For Surinder Arora, Founder and Chairman of the Arora Group, the project to upgrade and improve Luton Hoo – the hotel, golf, and spa complex with a stunning 18th century manor house at its heart – is much more than business as usual.
Driving through the gates for the first time, Surinder felt something that, even with his vast experience in the property and hotel sector, he’d never felt before – an immediate sense that the place was, as he puts it, “very special”. And so he bought it - as seen.
We had the good fortune to speak to Surinder about his plans for Luton Hoo recently, and what emerges is his determination not only to turn the venue into a world-class destination, but, in so doing, to put Luton and Bedfordshire on the map - whilst also giving something back to its local communities.
Upgrading but conserving
Surinder is clear that the emphasis for Luton Hoo is on upgrading, not expanding. He wants to make every part of what’s there already worthy of global repute, but he also wants to conserve what’s unique about it.
His vision for the hotel, for example, is that it should not only attain, but exceed, the standard of the luxury Fairmont brand (there are only four such hotels in the UK, and 12 in Europe – and Surinder aims for Luton Hoo to be the best of them).
He’s also planning to upgrade the golf course to make it fit to host the 2032 Ryder Cup (he’s bidding for this at the moment) – an event that attracts 600 million TV viewers globally.
But at the same time, he’s also working closely with Historic England and Central Bedfordshire Council to minimise changes to the manor house (only the bathrooms are in scope), and the 1,100 acres of grounds landscaped by the legendary Lancelot “Capability” Brown.
Much improved spa and conference facilities, upgrades to the wedding venue, and restoration of the lake to its former glory through dredging and de-silting are, equally, all part of the plan to help Luton Hoo work its magic at the top table of world hotel destinations.
And for Surinder, this is indeed almost a spiritual calling. “I feel blessed,” he says, “that my company has become the custodian of such an amazing property.”
Uplifting the town and its youth
Surinder notes that Luton is a Tier 1 town in the Government’s levelling up policy, and he sees great potential for the Luton Hoo plans to deliver real benefit back into local communities – as his earlier projects in the Crawley and Gatwick areas did.
“I’m proposing to treble the number of employees at Luton Hoo, which will obviously be helpful to the local economy” he says, “but I want to go beyond that, and focus on making the place somewhere where young people in particular can gain experience, develop their skills, and further their ambitions.”
To this end, he envisages involving local youth organisations in the development and running of the site. The lake, for example, is a prime asset for the local Sea Scouts and Sea Cadets, and one they could benefit from helping to manage.
The upgrades to the golf facilities will also include the founding of a golf academy to support and promote young sporting talent in the area.
Even the hotel itself will be, in Surinder’s own words, “kid-friendly”!
Planning and permission underway
Surinder’s plans for Luton Hoo are extensive and ambitious, and because of the site’s Grade 1 Listed status, may require additional approval from the Secretary of State.
But at a local level, planning permission for the golf course has been approved, and the site’s potential contribution to the Government’s levelling-up objectives bodes well for a rubber stamp from Westminster.
From a venue that had been for sale for a good couple of years, to one poised to redefine what a luxury hotel destination means, Luton Hoo is about to enter an exciting new chapter in its 250-year history.
If you’d like to learn more about the benefits of Chamber membership, call us on (01582) 522448.