Attracting diners to hotel restaurants has always been difficult. With 32 restaurants in London alone, our group is constantly trying to overcome the psychological barrier many people have about eating in hotels.
But with the sharp increase of talented chefs now working in the UK's hotels, the quality of food has never been better. It was with this in mind that I have been working with our press office on A Culinary Tour of Great Britain, which will appear as a four-page supplement to the US magazine Bon Appetit next month.
Co-sponsored by the British Tourist Authority and American Express, the supplement focuses on our award-winning restaurants and, in particular, their chefs. It is good to see chefs enjoying more of the limelight and being recognised for their skills and hard work behind the scenes, and I was delighted that the Golden Valley's restaurant in Cheltenham has just won an AA Rosette, joining 11 other Thistle hotels.
St David's Day was the perfect opportunity for our chief executive, Robert Peel, to host a dinner with a Welsh theme at the Kensington Park hotel, one of a series of dinners aimed at key buyers from different industry segments. This time we targeted conference buyers and the dinner was an ideal forum for senior management to hear first hand from our customers and to reinforce our recently launched charter for conference organisers.
March also saw the first ever UK Hotel Industry Conference at The Brewery in the City attended by many leading hoteliers. It offered the opportunity to debate current industry issues, including the increasing use of technology in hotels, conference marketing and the long-term industry outlook.
I spoke about the importance of branding and used our own corporate identity change and our extensive market research as a case study. My conclusion was that branding should be a company's servant and not its master. It provides a company with immediate recognition for its products and projects its core values through a visual identity while being a means to differentiate a group from its competitors.
The US market is an important one for us and my trip to Miami, Atlanta, Dallas, Chicago, New York, Boston, San Francisco and Los Angeles meant another hectic schedule, meeting more than 2,000 travel agents and journalists through sales calls, presentations and media lunches with five of our general managers.
The current big issue in the USA is the capping, at $50, of commission by all airlines on domestic travel, which means travel agents are looking for other means to increase their revenue. This now gives hotels a prime opportunity to take the initiative by ensuring prompt payment of commission. We now double ours if it is not paid within a month, which has raised our credibility in the trade.