Examining trends may tell you what happened but they're unlikely to predict what is going to happen, says Pride of Britain chief executive Peter Hancock
Anyone who can correctly anticipate business levels years into the future deserves to make their fortune. And this industry is well served by experts who devote their waking hours to studying every movement in hotel occupancy and rates around the world to help hoteliers plan ahead. They also note what is happening in national economies and of course sound out the trade itself to measure the confidence of operators in all regions.
Armed with this mass of data and their own in-depth knowledge, highly respected companies like Deloitte, TRI, STI and others produce the kind of forecasts we see in Caterer and Hotelkeeper that tell us when business levels might return to their previous peak and by how much "the provinces" will suffer compared with London.
As a casual spectator, the science of economic forecasting has always struck me as rather ambitious. There are so many variables that are impossible to predict and so many different types of business within each region, one wonders how useful any of this intelligence can be to a real hotelier faced with decisions such as whether to borrow to expand or refurbish, whether to take on new staff or sell up and become a florist instead.
Just think of the major factors that have influenced demand in our hotels in recent years: a change in government, steps to reduce the deficit, rain, a very successful Olympic and Jubilee summer, the impact of third party discount websites, foreign investment into large London hotels, China's rapid progress, the expansion of budget chains, energy inflation, cheap flights, the ash cloud, the collapse of Greece's economy, the banking crisis, the positive effect of low interest rates on workers with mortgages, the negative effect of low interest rates on the retired. You will have noticed that very few of these were fully expected yet all of them have contributed in some way to Britain's business landscape. Looking at trends within the hospitality sector will tell you what has happened but it cannot begin to tell you what is going to happen.
This is why I take far more interest in how creative hoteliers steal market share from their competitors. Given that we can't predict, let alone control, the size of the cake surely it makes sense to concentrate on grabbing as many crumbs from others as possible?
Take the boutique hotel sector, for example. Here we have stylish, upmarket hotels that appeal to a wide age range and command decent rates. Meanwhile luxury country house hotels, delivering great hospitality, are winning new fans every day. Both will continue to succeed because they understand what customers want today, no matter what the experts tell us about tomorrow.