Jonathan Raggett, managing director of Red Carnation Hotels, argues that EasyGroup's much publicised budget EasyHotel offering poses little threat to other hoteliers.
As a hotelier who, however amicably, operates to a greater or lesser extent in competition with other hotels in central London, news of EasyGroup's plans for a low cost hotel in Kensington immediately prompted one obvious question: "How will this affect our business?"
Given the impact of EasyJet on traditional air carriers, was Stelios going to do the same to us? Should we respond, and if so, how? And, most importantly, did I really need this extra worry? On further reflection these anxieties subsided.
By contrast, the qualities that distinguish the four and five star hotels in our sector of the market are not 'frills', but absolutely integral to the offer. To take it to its extreme, only a planespotter would consider taking a leisure break on an aeroplane, whereas every day, around the world, hundreds of thousands of people do precisely that in hotels where what they are buying is quality of environment and personal service. Talking to our guests, it's very clear how important the hotel experience is to them. It would therefore be absurd to talk about a 'no-frills' version. Whatever the main reason for their visit, comfort, convenience, and above all a worry free service are an essential and necessary part of the deal.
Of course, providing these essentials costs money, and not everyone can afford them. Which is why, especially given the central location of the proposed hotel, I fully expect Stelios' new venture to do well. At the 'back-packer' end of the market, where all that is sought is a safe, clean, cheap, and convenient place to get one's head down, the equivalent of the Greek or Turkish pension, an EasyHotel will certainly be attractive. For those who see comfort and service - or hospitality as we call it in the trade - as an integral part of the hotel experience, it will hold no attraction whatsoever. I'm not convinced there will be as much room as anticipated for demand-led flexibility in pricing, since the very basic nature of the rooms makes rock-bottom rates the main attraction, perhaps the sole one with the Easy brand less powerful outside its air context. But it's an interesting idea. Safe in the knowledge that it holds no threat at all to our business, I wish it every success.
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