London hoteliers struggling to fulfil unprecedented demand for accommodation over the Royal Wedding have resorted to offering guests shared-occupancy rooms, using an ingenious software package designed to match compatible personalities.
The wedding between Prince William and Kate Middleton on an extended four-day bank holiday weekend stretching from 29 April to 2 May has left some hotels battling to reconcile the annual uplift in occupancy thanks to spring tourism, with the extraordinary demand from patriotic UK citizens who want to be close to the action.
"We received some very early enquiries as to availability of rooms when the wedding was announced in November last year. But since about February this year, the phone has been glowing red hot," said Abigail Raft, general manager of the 120-bedroom Royal Majesty hotel, a three-star establishment just off Buckingham Palace Road near Victoria station.
"It may be our name and proximity to a road which has such close associations with royalty, but we realised by the middle of February that we would be able to fill the hotel several times over with the demand we were getting," she added.
So with about 15 rooms remaining to be booked over the period of the wedding, Raft and her team took a bold decision - rather than simply booking the hotel out and turning away other prospective guests, they discussed the idea of offering shared-occupancy deals.
"We had heard of similar initiatives abroad although I and other members of the team had our reservations at first. But this is a Victorian property and as such some of the rooms, especially those on the first floor, are easily large enough to accommodate at least four people," she said.
Raft also decided that charging guests rates that were about 35%-40% below what they would normally pay for a room of their own would be attractive to customers, as well as boosting revenues to the hotel at a tough time.
Once the Royal Majesty's management team decided to make the move, it had to work out the logistics of fitting more guests together. Eight of the larger rooms now contain a double bed and a set of twin beds. Bulky furniture like wardrobes has been removed and smaller, temporary storage solutions like under-bed chests and wall-hanging shoe racks have been put in their place. The other seven rooms can accommodate one extra single bed.
Next came the difficulty of selling the concept to customers. "We marketed those rooms directly through our own website because it would have been too complicated through a third party," Raft said. "We were perfectly upfront about what we wanted to achieve - and highlighted the potential savings for guests. Typically a double room for a Friday night including breakfast is about £150. That gets cut to £90 under our shared occupancy scheme."
But Raft also wanted to make sure that she didn't end up having to deal with warring guests, so she has also invested in personality-matching software adapted from dating website www.findmeafriend.co.uk. The software, which has been grafted into the hotel's online booking system, asks guests a series of seemingly irrelevant multiple choice questions which see them select their preferred colour, movie and dog breed from a list.
Although seemingly random, the answers actually offer a detailed insight into the respondent's psyche, according to Swiss psychologist Dr Berndt von Strunkhausen, who developed the system.
"It's too early to tell if the software will work for us," said Raft. "But the initial selections the software has made make sense to me."
She is also about to send out a mailshot to customers who booked before the scheme was introduced to see if they are prepared to consider sharing their rooms in return for a discount. "I think there are several who will go for it," she said. "Although we do have one high-flying City banker with us over that weekend. Finding someone willing to share with him may be difficult."
HOW TO ENSURE HARMONIOUS SHARED OCCUPANCY
â- Leave cards in each shared room laying down ground rules for courteous behaviour
â- Consider introducing a curfew if you suspect your guests will stay up late into the night partying and disturb others
â- Set up a bathroom rota so that guests do not fight over who gets to shower first
â- Unless they state otherwise, seat sharing guests at opposite ends of the dining room for breakfast. They may need a break from each other