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

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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.

http://www.independenthotelshow.co.uk/

Giving hospitality students the edge

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PH at Edge Hotel SchoolOne evening this week I had the enormous pleasure of meeting and speaking with students at The Edge Hotel School near Colchester. It is a unique enterprise which operates as part of the University of Essex and has the advantage of being incorporated into a real working hotel, Wivenhoe House, so students can gain proper hands-on experience in all departments alongside their academic training.

All this means that after two years (yes, they cram a three year course into 24 intensive months) these budding general managers are industry-ready as soon as they graduate. The hotel’s GM, Oliver Brown, prefers to use a culinary term and describes them as “oven ready” – I think we know what he means.

The group of young men and women that I met were keenly interested in all aspects of the trade and several had already set their sights on a specialism, such as marketing or event management, though the course is ideal preparation for a life in general hotel management. According to its Principal, Andrew Boer, almost 100% of graduates over the school’s first 5 years have gone straight into hospitality jobs and yet, amazingly, they have vacancies on upcoming courses waiting to be filled.

My personal feeling is that before signing up to some other degree course with only a flimsy chance of it leading to an actual job, school leavers should be encouraged to consider the hotel industry with it’s endless opportunities for rapid promotion and world travel. And I really couldn’t imagine a better place to start than The Edge.

Find out more here: www.edgehotelschool.ac.uk/EHS100

Edge Hotel School

I agree with Nick..sorry, Peter

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Do you recall the general election of 2010 in which Gordon Brown famously tried to spoil things for David Cameron by claiming to agree with Nick Clegg during the leaders’ debates?

I was reminded of this at the recent National Hotel Marketing Conference, organised by Martin Evans and the Hotel Marketing Association, where several speakers kindly said they agreed with comments I’d made in my own presentation near the start of the day. The gist of my piece was that although we are judged by the number and value of rooms we sell, what we’re actually selling is service. This is especially true at the top end of the market, given the many luxuries our customers already have access to at home, such as beautiful rooms and bathrooms and a good wine cellar.

Peter at NHMC 2017A high point of the day was an interview with Eamonn Elliott, chief executive at Pride of Britain’s current ‘Hotel of the Year’ Rockliffe Hall. He gave generous credit to members of his team for the hotel’s success, saying each of them drew upon their “inner demons” to work harder and achieve more.

The conference is always a pleasure to take part in and, as I have proved, you don’t need to know very much to make a useful contribution.

Voice of the balls?

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Last Tuesday night I had the extraordinary privilege to be the “Voice of God” at the 2017 Catey Awards, presented by the publishers of The Caterer magazine at the Grosvenor House Hotel. There were 1,250 guests at the dinner and our sparkling host was Canadian stand-up comic Kathryn Ryan.

Cateys 2017(Picture shows the room while the technical team rehearsed behind the scenes before the event)

On arrival I was shown to a small table that had on it a small lamp, a pair of headphones plugged into a two way box, a script and a large microphone. To this I added a vital packet of lozenges and some lime cordial for the long task ahead.

Beside me was Julia our ‘Show Caller’ who made everything happen at precisely the right moment; 22 awards plus various speeches and bits of video. She must have the same kind of brain as an air traffic controller to be able to do that – amazing.

The best part of it for me was having such powerful amplification at my disposal, easily enabling my voice to be heard over all the talking and music. On nothing more than lime cordial I felt drunk with power!

Afterwards a leading hotelier commented that I reminded him of Alan Dedicoat (the BBC’s “Voice of the balls” for the Lotto draws). Quite handy if I should ever be offered bingo work, I suppose.

 

No friendly debate in the real world of politics

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BHA summitThis week I took part in a debate at the BHA Summit, opposing the motion “Traditional hotels are dying when faced with the growth of serviced apartments”, chaired by Piers Brown who manages both Boutique Hotel News and Serviced Apartment News.

My partner in the debate was Rafi Bejerano whose family own Pride of Britain member hotel The Arch London.

We were up against George Westwell and Paul Rands, two leading figures in the Serviced Apartment sector who made powerful opening speeches in favour of the motion. A lack of modesty allows me to report that we won hands down, largely because the hotel sector is doing demonstrably well, despite all the challenges it faces. It was interesting, though, to learn about how profitable apartments can be and the growing demand for them in big cities.

All this was of course a very friendly affair with no terrible consequences for the four of us. What a contrast with the real world of political debate and the dirty tactics used. Like many I watched the general election unfold with my head in my hands – the stability and certainty Mrs May hoped to bring to our country has proved as slippery as a bar of soap in the bath.

TV interviews encourage us to hate at least half of the politicians we see. The few I’ve met in person have all been absolutely charming so this is a cruel distortion – like or loathe ‘em most have gone into politics wanting to do some good. Perhaps we need to learn to be kinder to them, and allow their best qualities to shine?

What a life

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Wiltshire LifeThe June issue of Wiltshire Life magazine (a seriously good read) gives a double page spread to someone almost nobody has heard of, one Peter Hancock, who happens to live and work in that lovely county.

You wouldn’t believe the flack I’ve had since. “Surely that’s not your house?” Well no, it’s Whatley Manor Hotel as stated in the article. “My word, you look grumpy” Yes I do rather, can only blame the sunshine.

The best was from our chairman at Pride of Britain who was intrigued by a reference in the piece to the smallest church in England which forms part of the view from my office window. So I sent her a picture of it. “My word, it really is tiny” was her response. Not something a fellow likes to hear too often.

 

 

Hospitality heroes

BTTF33 weeks on and everybody is still talking about “Back to the Floor”, a dinner held at The Grosvenor House Hotel on April 7th in aid of our industry charity Hospitality Action.

As you can see from the picture, our splendid brigade of waiters and sommeliers were all leading figures from the hotel and catering trade and our host, Stuart Bowery, made the whole thing possible with lots of professional help from his team behind the scenes.

The event was the brainchild of Philip Newman-Hall and Danny Pecorelli and my supporting role as compere included running the live auction which gave our 370 wonderful guests a further chance to show their generosity, with the whole event raising an astonishing £92,000 for the charity, which helps those from the hospitality industry who find themselves in crisis.

Obviously it would have been even better to reach that magic figure of £100,000 so if you’re feeling flush please feel free to bung an extra £8k to http://www.hospitalityaction.org.uk/get-involved/take-action/donate/

Roll on 2019 at The Dorchester when we re-create the magic all over again!