"More from Paris next time," I said when I was writing from the wonderful South of France. Well, I came back rested and ready to go, and the figures for September and October looked fantastic on the books… until 11 September.
Paris was suddenly a little strange, and everybody in the hotel was in shock. The first thing we did was to increase security. We closed all exits apart from the main one, where instead of three doors we left only one big door open. Extra security guards are on duty 24 hours a day. The French government also brought in their system of "Vigi-Pirate", whereby all metal dustbins have been permanently covered and other increased security measures can be seen all over the place.
September occupancy should have reached 95%. We finished at 74%, which was a good result compared with many, mainly because we had a large Middle East delegation in house who extended their stay for an extra 10 days.
We set up a lounge for our US guests, with a large screen and coffee, etc, for guests wanting to watch the news with others; and, within company policy, did not charge any cancellation fees during the first week.
In September we lost two other huge pieces of business, which meant that on one Sunday night the hotel was at 27% occupancy. For October, we have lost twice as many roomnights as we have gained, more than two-thirds of them from the USA. Our sales department is trying to reallocate some of that business next year, especially during the slow months.
On the cost side, we have stopped buying anything that is not absolutely necessary, and we have spent many hours working out how best to reduce payroll costs. In France, vacation can be carried over for up to three years, plus the 35-hour working week means we can now get people to take time off, reducing costs. We had a productive meeting with the unions, who are committed to working with us on this.
We are also lucky the Grand hotel is closing for major refurbishments in December, which should help us. It is also good to see our company will still go ahead with this.
Now let's keep smiling and be positive, because if we don't and the staff don't, how can our guests begin to feel good and safe again?
DAGMARWOODWARD is general manager of the Hotel Inter-Continental Paris
Next diary from Dagmar Woodward: 15 November.