Puma Hotels chief executive Fredrik Korallus has warned that the UK hotel and tourism market faces a "ticking timebomb" because not enough is being done to encourage younger inbound tourists to visit this country, and particularly those areas outside London.
Speaking at UKInbound's 2013 annual convention today, Korallus acknowledged that the 55+ age group made up the largest proportion of tourists to the UK, but he cautioned that younger travellers also need to be made of the attractions the UK holds.
Korallus said: "It is a fact that the 55+ generation are the people who are the most frequent travellers to the UK. Fortunately they have the most disposable income, which is useful. However I also believe that the 25 and under is a declining age group coming into the United Kingdom. That is a ticking timebomb. What happens 10-15 years from now? I do believe that the youth of China, the youth of Brazil, the youth of India, the youth of Germany, France, Scandinavia, all need to discover and love Britain."
He also highlighted the fact that in the year after the Olympics, now was the chance to highlight to tourists the other attractions that the UK had to offer, beyond London. Speaking about the 21-strong hotel group he has been running for the past 100 days, Korallus said: "We operate hotels in the provinces and I happen to think the provinces have been a little bit lost in the shadow of perhaps the greatest city on the planet, London." He pointed to events like the York stage of the upcoming Tour de France 2013 as real opportunities to bring in more inbound tourists.
Meanwhile, the Swedish-born hotelier, who was formerly global executive vice-president of Carlson based in the USA, criticised both service levels and housekeeping standards in the UK hotel market.
He said that for the past 100 days he had been staying within the Puma portfolio and with other UK competitors until his family relocates from Minnesota. Speaking about the levels of cleanliness he found in both his own hotels and those of others he said: "A lack of capital investment is no excuse for being a little bit poor in housekeeping. As shocked as I was at my own portfolio, when I stayed with the competition I found that we were on par. When it comes to inbound tourism, people want clean. They will accept worn, but they won't accept that it is not hygienic and clean. That is an issue our industry needs to step up and deal with."
Regarding service levels he said: "I can speak freely and humbly about our hotels. I see a lack of skills, a lack of basics. Service levels are not that good. We find that there are some phenomenal people, they are all very nice and pleasant, but some of the basics are lacking. There needs to be in my view a big stepping up of the gears in terms of service delivery - we will put a lot of focus on that at Puma but I don't think we can solve that problem alone."
By Neil Gerrard
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