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After the bombs

22 August 2005

Jonathan Raggett, managing director of Red Carnation Hotels, assess the impact of the 7 July London bombings on hoteliers in the capital.

Now that a few weeks have passed since the events of 7 July, it's probably a good moment to take stock of their effect on London hotels.

Before doing so, I'd like to comment on the adverse publicity about London hotels exploiting the situation by charging exorbitant rates.

Although I've no direct knowledge of such profiteering, I've been around long enough not to try to deny it took place.

But I do talk to a lot of my colleagues in other hotels, and everyone I've spoken to did their utmost to provide aid and support, from offering complimentary teas and snacks to ensuring that advantageous rates were held for people stranded in town.

One of our own properties, the Montague on the Gardens, is just a few hundred yards from where the bus bomb occurred, and I know from personal experience that everyone there, as in so many other hotels, did everything they could to reassure, help, and comfort those for whom the street had suddenly become a place of terror.

Now that I've got that off my chest, on to the effect on business.

And the situation has improved with every passing week.

Our contacts in America are reporting difficulty satisfying clients' demand for flights to the UK. September is looking good, and we're anticipating a strong final quarter.

The effect of a threat more sinister than any previous terrorist activity in London has thus been considerably less dramatic than might have been expected. Whether this is down to a desire not to knuckle under, whether people are becoming more resilient in an uncertain world, or whether some other factor is at play, is beyond my capability to judge.

What could change all this, of course, is a repetition - or worse - of 7 July.

What we can do to prevent this is limited, but within those limits we're determined to do all we can. Everyone in the trade knows that working in a public place puts us in danger, and that hotels carry their own special risk areas. For one thing, we welcome suitcases, and it's neither practicable nor desirable for us to search the luggage of our guests as bars or restaurants might.

As a collection of small boutique hotels we're conscious of some advantages, in that we don't have large public areas and because we tend to have a better knowledge of our guests, more than 50% of whom are return visitors, but the duty facing all of us in the trade is greater vigilance.

Staff training is integral to our operations, and we believe we have put appropriate measures in place to optimise emergency awareness and procedures.

Above all, we maintain excellent relations with the police and other services who provided such a magnificent response on the day.

Sadly, no-one can know what the future holds. But we can be sure that we're doing everything we can to ensure the security of our guests and, with common sense and responsibility, keep the flag of 'business as usual' flying.

Jonathan Raggett is managing director of boutique hotels group Red Carnation, which runs nine hotels in England, South Africa, Switzerland and the USA. For more information visit www.redcarnation.com

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