The Pride of Britain chief executive talks to James Stagg about how the organisation and its member hotels have survived Covid-19 and why he thinks 2021 will be a great year for home-grown hospitality.
How has the Covid pandemic affected Pride of Britain?
For our 50 member hotels it has been, and remains, a serious trial. A number of the rural and coastal hotels have done quite well since reopening in July, with higher occupancy and rates than usual, but for those most reliant upon events or international tourists, the situation is bleak. Perhaps the hardest thing to deal with is the uncertainty around future lockdowns.
What are you doing to promote your hotels now?
We launched a new campaign called ‘Ready when you are' in late June, backed up by two new videos, lots of website promotion, E-flyers to our large database, advertising with Waitrose and some exclusive offers from our members. The focus for us has always been on UK residents, with the emphasis on leisure, so this is a market we know well.
Are you still enjoying the job after 20 years?
Absolutely. It is a huge privilege to serve the collection and its many stakeholders so, although I would have preferred things to be easier for everyone right now, I do still get a buzz from our little triumphs along the way. This year's challenges have proved what a marvellously committed team we have, too.
How do you think 2021 will look?
We must assume the country gets on top of the virus one way or another and that all those postponed weddings and other events finally go ahead. Added to that, lots of people have rediscovered a love for their own country, so 2021 and 2022 could be boom years for home-grown hospitality.
If we get a minister for hospitality what should be their priorities?
They should start by making Kate Nicholls a dame because she has done so much to champion our sector. Then they should listen to UKHospitality and our other representative bodies on tax, skill shortages and reducing the burdens upon hotels and restaurants, so we can go back to contributing fully to the economy as soon as possible.
Why do you think Pride of Britain has lasted so long?
Thirty-eight years without change would be impossible, but Pride of Britain is small enough to adapt and move with the times. Being not-for-profit and having the members ultimately in charge guarantees that the organisation continues to stay relevant.
Has the absence of events and conferences affected you personally?
Very much so. In a typical year I might derive a good chunk of my income from hosting and speaking at formal events, both within the trade and outside it. Everything got cancelled, of course, but on the plus side my golf and piano playing have both improved!
What have been the highlights of your career so far?
Becoming a hotel general manager at the age of 21; helping Johansens to be a great publishing success in the 1990s; watching Pride of Britain grow in size and stature since 2000; sharing a stage with the Queen at the Gold Service Scholarship awards; being made an honorary Master Innholder; receiving the Institute of Hospitality award for Outstanding Contribution to the Industry; and claiming the acquaintance of some of our trade's most respected individuals. And not forgetting my turns as your Voice of God at the Catey awards! There was one lovely development during the lockdown, too, when our eldest daughter produced an adorable baby girl.
Have you ever been tempted to own a hotel yourself?
No. There are two types of people in this world: entrepreneurs and the rest of us. I fall squarely into the second category, having neither the guts nor the confidence to create a business myself. My father was a successful businessman, which is perhaps the reason why I admire people with the bravery to do it, but none of them could succeed without effective employees.
Does anything about our industry make you angry?
What really annoys me is poor hotelkeeping by people who should never have entered the trade. We see examples of them on Alex Polizzi's The Hotel Inspector on Channel 5 and they do terrible damage to how customers view us in general.
What is your biggest regret?
Appearing on Alex Polizzi's The Hotel Inspector at a hotel in Ramsgate and finding none of my wise comments were used in the final edit. A cardboard cut-out would have done just as well.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years' time?
Hopefully still alive and doing something connected with the hotel industry, however small.
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