Monday interview: Claire Livingston, Hilton Edinburgh Carlton

A 1990s fly-on-the-wall docu-series featuring Liverpool's Adelphi hotel was billed as documenting the 'trials and trauma' of its activity.

Claire Livingston became general manager of the Hilton Edinburgh Carlton in April. Picture: Julie Bull

But while Hotel may have put some people off working in hospitality, it had the opposite effect on Claire Livingston, who saw the opportunities over the difficulties, deciding it looked both great fun and a strong career path to pursue.

It prompted her to choose to study a degree in hospitality and tourism management, despite having never worked in a hotel, with none near where she grew up in the Borders.

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The gamble thankfully paid off, and she has stayed in the sector ever since. “I just loved the excitement of it – every day is different,” she explains. “You get to meet so many different people and that’s what really drew me towards it.”

Since April she has held the role of general manager at the Hilton Edinburgh Carlton, which has reopened with a glamorous new look after an extensive £17 million refurbishment.

It comes as the Scottish capital is proving to offer hoteliers a licence to print money. Research published by Deloitte last month revealed that industry leaders named the Scottish capital the most attractive hotel investment destination in the UK outside London for the third year in a row, while the most recent data from LJ Research found that in September, Edinburgh achieved its highest occupancy since the tourism market research firm’s records began, with a year-on-year 15.7 per cent jump in average room rate to about £130.

The Carlton’s all-encompassing update hopes to harness this buoyancy, and includes boosting its number of hotel rooms to 211 from 189, with the extra space taken from converting the likes of old conference rooms, as well adding the Nineteen Hundred Bar & Lounge, named after the year the building was built.

Livingston admits the team has “gone through a lot with the transition”, which was done in stages and took a year altogether, but she says it is great to see the end result, with customer feedback taking a welcome upward turn and the hotel now benefiting from being part of the Hilton family.

The hotel in fact marks the 16th property in the Hilton Worldwide portfolio of brands in Scotland and is owned and operated by hotel group Amaris Hospitality, created by the Lone Star venture capital fund. Amaris chief executive John Brennan said earlier this year that the Carlton is “a very good example of what the Amaris strategy is about” as it looks to carve out a key role in UK hospitality, with the property offering “huge” potential requiring an equally vast investment.

But despite 2016’s series of seismic political events and economic shockwaves, including Brexit raising questions for the hospitality sector’s large overseas workforce, Livingston remains optimistic. “Next year our outlook’s really strong,” she stresses. “I think it might have had more of an impact in other locations in the UK, but Edinburgh’s certainly not one that’s dying down any time soon, which is great.”

Livingston emphasises the aim for the hotel to be a market leader, explaining: “The work that we’ve put into this over the last few months is just so much that I want to see it really grow and grow over the next few years.”

She is also understandably keen to stay with the hotel after roles at different sites since starting out, with our interview taking place in the exact location where she took up her first job on graduating in the hotel’s reservations department. Her management prog­ression then took off at Jurys Inn, climbing the ranks to general manager of its hotels in Edinburgh and then Glasgow, with a one-year gap in-between in the same role at the Malmaison Hotel in Dundee.

She has also accumulated various awards on the way, including rising star general manager of the year at the Scottish Hotel Awards, and is passionate about the benefits of hospitality as a career, both broadly and for women, highlighting that three-quarters of the hotel’s management team is female.

As for its benefits for her personally, she says: “I wasn’t the most confident and outspoken person when I was younger, but I think when you’re in this industry it really does give you the confidence.

“Sometimes it’s better for you to… really throw yourself into the mix of it and then that’s when you rise to the occasion.”


Born: Edinburgh, 1983

Education: Queen ­Margaret University, BA (Hons) Hospitality & Tourism Management

First job: Tesco as a checkout girl

Ambition while at school: To be the general manager of a leading hotel

What car do you drive? I was born to be driven

Favourite mode of transport: Trains, so you can work as you travel

Music: All types

Kindle or book? Book

Can’t live without: Mobile phone

What makes you angry? People who don’t try their hardest

What inspires you? ­People – I learn so much from my family and friends to people I meet in the industry

Favourite place: New York

Best thing about your job: Working with amazing people and being able to influence people