Reflected glory


I did not win anything at the AA Hospitality Awards, but several of Pride of Britain’s member hotels did. Dormy House received Hotel of the Year for England; the Eden Collection (two of whose properties are in membership) got Small Hotel Group of the Year; The Grove at Narberth won the Wine Award for Wales; and Nathan Outlaw, who works his magic at The Capital Hotel in London, was named “Chefs’ Chef of the Year”.

I did not sponsor any of the awards, but one of our commercial partners did. Temple Spa sponsored the Hotel of the Year.

I did not present the awards on the night either, Fiona Bruce performed that task splendidly, aided by my friend Simon Numphud who heads up the AA hotel division.

So why am I feeling like a winner today? It must be the reflected glory that comes from having a close association with these successful people. We are drawn to them like moths to a light bulb.

Long may they shine.


Jack of all trades – “Master” of one


For at least 25 years I have been an admirer of the Master Innholders, an organisation that provides valuable management scholarships for the rising stars in our industry and presents the ultimate in standards among hotel general managers.

Joining this exclusive club is not easy. In fact I have heard anecdotal tales of successful hoteliers failing the intensive formal interview over and over again. This is because applicants have to demonstrate that, as well as being on top of their game in business, they are also putting something back into the wider industry.

Imagine my delight, then, upon learning that I had been accepted as an Honorary Master Innholder. The gong was presented to me by the MIs’ new chairman, Jonathan Raggett, at a fine dinner at Innholders Hall last Thursday.

So this is a huge THANK YOU to everyone on the executive committee for allowing me to pose as a serious hotel industry player and to spend even more time learning from the best in our trade.

Don’t forget to register for the next General Managers’ Conference, organised by the Master Innholders, which takes place at The Hilton, Park Lane on January 19 & 20th 2015. See for details.


This suspense is terrible…I hope it will last.


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Oscar Wilde’s words (from The Importance of Being Earnest) could not better suit my mood in regard to the forthcoming Independent Hotel Show (Oct 21 & 22) where no fewer than three Pride of Britain members join the list of six nominees shortlisted for Independent Hotelier of the Year 2014, to be announced at the show on the evening of October 21st at Olympia, London.

Our hopes therefore rest with David Levin (The Capital), Craig Bancroft & Nigel Howarth (Northcote) and Tim Hart (Hambleton Hall).

Among speakers at the show will be Richard Ball, MD of Calcot Manor, Barnsley House and the recently opened Lord Crewe Arms at Blanchland, County Durham, which is nominated for the Outstanding New Hotel of the Year to be presented on the same occasion.




Lessons from India



Did you see Hotel India on BBC 2 this week?

If not, you missed a treat. The programme took us behind the scenes at the renowned Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in Mumbai where 1,500 staff attend to the needs of well-heeled guests occupying its 500 rooms. As others have already observed, the show followed a similar format to the fascinating documentary, Inside Claridge’s, though obviously with a very different backdrop.

Watching junior members of the hotel team line up for inspection by the head housekeeper at the start of their working day was reminiscent of the “below stairs” routine in English country houses before the First World War, when a wealthy family could afford to employ dozens of long-serving staff who each had a very precise position in the pecking order and very specific duties.

Market forces and our higher wages make it well nigh impossible to match such a generous staff-to-guest ratio here in Britain, where talented individuals often have to juggle many responsibilities, but in the best places you can see a similar pride in delivering perfect service.


We must be doing something right


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According to the Office of National Statistics, visits to the UK by overseas residents were a record 16.4 million between January and June this year, some 8% up on the same period last year. This is excellent news.

So how did this happen? I suspect our friends at VisitBritain, the national tourist board, will claim at least some of the credit. After all, their existence is predicated on measurable results so any increase in visitor spend helps to justify the public funding they receive.

My own view is that a combination of many positive factors has contributed to this success story: Global coverage of the 2012 games, the Royal Wedding, the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, fair weather, stable economic conditions, calamities elsewhere (such as the Costa Concordia disaster, which put some people off taking a cruise), the ever-improving standards of food and accommodation Britain has to offer, our ever-improving hospitality skills, curiosity triggered by the Downton Abbey series (older readers will remember how the TV adaptation of Brideshead Revisited in the 1980s encouraged thousands of Americans to sample the life of an English aristocrat by staying at a luxury country house hotel) and countless other factors… and yes, better marketing too.

Just imagine what could happen if the BHA’s campaign, to see VAT on hotel accommodation and tourist attractions reduced to a level similar to that applied throughout most of Europe, were to succeed. Then we’d even be able to add competitive prices to the list above.



My top management tools – a knife and fork


There is often some teasing or ribaldry in our office whenever I make a table reservation, the joke being that I dine out quite a lot.

In my defence, these meals are not all about my own nourishment – which I can easily satisfy with basic skills at home – but I do find that conversation over lunch or dinner is so much better than other types of meetings when there are business relationships to be forged. It’s also a nice excuse to use some of the hotels in Pride of Britain a bit more, even if the host venue is indirectly paying for it through their membership fee.

The dining table is the perfect setting for a free flowing conversation. You can ask almost anything, and find out what is important to your guests while dropping in the things you want them know along the way. You don’t have to worry about how long the ‘meeting’ will take because the progression of courses indicates how close you are to the end. And a glass of wine is, of course, an excellent conversational lubricant. In this way lasting friendships can begin, as well as very useful business partnerships.

Restaurateurs sometimes think that dining out is driven by the desire to eat wonderful food. It isn’t. Any more than a game of golf is for the purpose of getting a ball into a hole in the ground. Meals out are a contrivance for private conversations that simply wouldn’t happen in other circumstances. Great food is an additional bonus, all the same.

One of my daughters once asked, when she was much younger and I was working for another company, if I actually got paid just to go out for lunch every day. “Of course not” I replied “I get paid for the things I say between mouthfuls”.

Blooming marvellous!



So, that’s the last of our consumer shows for the time being – a week at the gorgeous Tatton Park flower show in Cheshire. I was only there for a short time but we have evidence that the show attracted lots of lovely people of whom close to a thousand asked to be added to Pride of Britain’s mailing list. Yes, actually volunteered to be contacted by post or email. This means we now have around 70,000 UK residents on our database who have either booked a room with us or have asked to receive information.

It’s funny to note the questions that members of the public keep coming up with, when confronted by our brand visuals and the hotel directory. These are probably the most frequently asked (with an abbreviated response in brackets):

“Where are you based?” (Malmesbury in Wiltshire)”How many hotels are there?” (49) “What have you got in London?” (The Arch, The Capital and The Goring) “Are you a chain?” (No) “How do you make any money if you’re not for profit?” (We don’t set out to make money as an organisation – all our income gets spent on marketing activities) “Are they all five star?” (Not all, but we have a good number with 4 red stars too) “Do you take dogs?” (Yes, at  around three quarters of the properties)”Are you anything to do with the Pride of Britain Awards?” (No, we are not known for acts of courage…unless you include the habit of charging £300 a night for a room!)





Crisis…what crisis?


We exhibited at the CLA Game Fair at Blenheim Palace last week – our stand manned by the indefatigable Stuart Maun and a good handful of our member hoteliers. Lovely weather and strong attendance helped to make it one of our best shows to date, with plenty of interest in Pride of Britain shown by those who ventured into the Country Living Magazine marquee where we were located.

The shock for me, as I lugged our display materials to the hired van when the show closed, was the unbelievable number of shiny new Range Rovers wafting from the palace grounds. It was the land equivalent of a flotilla of gentlemen’s motor yachts, suggesting not just an end to the recession but a period of unprecedented prosperity. Where did all these wealthy people come from? I can answer for some, because they kindly supplied their addresses to us. And the answer is, central England – a much overlooked region but clearly one that is thriving, at least in parts.

Things may be tough for large swathes of society, there’s no denying that, but by Jove there’s still plenty of money about. And not just in London.



Exporters, we salute you


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As everyone knows we have a rather large balance of payments deficit in the UK, the difference between the value of what we sell in exports and what we spend on imports. For this reason the government and, presumably, all of us are delighted whenever we hear of large foreign orders being won by British companies. Those who export deserve to be treated as heroes by all who depend on a strong domestic economy.

But it isn’t only big manufacturers who manage to bring in the Dollars, Euros and Yen. Each and every overseas guest staying at a British hotel represents an export, sometimes worth thousands of pounds each. So when hoteliers travel around the world, as they do, to build relationships with travel agents, tour operators and foreign journalists, they are making a real contribution towards reducing that deficit.

Even with a strong pound, a higher rate of VAT on accommodation than our competitors and the ever so slight chance of rain, this country remains one of the top seven tourist destinations in the world. An export success worth making a fuss about, I’d say.


In sponsors we trust


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Anyone who was lucky enough to attend the Cateys on July 1st would have witnessed, as I did, the Great Room at the Grosvenor House almost bursting at the seams and a very slick stage presentation for the awards themselves. Of course, an extravaganza on such a scale doesn’t come cheap and so it was no surprise to hear both Clive Jacobs and Mark Lewis pay lavish tribute to the sponsor companies who make it all possible.

At Pride of Britain we also owe a great deal to our commercial partners whose financial contribution enables us to offer a far wider range of marketing services than we could otherwise.

Cynics may say that sponsorship is just about buying publicity. Well, obviously that is partly true but if you look at the list of firms who stump up money time after time for our industry events and charities you’ll notice a core run by people with a genuine interest in helping others to succeed. A good example would be William Baxter who received the Lifetime Achievement Award, not only for his extraordinary accomplishments in business but also for his philanthropy over many years.

As Oliver Hardy famously remarked to Stan Laurel “One good turn deserves another!”