It was a slow start to the Olympic Games for our business tracker operators, as travel advice kept guests away. But after a couple of quiet days, the action and atmosphere took off. James Stagg reports
The Nothe Tavern
Like many other businesses around the country, the Nothe Tavern in Weymouth had a slow start as the Olympics began. Like in London, local appeals to plan journeys and stay out of potentially busy areas worked rather too well.
Fortunately, these early issues were soon overcome as locals emerged to enjoy the carnival atmosphere with sailing enthusiasts.
"It was apparent that people weren't coming in to the pub; instead they were passing by and going straight to the venue," Nothe Tavern licensee James Parsons explains. "We found that on the first Sunday. So where we originally had things in the garden we put stalls in front of the pub selling drinks and food to appeal to people as they were passing. We also did a little PR, saying that the roads were empty and it wasn't as busy as we were expecting, which brought a lot of trade back."
But moving more marketing to the roadside attracted the interest of Locog and its heavy-handed approach to advertising.
"They said we couldn't have our Pimm's umbrellas up and that staff couldn't wear branded T-shirts," Parsons adds. "So we told them, sorry, but we will do it. We spoke to someone in licensing at the council and told them the situation, explaining the only way we were going to make it was to do this. They said that we weren't in the event zone and as long as we didn't sell products we wouldn't normally sell, then it was fine."
The pub couldn't sell the packed lunches it had planned, as visitors could only take in certain snack items, but it ensured that it capitalised on its position outside the hospitality area. Members of staff stood outside taking bookings for lunch and evening meals, while Parsons also set up a small tourist information shop where he issued local information to encourage people to see other places in the area.
"That got the support of the council," he says. "We were also offering welfare facilities for the volunteers - giving them drinks and snacks and letting them use the toilets."
The pub also generated goodwill through offering storage for umbrellas, large camera lenses and tripods belonging to visitors who were unable to take them into the hospitality area due to size restrictions. Parsons says: "We offered to store them for a donation to the RNLI and raised £1,600 in two weeks. And the benefit for us was that people stayed for a meal or a drink."
Happily for the business, local trade returned to join the carnival atmosphere, although the numbers still didn't quite live up to what the town had expected.
"We sold more drink than usual - it was a 50/50 mix rather than 70/30 towards food," Parsons says. "It was a fantastic atmosphere but we haven't made what we expected so the investment made in infrastructure a couple of years ago hasn't been recouped, although it compensated for the poor weather we had at the beginning of the season. Now we're basically on track with a normal year. The measure for us will be the next few years."
The Nothe TavernTel: 01305 839255www.thenothetavern.co.uk
The Palmer Arms
Though the planners did a good job at diverting traffic in Dorney too, Chrys Fisher saw a good uplift at the Palmer Arms.
"It was all in the space of two hours a day," he says. "The breakfast was busy on the rowing week but not so much on the canoeing week. The rowing week was mega - superb. The second week was not as busy but still represented a 40% uplift."
With parking at a premium so close to Dorney Lake, the pub charged £30 to park, for which the guest received a £20 food voucher. The business was helped by people charging for parking in nearby fields too, taking the pressure off its facilities yet still encouraging guests into the pub.
"We did a hog roast at the weekends that went to bare bones and fed a lot of people very quickly, Fisher adds. "The canoe sprint was all over by midday so people just came in for lunch but we did better with the rowing as it finished around 1:30pm and people came and spent the afternoon here."
As predicted, the pub lost much of its local trade, but gained a lot of passing trade, including Olympians and organisers.
Fisher adds: "It was really interesting meeting them. We had the silver medallist Canadian team and bronze New Zealand guys in here. It made for a really good atmosphere. The week of the rowing the atmosphere was excellent. We even had a couple of German guys camping in the garden for a couple of nights, and a camper van in the car park."
Meanwhile, hosting the BBC meant the pub featured in broadcasts almost every day. "It was mainly local with BBC Berkshire but we had a day with the national team," Fisher says. "You just can't pay for that. They were doing interviews upstairs and broadcasting from here. We really had a great mixture of people - a party atmosphere - and it was good for business."
The Palmer ArmsTel: 01628 666612www.thepalmerarms.com
August broke records at Ufford Park, in Woodbridge, Suffolk, though revenue manager Melanie Hawes doesn't put it all down to the Olympic effect. When the bid for the games was won, the hotel had been led to believe it should expect a bumper summer of overseas visitors and though they didn't materialise, some canny marketing meant the business didn't lose out.
"August has been particularly busy," Hawes explains. "It's normally a busy time of year for us anyway but this year has been much better than the past couple of years."
However, she puts much of this down to film crews staying at the hotel, thanks to its proximity to Bentwaters Parks, a local film location.
"We have had some people stay from the Olympics but more a handful of people than lots," Hawes adds. "Some that live in the North of England came after the Olympics to extend their trip before heading back. We've picked up bits and pieces but it's hard to say how much business has been down to the games."
In particular the hotel's new family inclusive packages went well. "A total price seems to be what people want, and we've got quite a few apartments, which can accommodate many people and bigger groups. They are also the people that will spend money on the premises too," explains Hawes.
But even though many of the guests weren't there solely for the Olympics, the general buzz filtered through the hotel. "We had the Olympics on in the large screen in the bar and at reception, and it was a fantastic atmosphere," Hawes says. "Hopefully that will continue into the Paralympics."
Despite not picking up as much direct business as expected, Hawes is confident the Olympics will benefit UK hospitality in the long term. "At tourism conferences we were promised 100% occupancy and really that didn't come through," she says. "I think we were a bit too far out to pick up on any business but the general buzz and focus on the UK is bound to help tourism; not just from people from abroad, but also people in the UK.
"When you take pride in your country you're more likely to stay. The opening ceremony helped with that, as has the positive attitude of the armed forces and games makers. It's not necessarily British to be positive and happy so the games have certainly shown us in a different light."
Best Western Ufford Park hotel, golf and spaTel: 01394 383555www.uffordpark.co.uk
Caterer and Hotelkeeper adopted three businesses during the run up to the Olympics as part of the Profiting from 2012 campaign in association with ACT Clean and People 1st.
All three were keen to exploit the opportunity and ensure they were fully prepared. Each month we tracked their progress as they prepared to profit from the Games.
Our Profiting from 2012 Business Tracker series is published in association with ACT Clean and People 1st
By James Stagg
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