Exclusive Interview: Gordon Campbell Gray - Owner of Campbell Gray Hotel Group
He has won many awards and accolades including Hotelier of the Year, Leading Legend Award and Outstanding Contribution to the Hotel Industry, among others.
TEMPLE magazine had the opportunity to meet Campbell Gray to discuss the recent €15m refurbishment of this Grande Dame of hotels in Malta.
You have developed and are developing hotels across Europe, the Middle East and Africa. What made you choose Malta? ‘I have considerable international experience in hotel development thus when the opportunity came about to restore an hotel in Malta I simply couldn't resist. It was exceptional to find such an hotel as The Phoenicia with its grand heritage and amazing team of staff - many of whom have been there forever.’
Is there anything in particular that you look for when acquiring a new property/hotel/location? What was it that attracted you toward The Phoenicia?
‘When assessing a new project, and I am very lucky to be able to say that we do get lots of opportunities, I musfirst, believe wholly in the project. I must be happy with the investors and owners with whom I will be working and second but just as important, I only choose hotels in places where I would personally like to wake up! Malta is a wonderful place in which to meet the morning.
What are your hopes for The Phoenicia and how do you wish for the hotel to be perceived in the future? … Both on a local and international stage?
‘I have very high hopes for The Phoenicia. It had always been a wish of mine to have the chance to restore a grand hotel and so when this wonderful property came along it was an unmissable opportunity.
It is my hope that The Phoenicia will be recognised not only as one of the great hotels of Malta but also worldwide.. There are so few privately owned great hotels left in the word. Alas, most have become part of chains and large companies which I think is a shame. The Phoenicia is now a member of The Leading Hotels of the World which is already adding to our visibility in many new markets and on a global basis which is exciting.’
What are the particular aspects of Malta that make it such an enjoyable destination? How do think that Malta should develop in the future, is there anything that can increase its standing/attractiveness as a destination?
‘Malta and Gozo are of course super islands and for many people they are still to be visited and discovered. I feel that at this very moment there is a renaissance. One of the key aspects of encouraging people to visit is to ensure that visitors have the best time through consistency of offer and the highest quality tourism and experience.
I have invited so many friends and international press to meet us since we re-opened the hotel and they have all loved their visits and, in some cases, been amazed at what Malta has to offer on so many levels. I shall continue to encourage as much of the world’s press to visit as possible.’
You have travelled extensively across the globe, however is there anywhere in particular that you haven’t made it to yet? What attracts you to a destination? When discovering the Maltese Islands for the first time, what were this first things that created a strong impression upon you? What did you immediately love about the islands?
‘I have indeed been lucky to have travelled to most corners of the globe and funnily enough the first foreign trip I ever took as an early teenager was to Malta. Coming from Scotland I remember being dazzled by the sunshine and actually said to my father I would like a little hotel here! He naturally thought I was mad. I didn't think at the time that the little hotel in my dreams would end up being The Phoenicia over forty years later!’
As far as places I should still like to visit, there are two trips currently in the planning. The first is to Bhutan and the second is to Burma.’
What or who has been of the greatest influence on you in the course of your career, how has it affected where you are today?
‘There is no question that one of the greatest influences in my life and subsequently my career has been my role as Vice-President of ‘Save The Children’ having worked with them since I was in my twenties in Bangladesh, Nicaragua and Morocco. I continue to make trips to many of their projects around the world - Ethiopia, Haiti, Liberia for example and the inspiration I get from meeting so many people who survive with so little, while enduring so much hardship daily, is constantly uplifting. It is a permanent reminder that we must be appreciative and go about our daily business with immense kindness.’
What advice would you give to any young entrepreneur looking to follow a similar career path as yours?
‘I would say to any aspiring young entrepreneur - and here I will quote my dear, sadly deceased, friend Anita Roddick, activist and founder of The Body Shop - JUST DO IT!
There are many hurdles along the way when forging your own path but if you are to succeed you must believe in it one hundred percent - not ninety-five - one hundred - and you must not allow yourself to fall at hurdles along the way. There will be several…’
When you do have the opportunity for a little down time, what do you enjoy doing? Is there anything that you would perhaps like to try?
‘I travel endlessly and am usually on at least two flights each week so when having some down time - and I love down time - I want to be at home in Scotland in our house by the loch where there are no neighbours, the air is pure, and the local food is the finest to be had. The fresh langoustines caught in the morning – I need say no more!’
I would just like to add that the world of hotels is for me a magic one. I feel so privileged and lucky to work within this world; to have wonderful opportunities for creation and restoration. This is the reason that I am constantly trying to encourage people to be part of this truly global industry within which there are no limits.
I hope The Phoenicia will epitomise the best of what Malta has to offer for years to come. "
Copyright: Temple Magazine 2017/18
Images Copyright: Phoenicia Hotel, Malta