Too poor for an auctioneer?

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PH at NSIF 2Among a whole series of very enjoyable speaking engagements in recent weeks I found myself at St Andrew Church in Holborn last week as MC for a Christmas concert organised by the Nicholls Spinal Injury Foundation, which benefited from a super choir called Walton Voices.

One of my tasks was to introduce the various readers who included some of the famous patrons of the charity. One such was Lord (Jeffrey) Archer who gave a highly entertaining rendition of The Twelve Days of Christmas by John Julius Norwich.

Taking the chance for a quick chat with him afterwards I told the best-selling author that whenever I am engaged to conduct an auction (usually for charity) someone usually reminds me that the absolute master of the craft is Jeffrey Archer…and I know this to be true. No doubt seeking to make me feel better about my inferior skills he said “It does help if you are a Lord…and if you’re rich yourself”

Two perfect excuses for being the underdog, then!

 

 

First among equals…again

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Last week I had the privilege to share a stage with three great friends: Tim Etchells (whose company, SME London, organises the Independent Hotel Show) Bronwyn de Cholowa (who is a director of Sky Business, a company that has quickly established itself within the luxury hotel sector and names several Pride of Britain members among its clients) and Kate Levin (General Manager of The Capital, Knightsbridge and chairman-elect of PoB).

This year for the first time a “Hall of Fame” has been created to properly recognise all shortlisted nominees for the title “Independent Hotelier of the Year” but it was Kate who triumphed. Some 3,900 of the visitors to the show cast their votes, the highest number ever, and it was an honour to play a small part in the proceedings as MC.

Tim Etchells, Bronwyn de Cholowa, Kate Levin, Peter Hancock (photo: Edward Lloyd)

Tim Etchells, Bronwyn de Cholowa, Kate Levin, Peter Hancock (photo: Edward Lloyd)

 

Time for a tea-drinkers fight back

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TeaWhat a contrast. Go into any of the thousands of coffee shops that now line our high streets and malls and chances are you’ll be behind someone asking for a weird variant of the popular beverage such as a tall sugar free vanilla latte with soya milk, trying to sound like a New Yorker with sophisticated taste. These drinks take several minutes to prepare, with lots of tapping and squirting and steam while the queue lengthens.

All I ever want is a cup of tea but I wouldn’t dream of ordering a Twinings Earl Grey boiling water with lemon slice in a china cup, it’s just “one tea please” and you get a cup of fairly hot water with the bag still in and maybe some helpful guidance along the lines of “milk’s over there”.

When did tea drinkers become second class citizens? Why isn’t there a machine the size of a printing press with its own squirting noises just for us – or at the very least something to put the bloody bag in afterwards? Tea is a wonderful drink with a huge choice of flavours and brands, not to mention beautiful crockery in which to serve the stuff. Grand hotels swell at 3 o’clock every afternoon with smart guests there to enjoy the theatrical refinement of afternoon tea, often at fancy prices too. Surely it deserves better than most coffee shops provide.

So what do I want? Bean and leaf parity. When do I want it? As soon as Mr triple non fat caramel macchiato has been served, please.

Sharing the limelight

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Today in the post I received a copy of Monica Or’s brand new book, Star Quality Experience – The Hotelier’s Guide to Creating Memorable Guest Journeys.

Star Quality ExperienceMuch to my delight, there are wise quotes from several hotelier friends and the Foreword that Monica asked me to contribute has not fallen victim to the editor’s knife.

This book simply adds to the great work already being done by the likes of the Gold Service Scholarship in raising standards for the front of house aspects of our industry and I’m proud to be associated with both.

Apparently it’s a category bestseller with Amazon at the time of writing this post so buy one now if you can.

The changing face of service

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I have been asked to facilitate a discussion on the changing ways by which service is delivered in luxury hotels as one of many carefully planned sessions that address real issues relevant to today’s hoteliers at the Independent Hotel Show taking place at Olympia, London on October 18th and 19th this year

Ockenden Manor

It’s a fascinating subject, especially now that innovators such as Robin Hutson, Nick Jones and Richard Ball have demonstrated how to combine a deceptively casual approach with high standards and prices to match, while the best examples of what one might call “traditional” hospitality continue to enjoy good business too.

Around 1977 when I was working as a waiter my boss decided it was time to modernise the restaurant and I was told to discard my black tie in favour of a white polo-necked shirt under the dinner suit. I felt like Roger Moore as The Saint. Alas it didn’t last because every other customer as they arrived would say “Hello Peter, nice to see you. Have you injured your neck?”

picture: Ockenden Manor

 

A model of dignity

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David CameronIt was with a lump in my throat that I watched our Prime Minister, David Cameron, make his announcement today following the EU referendum result. What an excellent example of British courtesy and honour, delivered calmly despite the immense stress of the situation and considering how very tired he must have been.

I make no comment about the wisdom or folly of the British electorate, though many in the hotel industry have already remarked on the likely damage our departure from the EU could do to business. So in an effort to lighten the mood, here are a few sideways observations:

  • A weaker pound means holidays here are less expensive for inbound tourists
  • A weaker pound will deter some UK residents from holidaying abroad
  • Lower interest rates will give borrowers greater spending power
  • While higher interest rates would give savers more to spend
  • Everyone in Europe will be talking about the UK for a while (free PR!)
  • Nothing is stopping talent from overseas coming to work here right now
  • We still have our unique heritage, beautiful countryside, superb hotels, magnificent coastline, world-class food, arts and culture to die for
  • You didn’t see this coming? Join the club. As advertising guru David Ogilvy once observed “The problem is that people don’t think what they feel, don’t say what they think and don’t do what they say.”

 

An apology

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Anyone who writes a blog like this one will know that as well as charming comments from readers they will also receive spam, junk and a great deal of utter nonsense in poor English including attempts to sell wholly inappropriate services to the blameless blogger. Yes, you guessed it, I am a victim.

Despite a recent sweep thousands more “comments” have flooded in, making it impossible for me to properly acknowledge real messages from people who have actually read my golden words. If you are one of them, please accept my apologies.

For your amusement I reproduce an example below exactly as it came… “I’ll right away grasp your rss as I can’t to find your e-mail subscription link or newsletter service. Do you have any? Please permit me recognize in order that I may subscribe. Thanks.”

Has anyone tried to grasp your rss today?

The trials and tribulations of hotel general managers

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On May 24th I was joined on stage at the Boutique & Lifestyle Hotel Summit by four leading hotel general managers: Eva Mount (The Arch London), Oliver Williams (Ellenborough Park), Susanne Traudt (South Place) and Melissa Stoman (The Draycott Hotel). The first two of these are members of Pride of Britain so I was especially interested in hearing what they regard as the biggest challenges they currently face. These include finding and keeping decent staff, coping with the daily flexing of rates by competitors and the threat from AirBnB. Despite these, however, business remains strong at the luxury end of the market and all agreed that outstanding service is our USP.

Running any business can be a lonely job but hoteliers are unusual in being very willing to discuss issues with their counterparts – who would be treated as rivals in most other industries – and to share solutions to common problems. In fact, they go beyond this and actually pool resources as fellow members of consortia and other groupings.

As to the term “Boutique” – I think the jury’s still out on what it really means. Boutique & Lifestyle Summit

Variety show

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When I occasionally confess to being a part-time semi-professional non-celebrity but reasonably-priced raconteur the usual question is “what do you talk about?” which is actually quite difficult to answer because no two events are the same.

In a few days I shall be addressing the National Hotel Marketing Conference on the subject of How to spend £1m on Marketing, to be followed later that day by a speech in London to mark the unveiling of a refurbished hotel and the next evening by what I hope will be an entertaining address to the Kent Law Society’s lavish annual dinner. Two days later my pleasant task will be to act as Master of Ceremonies at the 2016 Sommelier of the Year awards at the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park Hotel.

All completely different, all a tremendous privilege to be involved in… and only possible because of my legendary availability!

Let the disabled room be the best in the house

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Robin Sheppard is one of those people who manages to handle a complex and successful business life with seemingly no limit to the number of projects on the go. He is chairman of Bespoke Hotels, a company that manages dozens of hotels around the country including Pride of Britain member, The Chester Grosvenor and the Independent Hotel Show’s Newcomer of the Year, Hotel Gotham in Manchester.

Now he has turned his attention to the plight of disabled guests in hotels – having been struck with a rare illness himself some years ago that has left him partly disabled – with the backing of the Royal Institute of British Architects and seasoned campaigner Baroness Celia Thomas in whose name a new competition was launched at The House of Lords this week.

There are three categories to the competition: 1. Architecture 2. Product design and 3. Service design. Anyone can enter and the prize fund of £30,000 should inspire lots of entries.

Who knows, this may lead to disabled rooms eventually becoming the best rather than the worst in the house.

For info see www.bespokehotels.com/access