Taking the mic



VOG Foodservice Cateys 2018Had it not been for my lovely wife’s health issues, 2018 would go down as a great year for the Hancocks. Pride of Britain is in excellent shape with several new member hotels and sponsors to support our marketing efforts, one daughter got married, the other bought her first house and I have been busier than ever doing speaking jobs on the side (picture shows rent-a-gob at work for the Foodservice Cateys in October).

It just goes to show that opportunities exist at all levels, though as I constantly say it is better to be the cheapest or the best if you want to stay afloat. In hotel terms, we believe the 50 members of PoB to be the best of their kind and as a sub Z list guest speaker I know the work comes because of my legendary availability, and modest fees. Already in the diary for 2019 are several conferences and award ceremonies (as MC) including my first ever event in Monte Carlo.

The face may not improve with age but the voice is getting plenty of exercise!



Diligent schoolboy at last…at 59


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To my eternal shame I paid very little attention throughout my (expensive) education as a child, imagining nice jobs fell like apples from trees. It is only in later life that I have come to value the importance of learning and now hang on the words of industry experts whenever possible.

The recent HOSPACE, the conference and exhibition organised by the Hospitality Professionals Organisation (Hospa) was a case in point. With speakers of the calibre of Kate Nicholls, CEO at UK Hospitality, and the KPMG economist Mark Essex to name but two, we were treated to an abundance of up to date information and thinking.

As you may know, HOSPA is big on IT so of course we had a conference App to use. This would help me not one jot in dragging the delegates back to the room for each session and for dinner in the evening so I employed my own fool proof technology in the form of this beautiful school bell which scared the living daylights out of anyone rash enough to stand close to me. The sound must trigger childhood memories we can’t shake off, making it very effective indeed.

A high point of the day for me was “When Harry met Sally” involving two old friends, Harry Murray and Sally Beck (pictured) who gave fascinating and candid insight into their professional lives to date. So much more interesting than trying to memorise Latin verbs or the periodic table!

HOSPA conference & exhibition 2018School bell



Sparkling stars of foodservice


What a night. As the streets outside thronged with anti-Trump protesters in balmy heat, a couple of hundred of Baxter Storey’s most cherished personnel graced the Institute of Directors in black tie and ball gowns to celebrate the best of the best at their 2018 awards dinner.

As MC I had the immense pleasure of hosting the on-stage part of the proceedings and listening to much cheering and laughter throughout, with an inspirational final speech from Alistair Storey OBE to close the evening.

Mixing with winners like this is almost as good as being one – and involves far less work!

Niel Bird and Mack Allan clutch beers, I clutch the microphone and Lara Kenny clutches Neil

Niel Bird and Mack Allan clutch beers, I clutch the microphone and Lara Kenny clutches Neil

Analogue man at a Digital summit


Caterer Digital SummitIt was a pleasure to take part at the recent Caterer Digital Summit and to chair a panel discussing online hotel marketing, with the help of Claire Wilson, Jim Cockell and Matthias Mahr. Our session seemed to go smoothly, with plenty of well-informed comments from our three experts and some good questions from the audience.

Rather disconcertingly, though, I noticed I was one of only two chaps in suit and tie in the whole room – the other being Richard Hart from The Goring…and he’s a techie!

Never mind. There is still a place for some ‘traditional’ thinking about reaching out to customers by all available media, both digital and non. The host, James Stagg, was astonished to find I had successfully used the Slido App to put a question earlier in the day.

You shouldn’t just a book entirely by its cover, should you?

All in the preparation



Hosp ActionI have been lucky enough to play a part in two successful events recently. That they went well is largely down to meticulous planning (by others) and the generosity of friends and sponsors.

First was the The University Caterers Organisation awards dinner at Warwick University. This followed some intensive competitions and the atmosphere was fantastic. TUCO has a large and appreciative membership and they wisely entrust the running of events like this to Jamie Robbins and his team at H2O Publishing. So by the time I mounted the stage as MC everything had been planned to the minute, allowing us to relax and have a few laughs along the way. Thank you, Jamie.

A few days later I was at Deer Park in Devon as MC for a fundraising dinner with Hospitality Action and the “Rugby Legends” whose presence added excitement and laughter, such that the dinner raised £40,000 for the charity. Again, superb planning by Giuliana Vittiglio and her colleagues made everything easy for the rest of us.

Pic shows stars of pass and pitch checking the gravy.

The Spirit of the Time


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MIConf 2018Just look at this image for a moment. It represents 450 of the top hotel General Managers in Britain gathered for a very special two-day conference organised by the Master Innholders, which took place at the De Vere Grand Connaught Rooms on Jan 15th & 16th.

I had the pleasure to act as MC on the first day, which ended with a superb talk from motivational speaker, Nigel Risner. My friend Jeremy Rata hosted the second day which closed with Olympic gold medallist Crista Cullen and there were plenty of sessions covering issues of interest or concern to the modern hotelier, although as always it was the networking over coffee and drinks later that really mattered most to the delegates. That is because running a hotel, or any other business, can be a lonely task and it is rare to get the chance to mix with literally hundreds of like-minded people facing similar challenges and joys.

I wouldn’t miss it for anything.


30 years in one eyeful


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PoB plaqueIt was a heart stopping moment when I saw this image and realised how long I’ve been involved in hotel marketing. It shows the stone gatepost at the entrance to Ockenden Manor in Sussex, adorned by an original bronze Johansens plaque and their splendid Pride of Britain one. These two organisations have been my life for just over 12 and 17 years respectively – the best part of 30 years altogether.

As well as demonstrating my rather limited personal horizons, the picture depicts two organisations that have stood the test of time in a very fast moving sector. That both remain relevant in the age of online travel agents and Tripadvisor is a tribute to all concerned, especially when you consider how many “competitors” have fallen by the wayside (Egon Ronay, RAC guides, Distinguished Hotels and others).

Will Pride of Britain still be around in another 30 years? I don’t see why not, so long as we continue to reinvent ourselves and are driven by the needs of the hoteliers we serve. Of course, I may very well be under a stone myself by then!

So much to learn, so little time


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MI confHas there ever been a time when hoteliers needed more skills? The basic stuff is almost taken for granted these days – creating a welcoming environment with good food, clean rooms and decent service. In the dim and distant past, when I worked as a hopelessly untrained general manager, those were the only objectives to be met. Customers seemed to just appear as though by magic and if you felt the urge to make a bit more money you simply put the prices up.

Not now. Managers must be masters of revenue management, digital marketing, cost control, HR, IT, PR and loads besides. They pay to discover what occupancy and rates their competitors are achieving and worry daily about how to fill vacancies and retain their best staff.

With such busy lives it is necessary to cram as much useful intelligence as one can into the shortest possible time, so as to keep ahead of the game. Here’s my top 5 (in no particular order) events made for the purpose:

  1. Independent Hotel Show
  2. National Hotel Marketing Conference
  3. HOSPACE (organised by HOSPA)
  4. General Managers Conference (organised by the Master Innholders)
  5. Pride of Britain’s Sales & Revenue Seminar (members only – sorry)

Your time is precious – use it wisely.


A gold plated career in hospitality


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It is perfectly true that some workers in the hospitality industry are grossly underpaid, that some do far more hours than they should, and that lots of people are put off by the idea that serving customers means being “servile” or lacking a proper status.

Despite these undisputed facts, hundreds of thousands of talented individuals are making good lives for themselves in a huge range of jobs from front of house to marketing, from cooking to reservations and from cleaning to general management.

In recent years the “stars” have often been those head chefs able to achieve recognition from the leading guides while building a profile through recipe book sales or TV appearances. Their equally-gifted colleagues on the other side of the kitchen door have tended to go unrecognised, perhaps in part because a fantastic waiter, waitress or maître d’ gets on with their job in a quiet unassuming way. The best of them are sometimes described as “ghosts” due to their ability to shimmer in and out of the room cosseting their customers so discreetly one doesn’t even notice the service being given.

Stephanie Beresforde GSS 2017Well, all that started to change five years ago when the Gold Service Scholarship was launched. Pic shows the current scholar Stephanie Beresforde with chairman of trustees Alastair Storey OBE and chairman of judges Edward Griffiths CVO.

This is one of the toughest competitions to win but the experience has been life-changing for virtually all of the finalists and winners to date.

Entries are now open (until Sept 29th) for this year’s contest: http://www.thegoldservicescholarship.co.uk/#/enter


Like moths to a light bulb


The Independent Hotel Show has steadily grown in popularity since its launch 5 years ago to the point where instead of being asked whether one attended, one is more likely to be asked which of the two days.

IHS 2017My interest is twofold as I shall be taking part in a couple of talking sessions and helping to host the awards ceremony on the Tuesday evening, all the while rubbing shoulders with some of the best in our business.

It just seems to get better every year and I think credit is due to the organisers for resisting the temptation to stuff the hall with too many exhibitors – the ones who are there actually fit our needs at the luxury and boutique end of the industry.

Their only lapse is in allowing old grizzlies like me onto the stage but I shouldn’t complain about that. We flock to wherever the great and good are gathered, like moths to a light bulb.