Debrah Dhugga: Hospitality is my lifestyle

Debrah Dhugga is one of the most successful business women in the hospitality industry. Richard Dawson speaks to Debrah to find more about how her Northern roots inform her approach to the sector

Before heading to London to become managing director of the prestigious Dukes hotel, Debrah Dhugga successfully launched Malmaison Group hotels in Newcastle and Scotland and revitalised Seaham Hall hotel, which is now an award-winning 5-star leisure destination.

Hospitality has never been more competitive. AirBnB notwithstanding, the sheer variety of choice for accommodation, even at the luxury end of the market, means that providers must offer a unique experience as well as a comfortable bed for the night.

At Dukes hotel, guest experience is hard wired into their business model.

Debrah explains: “Our understanding is that luxury and elegance goes with great service. You can have the best hotel in the world but if you walk in and you don’t get great service, you’ll forget how great the hotel looked.

“Luxury to me is service.”

Growing up in Northumberland, Debrah puts her success in the hospitality industry down to her strong Northern roots. The guest-first approach she’s promoted at Dukes is informed by values of hard work, tolerance and respect that are typically associated with us down-to-earth Northerners.

“I really believe in giving a lot of attention to the guests and to the delivery side of the business,” she says.

“I guess a lot of my Northern roots come in there. I believe Northern hospitality is warmer and friendlier that anywhere else and I’ve travelled all over the world with my job.

“It’s important that you don’t forget your values and that you bring them back into your business.”

With demand for quality food and drink, accommodation and entertainment at an all-time high, the demands on those working in the sector have also increased. Long and unsociable hours are the norm for almost all who work in hospitality.

For Debrah, this means it’s more important than ever to understand that hospitality is not a job, it’s a lifestyle.

“It’s not 9 to 5, it’s not Monday to Friday,” she says.

“I do believe that it has to be hard work in the leisure and travel industry, but the guest must not see it because what the guests must do is have a beautiful experience.”

Situated in St James’s Mayfair, just a stone’s throw from Buckingham Palace, Dukes hotel has plenty of history and heritage to boast about. Having celebrated its 110th birthday this year, the quintessential British hotel has often served as a retreat for writers, musicians, politicians and royalty.

Ian Fleming, the writer who brought us James Bond, could often be found in the famous Dukes bar ordering a Vesper Martini, shaken not stirred.

On her approach to leadership, Debrah talks about the challenges of being a woman in a senior position and argues that communication is key to success.

She says: “I believe that leading a company or any business, the importance is about how you communicate, whether that’s with your suppliers or with your team. It’s about having an open-door policy and embracing the ambition of your team.

“I think a lot of people aren’t prepared to look at vision and take a risk in their business. For me I always say to the team, come up with ideas to try to enhance the business. But you only get that by being approachable.”

As one of the few remaining independently-run hotels in Central London, Dukes stands out by offering a Northern approach to service, unique heritage and a touch of classic British charm and hospitality.