Hindsight is a wonderful thing - and it's something that the UK hospitality industry can benefit from in the run up to London 2012. Rosalind Mullen reports on what lessons can be learnt from last year's Winter Olympics in Vancouver
No one thought the defining media image of the Vancouver Winter Olympics 2010 would be a lack of snow. It shows that no amount of planning can cover every eventuality, but it also demonstrates the importance of the hospitality industry. Arguably, if it hadn't been so well organised, visitors would have been even more disgruntled and there would have been consequences for tourism in the long term. So, let the recent Games be a warning - in 2012 the world's media will be looking at everything from sport to transport to whether the service in their hotel was up to scratch.
"The media is going to be in town and they're going to stick microphones in front of a whole bunch of visitors to get their opinions on their experience in London. Their answers are going to be critical in supporting the reputation of London and the UK in the future," said Greg Klassen, senior vice-president, marketing strategy and communications, for the Canadian Tourism Commission, when he spoke to Caterer last July.
Tourism Vancouver chair Rick Baxter agrees: "The initiatives put in place by the city's tourism industry served Vancouver well in the short term and set the stage for longer term tourism growth. Ensuring our Olympic visitors received the information and service they needed to enjoy their time in the city was an important step in turning them into repeat visitors."
It goes without saying, then, that hotels and restaurants should price cautiously. "Resist the urge to price for the Olympics and consider pricing for the next 10 years instead. You don't want these to become known as the rip-off Olympics," advises Klassen.
Despite the ultimate success of Vancouver, in retrospect operators say some opportunities were underexploited.
"We could have taken more risks on the F&B side," says Mark Andrew, regional vice-president for Fairmont Hotels & Resorts. "For example, we had the opportunity to bid for the exclusive off-site catering at the Molson Canadian Hockey House. Knowing what we know today, we would have pushed to do this as the in-house F&B was not as busy as we thought it would be. For instance, we had the Russian delegation in-house, which represented 100 rooms a day, but they were all fed at Russian House, meaning 100 rooms were not yielding any F&B on property."
Andrew stresses that the importance of room assignment should not be underestimated. At Fairmont they employed someone specifically for this purpose so that key staff could be on-task.
"Rooms were sold for the duration of the Games [20 days] and then waves of guests would come in depending on how long companies hosted their programmes. Once the first check-in was completed, the company would own the rooms. This meant we basically had 556 check-ins on that day," he explains.
Andrew also emphasises the benefits of getting involved with tourism bodies. He regrets not spotting the significance of working with Tourism Vancouver, which uploaded a behind-the scenes daily video blog directed at the meetings industry. "Looking back, we would have supported these videos even more than we did, in order to further communicate Fairmont's message and demonstrate our involvement," he adds.
On the home front, the carnival atmosphere is also a chance to win new customers among locals and build repeat business. Walt Judas, vice-president of marketing communications at Tourism Vancouver, says opportunities to attract locals could have been maximised. "Businesses could have done more to attract these potential customers, and offered them an incentive to return."
He adds that plenty of things did work well, such as the level of service provided to visitors. Even so, the number of organisations involved in trying to provide information and assistance to visitors brought its own problems. "The effort was at times uncoordinated, particularly with respect to the information visitors received on events and transportation," says Judas. "One organisation should be responsible for the entire visitor servicing component.
"We could have been more aggressive in using the Olympics as marketing leverage prior to the event. We could also have managed expectations better. Many businesses saw the Olympics as the panacea for recovery from the recession. However, the Games only affected specific tourism sectors or geographical areas."
How to limber up for London 2012
â- Use the media. This is an opportunity to capture the attention of millions of viewers and readers across the world
â- Regional operators can also tap into visitors by working with local tourism organisations and coming up with stories from around the country. Identify regional points of differentiation, such as historic sites or beauty spots, and sell them
â- Co-ordinate your efforts. Work in collaboration with tourism bodies and other hospitality businesses to make the most of marketing opportunities
â- Resist the urge to overprice as this will blight the UK's image as a tourist destination in future. Sign up to the Fair Pricing and Practice Charter, which was launched in conjunction with VisitLondon: www.tourism2012games.org/fppc
â- Don't skimp on in-house security. Hotels in Canada, such as Fairmont, had extra security staff during the Games as there was so much activity in-house in addition to the official security around the city
â- Make sure your key staff and managers have emptied their calendars and are on-site. Cancel regular meetings and replace them with quick daily briefings at 8am and 5pm. Fairmont found that this helps everyone to focus on the task in hand, not on future events
â- Stock up on maps showing country or sponsor pavilions, cultural events and where to purchase tickets as well as information on restaurants and transportation services
â- You may need to cater for several guest profiles. Guests of the IOC, Games sponsors and corporate guests will have pre-arranged transportation, tickets, meals, excursions and other benefits. VIPs (including politicians) will get an even higher level of service, mostly through the organising committee
â- You may have to adapt your service. Fairmont had to put some heads of state in standard room types as all the suites were committed to other VIPs, but they found that guests tended to be more understanding during an Olympic period
â- Be aware of ETOA research, which shows that visitors are often "scared off" in the months leading up to the Olympics. Use incentives and marketing to ensure you attract custom on either side of the Games
get in training with caterer
From July, in a special Best for Business feature, we will be spending a year with three businesses as they prepare for the Olympics.
We will introduce each operation to mentors who will put the businesses through their paces and make sure they make the most of the Games.
If you think your business would profit from the resources and expertise Caterer can call on, then get in touch.