What I am about to report is not unusual. It is happening around the world every day and it is gradually changing the way our customers think about the price of a hotel room, with potentially damaging consequences for all hoteliers.
A customer looks on the web at a couple of attractive destinations and in so doing her eye is drawn to the web sites of several decent hotels. Having glanced at some of these there is one that appears just right. Looking in more depth she finds the rates and availability for various room types and thinks about booking directly with the hotel.
However, being a canny individual she knows that it is probably possible to book the very same hotel through a third party site which promotes itself as a source of “cheap” rooms. And so it turns out. She can have a deluxe suite for £60 per night less than if booking direct with the hotel. This is because the third party has been given lower rates and a generous commission which they are free to eat into if they want, enabling them to reduce the rates even further.
So, our well-informed customer calls the hotel to ask if they would like to match the rate she has just seen, cutting out the middle man and therefore the commission payable by the hotel. Surprise surprise…the answer is “no, I’m afraid you must book through the third party to get that rate”.
What is all this saying to the customer?
1. We’re overcharging anyone who is stupid enough to book with us
2. Our rooms are not worth what we say they are
3. We actually prefer it if you book through a third party
Why is it happening?
I believe it is happening because too many hoteliers still regard occupancy, rather than profit, as the main measure of their success.
What’s the cure?
Use a professional Revenue Management expert – even if only for a short contract – and regain control of your business.
At the invitation of the Hotel Marketing Association I had the pleasure of taking part in a lively debate at the plush new Intercontinental Westminster to argue against the motion “Social media has finally killed off the hotel brochure”. My partner in crime was Martin Evans of The Tourism Business and we were up against two leading exponents of digital marketing, Sarah Duncan and Rob Walk. The debate was organised and chaired by Pamela Carvell, an experienced hotel marketer herself.
Much to our surprise and delight, the audience were almost unanimous in voting (with us) against the motion at the end of the evening. It seems to be acknowledged that despite all the new tools available to us including mobile-friendly web sites, Twitter, Facebook, Tripadvisor, E-shots, efficient data capture, apps and much more besides, there is still a place for beautifully crafted print matter, especially at the luxury end of the market.
So, the brochure is not dead yet – although I believe it is evolving into something better and of course now we have the means to target who we give them to more selectively than in the past.
For one night only a group of 20 senior figures from the hotel industry went "back to the floor" as waiters and sommeliers to raise money for Hospitality Action, the charity that helps people from the catering trade who find themselves in crisis. Waiters included Richard Ball (Calcot Manor & Barnsley House) Jeremy Rata (Bovey Castle) Philip Newman-Hall (Le Manoir aux quat Saisons) Danny Pecorelli (Exclusive Hotels) and Sue Williams (Cliveden). The wine waiters included Ufi Ibrahim (BHA) Simon Numphud (AA) and Kate Levin (The Capital). Pennyhill Park and Le Manoir came up with all the raw materials with the help of some generous sponsors.
My role was that of MC and auctioneer which gave me the chance to sell, among other things, a urinal fashioned in the style of Sir Mick Jagger's lips (donated by Barnsley House) and to exhume a couple of my favourite stories about the art of service.The evening was a huge success and raised £25,000 for the charity. It also created big smiles all round as the great and good of our industry glided around the room attending to the needs of 130 lucky diners. We expected lots of things to go wrong but the service was immaculate, thanks in no small part to Stephan and his team behind the scenes at Pennyhill Park.
As Penny Moore of Hospitality Action observed, it couldn't have gone better.
The news of Michael Winner's death at the age of 77 has flushed out lots of stories about his eccentric approach to work and life. Many in the hotel and catering trade had good reason to dislike the man and I suspect his restaurant reviews in The Sunday Times, which often came across as unnecessarily hostile, will be remembered more for their personal attacks on his hosts than for any meaningful comment on the food or service he experienced. Having said that, I've met some in the business who were always pleased to see him and who received nothing but praise in his articles, such as The French Horn at Sonning.
My one encounter with Winner was while hosting the Young Chef / Young Waiter Awards a couple of years ago. As the special guest he was asked to hand over the certificates to the two successful finalists and on the spur of the moment he personally added £1,000 to the prize for each of them. An unexpected act of generosity from the industry's bete noire.
Even though I have never met The Queen (although I once dined with HRH The Prince of Wales) it seems we have at least one thing in common...we both love The Goring.
Yes, it's official. The Goring is the first hotel ever to be awarded a Royal Warrant by The Queen - a wonderful endorsement of the work of everyone at that quintessentially British establishment, including it's owner Jeremy Goring (Independent Hotelier of the Year 2012) its general manager the unflappable Graham Copeman and its charismatic MD David Morgan-Hewitt who just happens to be the chairman of Pride of Britain Hotels as well.
Friends in all the right places, I'd say.
The biggest and best hoteliers' conference anywhere must be the Master Innholders' General Managers' Conference which this year took place at London's Grosvenor House Hotel. As a minor participant I was able to enjoy two days of stimulating talks, the company of 450 top hotel professionals and a superb dinner too.
The two high points for me were both delivered by excitable Frenchmen: Raymond Blanc and Fred Sirieix. Blanc completely ignored his written notes and gave a rambling but passionate after-dinner speech revealing some of what has driven him to succeed, paying generous tribute to his teams along the way. Sirieix used the conference platform to whip up enthusiasm for National Waiters Day (June 23rd 2013) and to remind us all of the critical importance of great service. He mentioned the "magic touch" that everyone working in Galvin at Windows knows how to deploy in a presentation packed with insight.
It would have been easy for the Master Innholders to go for smaller, more exclusive gatherings but I believe they have scored a triumph by making their annual gathering so large and inclusive. In so doing they have attracted excellent speakers and considerable support from sponsors which swells the fund for valuable scholarships.
Last weekend my wife and I were in Birmingham, returning a daughter to her university lodgings.
By chance this coincided with a demonstration outside Starbucks by a noisy group of youths in masks, one of whom spoke unintelligibly through a loud-hailer. Their message, apparently, was that Starbucks should be paying more tax to HM Customs & Revenue than it has already pledged to and, until they do, everyone should buy their hot beverages and tasty snacks somewhere else.
The protest brought the following thoughts to mind: 1. Don't those youths have anything better to do on a Saturday afternoon? 2. If they were a bit tidier they might be able to get jobs and actually pay some tax themselves. 3. What a waste of police resources to have to attend such a pointless exercise.
As soon as the doors were open again the three of us popped inside for tea.
For one night only (January 25th 2013) a hundred or so lucky diners at Pennyhill Park in Surrey will be waited on by a galazy of stars from the hospitality industry. They include Harry Murray (Lucknam Park), Andrew McKenzie (The Vineyard at Stockcross), Sue Williams (Cliveden), Danny Pecorelli (Exclusive Hotels) and Philip Newman-Hall (Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons) and many more, all of whom either own or run notable hotel businesses and whose daily toil is largely conducted from behind a big desk. I can't wait to see how they get on...competitive high achievers landed with a task of which they have little or no recent experience. Imagine BA's Willy Walsh as a flight attendant or the CEO of Tesco working behind the fish counter and you'll get the idea. There are even a couple of Pride of Britain members involved.
The evening is a fundraiser for Hospitality Action, the charity that helps members of our profession who find themselves in crisis, and is generously supported by the industry itself. However, there are still a couple of tables to be had if you're quick so please call 020 3004 5503 or email email@example.com to secure your place at this highly entertaining extravaganza.Tickets are £125 each or £1,200 for a table of ten.
The comedian Frankie Howerd used to pretend to be upset when his audience laughed at his trademark inuendo, saying things like "no please...don't titter". These days, it is customary to ask an audience at the start of any performance or presentation to switch off mobile phones - which of course prevents anyone from being distracted by Twitter as well as actual calls.
Imagine my surprise when the organisers of the recent 'Innovative Marketing in Hospitality' conference, which I had the pleasure of chairing on behalf of Caterer & Hotelkeeper, said I was to ENCOURAGE everyone to keep Tweeting throughout the day so that their comments could be projected on a large screen beside the stage. This seemed a weird thing to do, almost guaranteeing that each speaker would be faced with a roomful of heads peering down at their i-phones instead of the speaker. It was only my natural obedience that stopped me from protesting.
As it turned out the distraction was minimal and, if anything, the chance to have one's Tweets up on the screen probably made people concentrate harder because they wanted to respond intelligently to the conference sessions.
My own take on the day is this: Social media and the amazing progress in online marketing are dramatically changing the way business is done but what customers are actually paying for - great service - has scarcely changed at all.
Increasingly in business we are being reminded that NEW is good. Customers want the latest gadget, the latest dining experience and to visit places they have never been before.
What a surprise, then, to discover an insatiable appetite for the OLD when we exhibited at the Country Living Christmas Fair in London. Lots of stands were stocked with reclaimed furniture, ornaments from the 1950s and even rusty buckets presumably to adorn the metropolitan garden. If you lingered at some of the stalls you could easily imagine yourself back in the days of Mrs Dale's Diary on the wireless and a whistling butcher's boy racing past the window on his bike. There were old clothes, old teapots, old jewellery, old books...even old bottle crates marked "property of x" being eagerly bought.
It's fascinating to see that items once regarded as bric-a-brac have now acquired "vintage" status and sell for large amounts. Why did I let my lovely toy cars go to ungrateful relatives all those years ago? What madness allowed us to dispose of the Lloyd Loom chairs? It's time to look around at what we have and try to guess what Country Living's readers will be after in another 50 years.
They say there's no such thing as a free lunch (let alone one at The Savoy) so I made no complaint about having to give a speech to the UK Housekeepers Association www.ukha.co.uk who held their annual business lunch there in October. In retrospect, it was a tremendous pleasure.
I must confess that I had expected a good number of the 300 or so executive and head houskeepers assembled to fall into the stern old battleaxe category but I could not have been more wrong. Added to that, they were a most appreciative audience, including one or two from Pride of Britain member properties, both for me and Sean Davoren (the famous Savoy Head Butler who everyone remembers from a TV documentary about the hotel's reopening in 2010) who I had the hard task of following. Effortlessly chaired by Anne Britton, the association serves as a remider that we have in our trade some real professionals who get on with the job, day after day, completely out of the spotlight. I believe we owe it to them and their teams to pay greater attention to exemplary housekeeping wherever it is practised and to thank them for their vital part in the business of great hospitality.
Good interior designers can transform a hotel room, creating a feast for the eyes upon walking in. The best designers think about wear and tear, too, so the hotelier gets years of value from the investment.
But does anyone give much thought to the sounds in a room - especially the music? To their credit, many of the hotels I am lucky enough to stay at these days have good quality radios, such as Roberts, and some have gone so far as to install Bose CD/Radios which are excellent when you want decent reproduction at low volume.
Knowing that the owners of luxury hotels are always looking for ways to make their guests even happier, I recently examined the range of products offered by British based Ruark Audio www.ruarkaudio.com and was hugely impressed by their attractiveness and great sound quality. So much so that I bought a top of the range model myself and have fallen in love with it. After the wife and cat, it's the next thing I'd try to rescue if our house caught fire.
As a recently enrolled "Friend" of the Academy of Culinary Arts www.academyofculinaryarts.org.uk I was given the opportunity to join them for a fascinating evening this week at Quilon, a Michelin starred restaurant in Buckingham Gate that specialises in the authentic taste of South Western India.
We enjoyed a five course menu and sampled half a dozen interesting and very different beers under the guidance of a beer connoisseur, the splendidly-named Rupert Ponsonby who sounds like a character P G Wodehouse might have invented to accompany Bertie Wooster at The Drones Club. He opened our eyes to the endless possibilities of matching food with beer, the importance of using the right glass and how beer-making has evolved in this country.
Of all the occasions on which I have indulged in curry and beer this was unique because I woke the next day feeling well, and having learned something useful too.
This must be the season for awards. A few days ago I was lucky enough to be presented with the first ever "Diamond Award" by the Academy of Food & Wine Service which, they told me, is awarded to an outstanding personality in the hotel and catering industry. At last, my struggle with self-effacing shyness is nearly over.
The academy is best known for promoting careers in hospitality and plays a major part in helping talented individuals to progress through formal training www.afws.co.uk
Then, barely a fornight later, I found myself on stage receiving an award on behalf of its winner, Jeremy Goring, owner of longstanding Pride of Britain member, The Goring Hotel, who was away on a sales trip abroad at the time. He won the coveted "Independent Hotelier of the Year 2012" awarded on the occasion of the Independent Hotel Show at Olympia. Rick Stein made the presentation and listed the other shortlisted nominees who included Paul Milsom, chairman of Essex based Milsom Hotels. To quote the organisers, this award is "in celebration of the figure that has made a significant impact on the independent, luxury and boutique hotel industry".
Congratulations Mr Goring!
Mixing with the great and good of the catering trade, I had the pleasure of attending this year's AA Awards at The Hilton, Park Lane. And what a rewarding experience it was. Not one, not two, but THREE Pride of Britain members carried off awards: The Torridon (Hotel of the Year, Scotland), Bodysgallen Hall (Hotel of the Year, Wales) and The Pass at South Lodge promoted to 4 rosettes.
One of the best things about these highly respected awards is their focus on "hospitality" rather than just food or decor, a philosophy we share wholeheartedly.
Watching all the winners during the night my table companions and I noticed how few of them took the opportunity to kiss the compere, Kate Silverton, whereas almost every winner at the recent Cateys (Caterer & Hotelkeeper Awards) made physical contact with Joanna Lumley who hosted that night. Was it the spectacles that got in the way?
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