Whitbread Hotels and Restaurants' decision to adopt a cluster approach to hotel management isn't a new one. Forte Hotels experimented with the same concept 20 years ago across its Posthouse and Forte Heritage properties, only for all hotels to revert to dedicated GMs.
Premier Inn's experiment is unlikely to be so short-lived, as it reflects the way the world has evolved. Dynamic online booking systems allow us to book on price point rather than on personality; and the power and attraction of brands has never been greater. A brand offers consistency; and availability, and a competitive price seals the deal.
In the budget hotel space, guests want a clean room, a good night's sleep and a fortifying breakfast. These things, not a smiling host at the front door, will ensure repeat custom. Guests still want to receive a warm welcome - but a well-trained front desk team can offer this perfectly ably.
With sales, marketing and purchasing functions administered centrally, the cluster managers are likely to act as brand champions, maintaining standards and keeping teams plugged into the wider brand family.
Full-service hotels may scoff; but Premier Inn's strategy looks like a canny way of managing its cost base and a creative response to today's difficult trading.
Nestle toque d'or provides a valuable lesson
Five college teams competed in the grand final of the 2011 Nestlé Toque d'Or last week. Uniquely, it challenges entrants to create a restaurant concept and menu, and then negotiate a 100-cover service. At the competition's climax in July, one team will triumph. But all competitors will have gained a valuable insight into the harsh realities of a live food service environment. More proof, if any were needed, of the importance of building industry experience into vocational training.