutes from Edinburgh is particularly appealing for corporate visitors, while our coastal location, among 520 acres, makes us extremely popular for incentive travel bookers looking for privacy at their event.

Delegates benefit from being able to attend all activities on one site, from plenary break-outs to a full-blown conference, or gala dinner, we have it all.

Now

Luxury brands need to be committed to enhancing their product, what was primarily a high-end market service and product industry is now about becoming an ‘emotional experience’. Service is key to our success and that begins from the moment someone books their event or stay. The customer journey is much more than the hours spent in the venue and that is where personal and online engagement is so important.

For an area as naturally diverse as Fife, cuisine is another huge growth area. Guests want to experience something original and unique from the region and our chefs are passionate about utilising the local larder of fresh produce on our doorstep – this is something of a transition for the hospitality and events industry.

Vision

St Andrews is known by people for many different reasons but I’m especially keen to develop our reputation for meetings and incentives, as well as our gastronomic evolution and weddings business. Venues need to offer meaningful experiences which incorporate living space design, smart technology and local experiences to a more price sensitive, ‘on demand’ generation which is the future.

Fairmont is a globally recognised brand and gives the hotel market reach above and beyond the competition. The Accor acquisition of Fairmont last year will further expand this as the company is represented in over 100 countries with more than 1,000 hotels.

Best moment

I was humbled to host and organise a charity Garden Party and lunch for St Margaret’s Hospice where Her Majesty the Queen attended during her Diamond Jubilee in 2012. It was an honour to meet and dine with Her Majesty as this was a very special event for a valued charity in Scotland.

Is Scotland the perfect stage?

Scotland’s hospitality and welcome is second-to-none, it’s one of the many reasons I moved here!

Scotland is a growing hub for tech and design, this is not only reflected in our renovations, but we’re also seeing investment in nearby Dundee, where the impressive V&A is set to transform the local and wider area for cultural and business events.

One of the things I wanted to achieve with the renovation was to highlight the depth of industry and innovation in Scotland, as well as the vibrant history of St Andrews. is is the year of history, heritage and archaeology – these are just three reasons businesses keep coming back.