March 2010 - Posts
Alistair Darling faced a near-impossible challenge on March 24th with an election round the corner and no money to spare. His mild attack on motorists and drinkers was widely anticipated, though I did wonder whether he actually wants pubs to close so we can no longer gather in them to discuss the government’s record. Mine’s a cider if you’re paying, by the way.
Let’s hope he is right (for the first time) about the economy growing by 3% in 2011. Funny, isn’t it, how chancellors are only able to predict growth whereas recessions come as a complete surprise.
Tempting though it is to look for specific measures that directly affect hospitality and tourism I would say the issue we should be most concerned about, as it affects all businesses, is the rate of bank interest. For a decent time we have enjoyed low interest rates which have eased the pressure, particularly on businesses with high gearing, during the downturn and have also made our customers feel richer because their mortgages have been cheaper to service.
According to many commentators, interest rates are expected to stay low for the time being but they would rise sharply if the UK lost its AAA credit rating and then had to borrow at higher rates from the international markets. A significant rise in interest rates would be more damaging to this sector than any tax or spending changes and so the most important task for this chancellor and his successors is to adopt a credible plan to start paying off our monstrous public debt, a prerequisite to keeping that good credit rating.
He talked of “debt reduction” but all he really means is borrowing a bit less each year while still adding to the total owed. I’d love to be able to reduce my debts by borrowing a bit less each year and never actually paying anything off.
Perverse though it may seem, after generations of elections in which political parties have jostled to compete over how much each would “invest” in public services, our hopes now rest on whoever has the courage and the resolve to spend less.
Keen readers of Caterersearch will have seen that Relais & Chateaux, an international hotel marketing consortium of the highest standing, has again refused to allow its members in the UK to jointly belong to our consortium, Pride of Britain Hotels, should they so wish. When challenged to explain why the ban applies to Pride of Britain but not to other UK based collections such as Johansens, Welsh Rarebits, Luxury Scotland and von Essen, the president of Relais, Mr Jaume Tapies, gave a list of the criteria that define "competing organisations" and added "for example, Pride of Britain is promoted in the United States, which is not the case for other national organisations that have been allowed". In fact, as I have explained in person to Mr Tapies, we stopped our American activity 5 years ago and no longer maintain any links with the US, or other overseas, travel trade, preferring instead to concentrate on marketing directly to the domestic (UK) consumer. We should therefore not be regarded as a rival or threat to them at all.
This is all very frustrating because we know hoteliers who would like to be able to take advantage of what each consortium has to offer. The current ban means both are missing out on the chance to serve some excellent potential member hotels, a point well made by Henrick Muehle in this week's Caterer & Hotelkeeper.
Co-operation is demanded of those who join a consortium. Perhaps consortia themselves should be leading by example?
Last weekend we exhibited at the National Wedding Fair at the NEC in Birmingham. It was a three day show and attracted vast numbers, especially on the Saturday, of young ladies making plans for their big day. Our stand was manned throughout by a handful of Pride of Britain's member hoteliers, my wife and I. Because there isn't a member hotel nearby we were obliged to stay at one of the large branded hotels close to the NEC and boy what a shock it is when you are used to the friendly intimacy of independent hotels, as we are.
Shock number 1: a charge for parking
Shock number 2: £10 for a gin and tonic (single) in an environment not dissimilar to a motorway services
Shock number 3: horrendous background music everywhere
Shock number 4: an airless, cramped, tired looking bedroom
Shock number 5: could have stayed somewhere fantastic for the same price
It just shows what people will put up with for the sake of convenience.