Pubs around the country still aren't making the most of the accommodation because they lag behind bigger operators in the digital arena.
That's one of the conclusions drawn from a round table debate held before Easter at the Alma pub in London's Wandsworth, featuring 14 key industry representatives and organised by Guestline.
As the pub market has changed over the past few years as a result of the smoking ban and a shift towards food sales, pub operators have increasingly looked to accommodation as another means of generating revenue.
But with four out of five travellers now booking their accommodation online, delegates at the round table indicated that it was evident that pubs needed to get better at making potential customers aware of their offer.
"The weakness in our digital capabilities in this industry has allowed the continued threat of third-party proliferation in the market," said Mark Childs, the group accommodation manager for Greene King. "Where you are putting your business in the hands of large third-party providers, typically OTAs, to generate your business, they are never really your own customers. For me, what pubs with rooms have got to get better at is owning the digital space and giving the customers compelling reasons to come back to them."
Speaking about the Alma pub itself (bedroom pictured), Andy Nash, operations director of hotels for Young's, added: "People find us by Googling the location and the word ‘hotel'. So they type ‘Wandsworth hotel' and we need to be in that space because we need the Alma to pop up. You have got to align it with the way the customer talks, or how the customer searches."
But there was also agreement that pubs do have something special to offer as an alternative to branded operators.
Mark Fulton, director of hotels for Fuller's, said: "In the same way that pubs are increasingly doing a better food offer to get people out of the restaurants and casual-dining, our opportunity is to get people out of the hotels."
His view was echoed by Nash, who said: "The pub industry has very successfully moved its food offer up and up and we are nicking business from people that want to trade down to the casual environment of a pub and people who go out less but are spending more. Eating a Sunday lunch in a London pub is not a cheap experience but it is amazing. It is using how we have been successful in that area and lining it up with accommodation."
And Peter Borg-Neal, the chief executive of Oakman Inns and Restaurants, added: "I think it would be crazy to compete with the likes of Premier Inn on value because they will beat you in the end. What we need is better, quirky rooms, better experiences, niche marketing, probably very heavy on social media."
The delegates agreed that pub owners and operators needed to capitalise on local expertise and drive local partnerships to differentiate from competing budget and branded chain hotels. Additional training and resources specifically serving the needs of the pub market (for example, on rate and revenue management and digital marketing) needed to be arranged and made available.
Along with the round table discussion, Jenny McGee, enterprise director at VisitEngland outlined how pubs can work more closely with VisitEngland and their regional tourist boards to boost their exposure and benefit from the boom in tourism in the UK.
And Paul Nunny, a director of Stay in a Pub, an online booking website listing over 1,500 pubs, also outlined its latest 'Best Practice Guide' for pubs with accommodation.
Nunny added: "It was good to have the major pub accommodation players sitting round a table to discuss how we can grow the sector. We need to build on this growing sector, which is fast becoming another income stream for pubs."
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