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Hotel Forum 2017: How to run your hotel in 2018

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The Caterer’s Hotel Forum examined a host of serious issues affecting operators today, from the pressures of Brexit to how to deal with terrorist attacks, but still found reasons to be optimistic about 2018. Rosalind Mullen reports

Russell Kett, chairman of the London office of hospitality firm HVS, followed Gary Neville’s appearance at The Caterer’s Hotel Forum with a positive review of 2017. He pointed out that in 2016 revenue per available room (revpar) was down, but by September 2017 occupancy rates and revpar in Europe were growing. “It is a good-news story and should help us to look forward to 2018,” said Kett.

He also told a relieved audience that there were good prospects for the UK economy – despite Brexit: “They can’t afford to screw the deal up, whatever happens with the minutiae,” he said.

Getting down to detail, he revealed that trends for the year to date in September 2017 showed a 5.3% growth in revpar to £71.94%; a 0.9% boost in occupancy to 78%; and a 4.3% lift to £92.27% in average daily rate. Meanwhile, total revenue per available room (trevpar) had risen 2.6% to £160.09 and gross operating profit per available room (goppar) by 2.7% to £70.75.

“I’ll give you a tip,” said Kett. “Focus on goppar – it’s the new revpar, although it is taking longer to be adopted than we hoped. If you don’t focus on goppar, you might as well give up. Concentrating on the top line alone is just not enough.”

He added: “Gross operating profit is the hotel’s net revenue after deducting operating expenses. You need to look at your hotel’s profit and loss – for instance, travel agents’ commissions have soared in recent years, with the greater role played by online travel agents. Commissions are now the biggest single
contributor to lower hotel profits.”

Next year, the global forecast is positive, although there will be a “deceleration in UK GDP growth – but still growth”.

Kett also warned that uncertainty over Brexit will have an impact. “It will happen, so you need to sort the cost and staff issues out. Operating costs are rising and you need to keep an eye on that. There are also security concerns and that may cause decision changes.”

Giving advice to those in the room, he said:
● Don’t be an average hotel. Emulate those who are doing it better.
● Do strive to outperform the competition.
● Do encourage direct bookings.
● Don’t always discount; add value instead.
● Do check reviews on sites such as TripAdvisor and compare with your competitors.
● Don’t lose money on food and beverage – monitor your banqueting revenue per square metre and profit per square metre to ensure
a better bottom line.
● Do GOYA (get off your arse) and get out there to sell your space. Don’t let others
do it for you.


Mice innovation: Automating bookings for small meetings
You can book restaurants, flights and hotel rooms with a few clicks on your device, but until recently booking a meeting room was an offline, lengthy and low-converting manual process. So Felix Undeutsch, head of Mice and groups at Expedia, grabbed attention when he described how the company’s automated meeting booking system can improve conversion rate by at least 3.5%.

With small meetings accounting for two-thirds of the £20b meetings market in the UK, lack of automation has been a “massive problem”, said Undeutsch. He told delegates that the new system can crunch through a request to distribute live information on capacity and seating, give prices and check dates. Bookers can also customise their request, adding, for example, food and beverage and accommodation. The whole transaction is done online and deposits can even be taken.

Citing a report from Best Western, he said that it took the company 30 minutes to create a manual quote and five hours to respond manually to a customer – the technology reduced this to just five minutes and 14 minutes respectively. And while only 17% of bookings were made after three days using the manual system, this rose to 61% when it was automated.

“The process is faster, so the conversion rate increases,” explained Undeutsch.

Give something back: Adopt a School
Sara Jayne-Stanes, chief executive of the Royal Academy of Culinary Arts, took to the stage to outline why hotels should sign up to Adopt a School, a programme that supports hospitality staff in how to teach primary school children about food and cooking.

To support her message were two managers from Home Grown Hotels’ the Pig hotels, which has been involved for the past five years. Chef-director James Golding described how his brigade take a mobile garden into schools and invites the children, aged six to nine, back to the Pig to cook.

“I think of my own children and there is an element of giving back,” said Golding. “We are talking about how we can find the next wave of chefs and plant a seed about a future career.”

Operating director Tom Ross added: “Hospitality can have a bad press, but we can work with kids and they can go home and talk to their parents. If we all sent one person, it would hit a huge number of people.”

Jayne-Stanes agreed: “You are the difference,” she told delegates. “You share and ignite children’s interest and sow the seed of hospitality as a career option. We reach 15,000 children a year and have a waiting list. Schools recognise our work, but we can’t do it alone. Help us to get into primary schools – and if anyone has any influence on government, please enforce this message.”


Recruitment and retention
The Caterer’s associate editor Neil Gerrard chaired a discussion about this perennial issue. On the panel were Andrew Boer, principal at Edge Hotel School; Charlie Brodie, talent, learning & development manager at London Edition; and Tom Ross, group operations director, Home Grown Hotels. Here’s a round-up:

London Edition recruits for personality – reputedly by cocktail party. Tell us more.
CB: We don’t replace the formal process completely, but we have used a cocktail party for a big push. The hotel’s brand is lifestyle, culture, art and entertainment, so candidates register their interest by sending in their CV and then they are invited along to network with managers and supervisors. At our last one we had
300 applications. We looked at their CVs for hobbies, languages, travel, interests – something that linked them with our brand.

We also give colleagues business cards, so when they are out and about and they receive good service, they can hand out a card and suggest they get in touch. We have had good results.

Andrew, you mentioned in a blog at the Edge Hotel School that the industry could learn from football clubs
AB: We can learn from other industries. Football has it right, as the clubs identify and nurture talent and retain it. But we don’t have the grass roots to identify people. We need to find top people and invest in them.

How does Home Grown train for talent?
TR: We can’t do what the hotel giants do, but we do have [founder] Robin Hutson and we give our staff on the Budding Entrepreneurs scheme unparalleled access to him. We focus on craft, so training is tailored to each person and each person rotates through a different mentor every year. Training holds them for three or four years and they provide the seed pod for new openings. We take budding entrepreneurs to high-level meetings, such as with the bank and suppliers, and to conferences and interviews. It makes them more settled when they get to management level.

Only 17% of parents think that hospitality is a good career for children. How can the industry turn that around?
AB: The way our industry is portrayed in the media is influential and the portrayal of abuse [in the kitchen] doesn’t help. Also, careers officers, teachers and universities have little idea and don’t enthuse about the industry. The only people who can resolve it are in this room.

The Edge Foundation has raised £100,000 to help send the message out to parents that hospitality is a good career. It is an 18-month project and we will go out to 200 schools. We want to catch pupils when they are older. We can offer them experiential learning in, say, hotel revenue management. We want them to go away and think “Wow”. At least then they will know we exist.

How is Brexit affecting employment?
CB: Some 70% of staff in our London hotel are from the EU and fewer people are moving here for their first roles because of the uncertainty. We have accepted it and are now reassuring the ones we have. And we are looking at home-grown talent for our recruitment. There is also a two-year work visa [Tier 5 Youth Mobility Scheme] for nationals from Japan, Australia and New Zealand, for example, and we are tapping into it to fill more flexible roles.

TR: Our staff are 75% British because we are regional, but it is still a worry. Communication is a big thing, so we imagined how our employees feel and we talk to them. There is also optimism – things will play out. I can see retention in departments that are run well – where the rotas are out on time and people leave work on time. Basic things.


Ensuring guest safety in uncertain times
Following the series of terrorist attacks in London and Manchester earlier this year, all attention was on Darren Carter, head of group security at Edwardian Hotels and chairman of the Institute of Hotel Security Management (IHSM), when he took the podium to outline what businesses can do to minimise risk and maximise staff and guest safety.

He acknowledged that hotels in city centres are particularly vulnerable and stressed the importance of working with local counter-terrorism officers, getting training from Project Griffin and Project Argus, and sharing information with local businesses, clients and other key partnerships.

“Communication is key to deter internal and external threats,” said Carter. He added that, above all, training staff in how to respond in a crisis was crucial (see panel) and had to be regular, not least because of high staff turnover. He also urged recruiters to use technology to verify employee documents.

How to prepare your staff: Run, Hide, Tell
● Plan safe routes and know where you might hide in advance. Understand where the exits are so that if your escape route is no longer safe, you can change it.
● When an incident unfolds, run and insist others go with you.
● If you can’t escape, hide. Lock yourself in a secure room and move away from the door. Put your mobile phone to silent and stay quiet.
● When you are in a safe place, call the police.
● When the police arrive, they will be armed and may not know you are innocent, so do everything they say calmly and don’t make any sudden movements.

The anatomy of a crisis
Staying on the subject of dramatic events was Bernard Donoghue, director of the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions (ALVA), mayoral advisor and a member of government response committee Cobra.

Referring to this year’s terror attacks, he conceded that it was a difficult time for London attractions, with a 17% drop in visitor numbers in zone one from May to July and only 25% of school bookings going ahead. But he added that overseas visitors did not stay away and that displacement meant numbers at Greenwich and Hampton Court were up by 10%.

He advised operators to seek training with Project Argus and Project Griffin and said it was crucial to establish a link with the National Counter Terrorism Security Office (NaCTSO) for site visits and advice. He directed the audience to guidance notes at

How to communicate during a crisis
● Rehearse and prepare.
● Have clear communications – don’t guess or speculate.
● Think about your websites and social media – can you alter a message quickly?
● Don’t rush to measure the economic impact of an incident. People are more important. Have sensitivity and propriety.
● Don’t worship the crisis. You are in hospitality, so don’t become security pundits.

Dealing with unexpected events
The Caterer’s deputy editor James Stagg chaired a panel of hoteliers who have managed their properties through unexpected crises.

John Badley, regional general manager of Andrew Brownsword Hotels, opened the session by describing when the Royal Clarence in Exeter burnt down in 2016, leaving just 20% of the shell: “We were well-drilled. We had the Rolls-Royce of systems with weekly simulations and checks, so we were prepared. But the fire started in the next-door building, so there were no fire alarms – we got a call from a guest,” he told a hushed room.

Guests were evacuated and taken to nearby hotels, but Badley added: “No matter how much practice you do, you need good people around you. Communication was key. We gave guests updates saying there was ‘no update’ because that was the truth. And they appreciated it.”

Badley was followed by the Lowry hotel’s general manager Adrian Ellis, who explained how his team had to quickly provide food, water and blankets to crowds of displaced, scared people following the attack at the Manchester Arena. “There were 400 people in the lobby and most were estranged from their families,” said Ellis. “You can have procedures for everything, but the reality is that when it happens, your reaction is not the same.”

One big challenge was how to deal with people experiencing trauma. “Hotel staff weren’t trained in how to handle trauma. People saw shocking things, even if they weren’t hurt. Three of our staff were there at the time and we have offered them counselling.”

At Rudding Park in Harrogate, managing director Peter Banks said he faces “daily disaster”. “In 32 years, we have had six deaths and four fires. I see half a million people through our doors, so in any one day you can get a drug dealer or a wife-beater.”

The trio agreed that recruiting duty managers with common sense is crucial, while Banks added: “As a leader, you can bring the team through.”

How to create iconic hotels
How do you breathe new life into city centre hotels so that they appeal to 21st-century guests? The Caterer’s hotels editor Janet Harmer interviewed David Taylor, chief operating officer of Principal, the new brand of UK-wide urban lifestyle hotels. Here are some of the highlights.

Give us a snapshot of Principal hotels.
By 2019, we will have 12 hotels. We are a British brand. We have hotels in unique buildings and they are distinctive, warm, generous and local at heart.

We could win a prize for making our lives the most difficult in a hotel space. We have used different designers for each hotel and location. Even during the evolution process we pause, because we have to live with a space for the next 15 years.

What about F&B?
We haven’t made our life easy there, either. Each city is different, so we are mindful of that and have developed F&B in partnership with chefs and restaurateurs – for instance, Colin Fleming is at the Printing Press Bar & Kitchen in Edinburgh. In London [at the Russell] we worked with the Gorgeous Group. We’ve met chef Brett Redman and Margaret Crow, a crazy Texan stylist. They epitomise what we need. Those two characters will be visible and the restaurant will help us to bring the area up.

How do you recruit?
There is no one size fits all. In York we need a different strategy [as there is no employment pool], so we need to work out how to get people from Leeds or employ part-time or retired people. At Russell Square in London we will need 400 staff, so it is a big challenge. They won’t necessarily be from hospitality backgrounds so we will train them, and some will go from hotel A to B. We are confident it will open in the first quarter of 2018.

About the sponsor

Sky is dedicated to providing an unrivalled product offering for hoteliers to help them attract guests, increase their re-booking rates and attract positive customer reviews. Sky In-Room provides guests with the perfect home from home entertainment experience, with a dedicated Sky box in each room, creating a premium feel and giving guests all the choice and HD quality they are used to at home. Sky can also provide Sky Sports to the hotel bar, delivering live sports coverage throughout the week from all the best sporting events. Plus, with fast and reliable Sky WiFi, guests can stay connected throughout their stay.

Sky is dedicated to providing an unrivalled product offering for hoteliers to help them attract guests, increase their re-booking rates and attract positive customer reviews. Sky In-Room provides guests with the perfect home from home entertainment experience, with a dedicated Sky box in each room, creating a premium feel and giving guests all the choice and HD quality they are used to at home. Sky can also provide Sky Sports to the hotel bar, delivering live sports coverage throughout the week from all the best sporting events. Plus, with fast and reliable Sky WiFi, guests can stay connected throughout their stay.


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