The impact of Easter on hotel trading was evident for all to see. Trading data for March showed general occupancy levels were up, and average room rates rose even more markedly.
April data will shortly be released, but this is likely to show a less favourable trend. Taking the two months together, however, the overall trend should be somewhere close to the average level of increase being shown by the UK hotel industry at present.
These figures represent industry averages, however, and there will be some within the sample that demonstrate precisely the opposite trend. Such exemptions will typically be more dependent on leisure visitation than business-related. However, the majority of chain-operated hotels in this country are dependent predominantly on corporate or conference sources for their bread-and-butter business, hence the beneficial effect in March when Easter occurs in April.
But it's not only Easter which has an impact but also bank holidays, school holidays and special events. Easter's occurrence fluctuates with the lunar calendar, unlike Christmas, and therefore its impact becomes more transparent via such year-on-year comparisons.
However school holidays are less aligned across the country than they used to be, and this has an effect on both guests and staff. Special events such as the forthcoming World Cup also have an impact, as do major commercial events such as the Farnborough Airshow and World Travel Market.
With heightened awareness, hotels can ensure they maximise the benefits from stronger trading periods and seek to organise promotions, special events and packages to try to counter the effects of any anticipated troughs.
Trying to predict the impact of known events far in advance, especially during planning such as budgeting and formulating sales action plans, is vital for hoteliers seeking to maximise revenue. For many this is long-standing practice but, with changes such as those in school holidays and the advent of the internet and budget airlines, consumer practices may change and hoteliers should take account of this.
Would more bank holidays be good for UK hotels?
Andrew Pern, chef-owner, the Star Inn at Harome "Bank holidays really just make organising and paying staff more awkward. We're a small business but have a large number of staff. The type of customers we get on a bank holiday aren't our normal clientele. The bank holidays add to the business, but make staffing and behind-the-scenes work a bit more complicated."
Elizabeth Miles, general manager, Pool House, Wester Ross "We're always busy on bank holidays and our staffing isn't really affected because we're in such a remote location. We definitely know we're going to be full because when people have an extra day off they tend to take advantage of it - in fact they often need the extra time to get up here and back again."
Anne Young, proprietor, the Pear Tree at Purton, Swindon, Wiltshire "There are already enough. The issue is that we have to pay the waged staff double time but can't charge the customers extra. It's also true that the whole week is affected, as it's much quieter. We're both leisure- and corporate-based, but the extra leisure business doesn't really compensate for the loss of a normal working day."
Norman Springford, executive chairman, Apex Hotels "For the corporate-based hotels like us, more bank holidays would be a disadvantage. We're so much quieter, and the reduction in business means we become less competitive, particularly during periods like the Easter weekend. Because we have three hotels in Edinburgh, we close one over Christmas, but apart from that we stay open."