AS I stand in a bright, cheerful and busy Goring front hall, I can still look back with a feeling of dread and disbelief to the Autumn of 1990 when I first realised the full extent of the total collapse of the London hotel scene.
The Goring hotel had enjoyed (with a slight hiccup in 1927) a period of stability and growth since the First World War. Suddenly, many of my colleagues were in real danger of imminent disaster.
June and July 1990 saw record takings which have still not been surpassed. Bed occupancy was 83%, room occupancy 94%.
By comparison, 1991 was a disaster and the next year was even worse. Too many new hotels had been opened in London and too many of our customers' businesses were in grave financial difficulties.
The scars from this economic nightmare may never be erased and its legacy of cut price wars is probably here to stay. We have taught the punter how to bargain and true value for money is a thing of the past (yield management systems ensure that we either charge too much or too little).
Many of our wounds have been self inflicted and I suspect that the valuable lessons that should have been learnt will be ignored by future London hoteliers. I am a happy pessimist, and believe that life seems to be getting back to as nearly normal as it will ever be.
I have a brilliant team of 130 staff at the Goring, headed by general manager William Cowpe who has now been with us for 24 years.
William has always been a tough guy, but he has learnt to be even tougher and the staff respect him for it because they know that, without discipline and wage restraint, we are all out of a job.
Strict wage targets have been met and we have managed a 3% increase two years running despite reduced turnover from 1990 levels.
I have even felt confident enough to increase my own wage in 1994 for the first time since 1990.
My secret weapon, a larger-than-life character by the name of David Morgan-Hewitt, produced a food and beverage profit last year for the first time since 1991. So far, 1994 turnover is up 15% and improving. David has a fanatical preoccupation with foie gras, chocolate, wine and sex, and his "joie de vivre" is infectious and necessary.
I am still in the hall, surveying the throng of guests and staff. It is possible to judge a hotel by the quality of its customers. Many customers would assert that it is possible to judge a hotel by the quality of the staff.
There are probably four main things I have learnt from the recession. Cash flow is king; nobody ever wins a war, and that includes cut price wars; guests and staff are all human beings, not figures on a balance sheet; and finally, you must keep smiling! n