With local tourism marketing funding being cut or withdrawn altogether, Katherine Alano finds out about one group of regional hotels that have joined forces to help raise the profile of hospitality in their area
The North East Hotels Association (NEHA) was formed 20 years ago to give hotels within the North-east a collective identity and to represent the opinions and views of its members at regional and national levels.
There are currently 30 members and the association's ambition is to increase that number to 50. The association has two joint chairs and two vice-chairs, supported by a management group in which general managers take responsibility for working groups.
"The goal of the NEHA is to ensure that we are aware of what is happening within our industry and steer that on behalf of members. We want to market and support the area for tourism and attract visitors and, therefore, guests and customers," says joint chairman of the NEHA and general manager of Thistle hotel Middlesbrough, Damon Roberts.
The association is working with tourist boards such as the Northern Tourism Alliance (NTA), Newcastle Gateshead Initiative, Durham and Tees Valley, and members sit on other associations which look to shape the industry for the future.
With tourism marketing taking a hit, hotels collectively need to help raise the profile of an area and make it a destination people want to visit. It is about working on places that aren't necessarily known as tourist destinations, such as Darlington and Middlesbrough.
"Middlesbrough is not traditionally known for its leisure business; it generally attracts more corporate and business travellers, so we have to work harder. We can't afford to sit back and wait for customers to come to us," says Roberts.
"For example, we need to look at the Olympics and how we can tap into that market and get tourists to come and see what the North-east has to offer."
The NEHA is currently developing its website and using social media to get its message across to the industry. The website will include the facility to display vacancies, add offers with a link back to member hotel websites, and include a trusted suppliers' network.
Nick Holmes, managing director of Rockliffe Hall in Darlington, says that in the wake of cuts in funding for local marketing, the initiative is vital for regional operators.
"When Rockliffe opened two years ago, we had a local tourism board," he explains. "That no longer exists. It can be a lonely place being a GM, so collaboration is always welcome. As a resort hotel we are a bit more remote, so it's good to keep in touch with the city hotels, local events and new hotel openings.
"We are lucky that we have a budget for marketing, but the NEHA also benefits from us being a destination hotel."
With a strong national and international reputation (they have become a member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World), promoting Newcastle and Durham as the nearest cities helps bring in tourism for that area, but at the same time gives Rockliffe Hall an identity.
Each hotel member has something different to offer. Thistle hotel Middlesbrough, for example, offers talks about leadership management skills, while other hotels do show-rounds for students and school children making career choices.
The association also works closely with Tourism Tyne and Wear in developing an induction programme so that front-line staff have a half-day training session in the classroom on where customers are coming from, how to deal with them, and a tour of the Newcastle and Gateshead area.
"We all want to give something back," Roberts says. "It is a challenge. The hours are difficult and always will be, but it is a great industry. The skills you pick up can be used around the world."
The north east hotel excellence awards
The NEHA Excellence Awards is an annual event that seeks out hotels that have gone the extra mile in providing outstanding service and shown real future potential. The hoteliers in the area were keen to reward hard work and a positive attitude with fast-track promotion.
This year, the awards were held at Newcastle Gateshead Hilton. A panel of independent judges met to select winners in a number of categories.
"The calibre of all the nominees was very high and a perfect demonstration of just why the North-east's hospitality industry is second to none", joint chairman of the NEHA and general manager of Thistle hotel Middlesbrough, Damon Roberts, explains.
He adds: "All the winners represent the very finest in their categories and our congratulations go to them and all those who entered."
The winners in full
1 Best Arrivals Experience Champion Lesley Taylorson, Thistle, Middlesbrough
2 Chef of the Year Paul Beckworth, Ramside Hall, Durham
3 Service Excellence Champion Chris Main, Seaham Hall, County Durham
4 Sales Champion of the Year Nola Collinson, Close House, Wylam, Northumberland
5 Cleanliness Champions Dot Wilkinson and Carol Mower, Thistle, Middlesbrough
6 Support Services Champion Carole Douglas, Holiday Inn Newcastle
7 Rising Star Victoria Paterson, Matfen Hall, Northumberland
8 Leisure Excellence Champion Graham Low, Seaham Hall, County Durham
9 Green Award Matfen Hall, Northumberland
how to start your own hoteliers association
The North East Hotels Association realised tourism funding was likely to be reduced following the last general election, so had to up its game to fill the vacuum. Joint chairman Damon Roberts provides eight tips for budding associations.
● Aim to be financially independent and sustainable. That means no people, no premises and no public support.
● General managers have no time. Find a joint venture partner to work with. We use www.partnershipglu.co.uk who do the routine stuff like meeting papers and websites, and also the big things like bed tax or social networks.
● Automate everything from member invoicing to newsletters through an affordable digital platform.
● Drive action through a management group and endorse decisions through the members.
● Cascade ownership through sales managers, HR managers and other groups to improve their teamworking skills.
● Leverage your supply chain to contribute to your objectives. See our website at www.nehotels.co.uk
● Put on events to stimulate participation. Our annual excellence awards celebrate the great people in our business and cost less than £1k.
● Be relaxed about progress. All change is incremental and takes twice as long as you originally planned.
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