Can the Queen's Diamond Jubilee add sparkle to your hospitality business - or will it be a replay of the Royal Wedding? Rosalind Mullen reports
If you had to pick one hotel that benefited from the international media glare during last year's Royal Wedding, it would have to be the Goring. Round the corner from Buckingham Palace, this luxury hotel was sitting pretty as the chosen venue for Kate's last few nights as a girl-about-town. Unfortunately, despite heightened expectations, few hotels enjoyed as much action, which is making some operators more sceptical about their prospects during the Queen's Diamond Jubilee this year on 2-5 June.
It's true that the HotStats survey from TRI Hospitality Consulting - based on figures from 551 full-service hotels across the UK - showed that room occupancy in London dropped to about 60% on 29 April, the day of the wedding.
Restaurants fared little better, with reports of operators across all segments saying that business was down significantly. The back-to-back bank holiday weekends meant that many Londoners left the capital, and those who remained to celebrate the Royal Wedding mostly did so at home in front of the TV.
So is that likely to happen at this year's regal celebrations?
In reality, there are only two events during the Jubilee when there will be pomp and spectacle on the streets - the Thames Pageant on Sunday 3 June, which is likely to be spectacular and visible along the river, and the royal procession to St Paul's on Tuesday 5 June. Hoteliers are, therefore, realistic about the fact that most extra visitors to town will be visiting for the day rather than staying overnight.
As Goring general manager David Morgan-Hewitt says: "A lot of people are expected to come in and out of London for a specific event. Apart from people coming from abroad, the majority often don't stay in hotels. Some hoteliers I've spoken to believe that the only way you can be busy is if you get a TV crew staying at your hotel."
There will also be competition from unexpected sources. For instance, some offices will have the best views, so employers might invite staff and families to watch the pageant or St Paul's procession.
Nevertheless, consultant Melvin Gold reckons this year's royal event should be better for business than last year's. "The Royal Wedding was in between bank holidays when hotels rely on corporate business. This time they've moved the bank holiday back a week into half-term. For London hotels this is helpful because it doesn't disrupt the normal business week."
Analysts agree that the Royal Wedding gave rise to poor year-on-year comparisons, with occupancy down by 26% to 46%, because a leisure week was being directly compared with a business week. Last year a new bank holiday in April disrupted corporate business, whereas this year there's always a school half-term around early June, so hoteliers already expect to attract leisure customers.
Most will also have learnt a lesson in not overpricing. The Jubilee is a national celebration so is likely to attract families rather than big companies picking up hefty bills. Times are tough, and it's advisable for hotels to price around that.
"Seek to attract and get the hotel full," says Gold. "Don't discount, but definitely don't overprice - that was the mistake of the Royal Wedding."
Morgan-Hewitt at the Goring agrees: "Thousands will probably come into London for the day, but they won't be on huge budgets."
Nevertheless, the Goring is quietly confident it will attract high-spending customers who want to celebrate in style. During June the hotel will be serving a royal favourite - dry martini with a dash of Noilly Prat, shaken with a silver leaf and served in a glass with Swarovski crystals embedded down the stem. The benefit of ordering this £120-a-throw drink is that the customer gets to keep the glass.
If that's not decadent enough, the hotel is also offering a four-night package in the Royal Suite at a cool £1m, which includes additions such as a horse and carriage ride along the coronation route, a private tour of the Crown Jewels and a diamond ring from DeBeers worth, you guessed it, £1m.
The nature of the celebrations means venues with a view will reap the greatest rewards. The Savoy is perfectly positioned on the Thames for guests to watch the boats on the Sunday, or to nip along the road to the Mall to see the Queen's carriage procession. To this end, the hotel has launched a two-night package at £1,230, which includes a four-course Jubilee dinner.
According to a spokesman, the river-view bedrooms are already sold out, although most have been booked for just the night of the pageant rather than the two-night package that is being marketed on the website. Similarly, the hotel's River restaurant is almost fully booked.
Hospitality businesses outside London shouldn't feel left out as the Queen has already started her tour of the UK. While it won't necessarily generate huge hotel demand, there will be an influx of journalists wanting somewhere to stay, while day-trippers will want something to eat and drink.
Up in the North-west, for instance, the Chester Grosvenor hotel expects a fillip for its typically brisk bank holiday business due to a Carnival of Giants - a parade of 60 14ft-tall Queen giants through Chester's city centre. The hotel's £455 three-night package over the Jubilee weekend includes two tickets to a Last Night of the Proms concert in Liverpool.
It also has a two-night Diamond Jubilee Celebration package on offer throughout the year, priced at £460, which includes a Polo Academy experience day.
Meanwhile, farm accommodation group Farm Stay UK is getting involved by encouraging members to light beacons on their land as part of a chain across the country. While it won't raise money, it will raise the organisation's profile in the community and further afield.
What's certain is that the Jubilee will kick off an international focus on London and the UK that will spin out to the Olympics and the rest of the year. It's up to you to take the best advantage.
Big party at the plough
The Plough, Newport Pagnell(Charles Wells Pub Company) Community-focused pubs are well placed to reap the rewards, as they already have a core group of customers looking to enjoy the occasion together. Charles Wells Pub Company encourages its licensees to harness the enthusiasm and get regulars involved in planning the event. The idea is that if they have a vested interest in getting a party up and running they will be enthusiastic ambassadors for the event and will support it.
In a recent promotion at the Plough, licensee Jo Coltman and her team won a marquee, which will be put to good use during the Diamond Jubilee. The plan is to throw a big party in the pub garden for the local community, with lots of old-fashioned games, including a coconut shy, and a Motown disco in the evening. She's also inviting customers to buy a Jubilee T-shirt - with 30 already ordered - to raise money for charity.
The idea has been fuelled by the success of last year's Royal Wedding initiative. The Plough, which has a strong community following and often holds barbecues, discos and fun days for its regulars, hosted its own "Royal Wedding". Locals were given a formal invitation to attend and asked to dress appropriately.
"Everyone got into the mood and it caused quite a stir in the local charity shops when they ran out of hats… only to have them all back on their shelves the following week," says Coltman.
There was a wedding cake, food and drink and all the "guests" watched the wedding on the four pub TVs. Before they left, each customer received a wedding present to take away.
"It was a better day for business than a normal bank holiday," says Coltman. "Usually people stay at home with their families and have a barbecue."
Get yourself out there in your local community…
A surprising number of street parties popped up during the Royal Wedding, but even more are predicted for the Diamond Jubilee weekend, especially with the Big Jubilee Lunch initiative on the Sunday - and it's an opportunity not to be missed.
As Ann Elliott, managing director of Elliott Marketing & PR, observes: "Many hotels, pubs and restaurants are hubs of their local communities. As such they should be actively involved in organising any local celebrations, such as street parties or the lighting of beacons."
Not only could your business supply food and drink or even manage the catering arrangements, but joining in with local events is a great way of building relationships with new and existing customers.
"By the time the Diamond Jubilee comes around, the nationwide Olympic torch relay will have been going for two weeks, so excitement will be building," says Elliott. "The Jubilee is effectively the start of a whole summer of celebration and provides the perfect opportunity for hospitality businesses to remind their customers what a brilliant offer they have."
In the heart of the action
The Athenaeum hotel, London Like other switched-on hospitality businesses, the five-star family-owned Athenaeum hotel is hoping to spin out any benefits from the Jubilee for as long as possible. Its Queen's Diamond Jubilee room promotion extends from February to 6 June and allows guests who book two nights in a de luxe room for £299 to receive a third night for £60.
Marketing manager Kimberley Elliott explains that the Jubilee package is being priced more competitively than the Royal Wedding package: "We have learnt from these events that they do not produce the business we expect. Our Jubilee package is priced more competitively, and we do feel that the Jubilee will be celebrated more widely due to the amount of activity going on around London."
The Mayfair hotel is marketing itself on being in the heart of the Jubilee events in London, which include a Shakespeare festival, street fairs, concerts and art exhibitions. It will also be involved along with other local businesses in the Big Jubilee Lunch on Piccadilly on the Sunday, which should increase footfall in the area as cars will be banned.
Guests will be able to order hampers with a version of the hotel's afternoon tea - which has just won the Tea Guild accolade for the top afternoon tea in London. In addition, there will be special Jubilee-themed puddings on the Pudding Parlour menu in the Garden Room.
"We definitely see the Jubilee as a benefit," says Elliott. "As we saw from the Royal Wedding last year, it will attract a global audience and shine the light once again on London as a key destination. It will give us the chance to promote the quintessentially British elements of the hotel."
Down by the riverside
D&D Restaurants, Butlers Wharf, London At Shad Thames, D&D's four riverside restaurants - Le Pont De La Tour, Blueprint Café, Butlers Wharf Chop House and Cantina Del Ponte - are in prime position for the Jubilee Pageant on the Sunday.
At Pont de la Tour, for instance, a Diamond Jubilee Pageant Lunch is being sold for £350 a head, to include Champagne, wines, soft drinks and afternoon tea. Guests can hold their tables from midday to 6pm. The pricing reflects the fact that the restaurant won't be turning tables during this time. Screens will also be put up in all restaurants to show live coverage from the pageant's starting point in Putney.
The terrace tables are already booked, and such has been demand for inside tables that the company has not needed to market the initiatives beyond its own website and www.timesplus.co.uk.
There was one potential pitfall, but this has been sorted out. The public walkway in front of the restaurant terraces was a concern because of crowding and security, but meetings between locals, the restaurants and the organisers have resulted in this area being confined to ticket holders and residents.
D&D expects the benefits to start a week earlier, as the boats earmarked for the Avenue of Sail start to make their way into position. And keen to catch the moment, the company has just launched the Tower Bridge Summer Festival 2012, which will see a series of foodie events in the four restaurants between March and September.
To get an idea of what they're up to, Butlers Wharf Chop House has already transformed its terrace and bar into an English country garden, complete with lawns, white picket fences, edible flowers and a line-up of entertainment including Morris dancers, a maypole and a special menu of ploughman's lunches and English wine.
Right royal afternoon tea initiatives
If the pundits are right and London is bristling with day-trippers over the Diamond Jubilee, then what better incentive than to brew up some special ideas for your afternoon tea menu? The most inventive are also fairly opulent…
The Berkeley hotel in Knightsbridge will be serving a PrÁªt-Á -Portea - The Royal Collection afternoon tea from 29 May to 9 June. Biscuits, fancies and choux buns will be transformed to resemble the most memorable hats worn by the Royal Family. Fashionista delectables will include a praline profiterole inspired by the much-maligned Philip Treacy fascinator worn by Princess Beatrice at the Royal Wedding and the Queen's coronation crown re-created as a vanilla biscuit with intricate icing and sugar diamonds.
The tea, which will be served in the Caramel Room, will be priced at £36.50 per person or, for £46.50, it also includes a glass of Laurent Perrier Champagne.
â- The Andaz Liverpool Street hotel has teamed up with Carr Diamonds to offer a raffle in which one lucky afternoon tea guest will win a pair of diamond stud earrings valued at £1,250. A series of five themed teas are running until June, at £45 per head. They started in February with the Bloody Mary tea, complete with chorizo sandwiches, churros and a cocktail, and they end in June with the Diamond Queen, an offer of coronation chicken sandwiches, millionaire's shortbread and a specially devised cocktail.
â- Or what about playing the "name game"? While the Royal Wedding proved full of great deals for those named Kate, the Queen's Diamond Jubilee is doing the same for anybody called Elizabeth. At Z Hotels, for instance, anyone with the name who books a two-night stay in a Queen room will get a Royal Tea for two as well. Rates start at £100.
Top tips from the experts
â- Start planning now
â- Put together packages for the Jubilee weekend
â- Focus on the wave of patriotism and maybe plan your offer around that - a foodie operation might want to offer a menu "fit for a queen", while a community pub might be best suited to supporting a street party for its local clientele
â- Check what else is planned in the area: don't try to compete, but either work together, stagger your days or offer something completely different
â- Get your locals involved so that you make it their event
â- Keep it as simple as possible and don't overcomplicate your activity
â- Make sure you do your research and speak to all the relevant authorities if you're planning something big
â- Get the word out and ensure that everyone knows about it
â- Make use of function rooms or set up a marquee
â- Arrange plenty of pre-advertising as early as possible - even over the Easter or May Day weekends
â- Develop a Diamond Jubilee menu, perhaps around British food
â- Organise barbecues in beer gardens
â- Sell Jubilee or patriotic-themed beers
â- Run a royal-themed quiz
â- Raise money for local charities
â- Make full use of social networks like Twitter and Facebook