A look ahead to the very first Independent Hotel Show

Tomorrow I will be attending a brand new hotel conference, the Independent Hotel Show which claims to be the UK’s first trade event dedicated to the independent, luxury and boutique hotel sector.  The Independent Hotel Show presents the latest trends, ideas and expert advice, networking opportunities as well as suppliers, service providers, designers, luxury products and brands in the industry – creating an event specifically tailored to the owners, operators and key decision–makers in this niche sector that have previously been overlooked by other events.

Tim Etchells, Managing Director of SME London Ltd said: “This sector of the hospitality industry has expanded and acquired huge importance within the past five years.  Until now, no trade show had existed dedicated to this quality end of the hospitality market.  We launched The Independent Hotel Show to bring the owners, operators and key decision-makers together with the industry’s top suppliers, service providers and designers.”

Along with the chance to visit the stand of the many exhibitors, which range from suppliers to technology companies, delegates can attend various business sessions:

I will report back on the 1st Independent Hotel Show very soon and watch out for my tweets from the business sessions and reaction from the day.


The Waldorf Hilton steps back in time to offer guests something unique

I am always talking about a hotels ability to tell a story and to think of new and creative ways to interact with guests and drive people through the door.  This week, I heard that The Waldorf Hilton is stepping back in time to offer guests a contemporary twist on the Argentine Tango teas that the hotel was famous for in the early 1900s.

Celebrating 100 years since the Argentine Tango was performed at The Waldorf Hilton, the hotel is launching the Tango Supper.  Starting on 8th July, every month (excluding August and September) through 2012, The Waldorf Hilton will host its Tango Supper in the hotel’s English Heritage protected, Palm Court, the very room that inspired the ballroom of the Titanic.

Upon arrival guests can enjoy a complimentary glass of Fantinel Rose before a 45 minute dance class with Argentine Tango professionals, Leonardo Acosta and Tracey Tyack-King, who have a combined teaching experience of 48 years.  Leonardo comes from a traditional Argentinean family and was introduced to the Argentine Tango from the age of seven when his father taught tango in Buenos Aires. Tracey has danced most of her life and has a background of Ballet, Ballroom and Latin American dance.

Following the dance lesson, guests will be treated to the Tango Essence cocktail. Created by mixologist, Daniel Carvalho, at the hotel’s Good Godfrey’s bar, the cocktail is a blend of Martin Miller’s Gin, Mandarin Napoleon, forest tea, fresh lemon juice, vanilla sugar and a dash of rose water.

Guests will then sit down to a dinner whilst Leonardo and Tracey take centre stage in Palm Court and perform their Argentine Tango, inviting diners to take to the floor as well. After an evening of fine food and exquisite dance, guests can retire to their room at The Waldorf Hilton for an overnight stay and breakfast the following morning.

The UK’s first performance of the Argentine Tango took place in 1910 at the Gaiety Theatre across the road from The Waldorf Hilton and caused an overnight sensation. The dance quickly gained popularity and The Waldorf Hilton was one of the first venues to host Tango Teas – teaching London the sultry moves of this iconic dance.

For further information visit www.waldorf.hilton.com – the Tango Supper ultimate package includes an overnight stay, two-course dinner, tango dance lesson and breakfast package and is priced at £390 for two people.

Keeping your property busy comes from driving extra revenues by bringing new ideas to the table – make a statement and attract guests.  Okay, so not every hotel has the history of this one and can put on such a display, but no matter how small your hotel is, play to your strengths, be original and be creative.  Tell a story and let your guests know what your all about.


Hotel Insight talks Olympic preparations with Crowne Plaza London Docklands [Interview]

You may have seen my post about the Crowne Plaza London Docklands.  As the hotel is in the centre of the Olympic Games, I caught up with the hotels general manager, Joanne Taylor Stagg whilst staying at her hotel, to hear how they are preparing for the busiest time in the properties history.

Q: With the Olympics fast approaching, what planning have you had to put in place to cater for the demand the event puts on your property, and what has been the biggest challenge?

Our Olympics planning process has been on-going for over a year and in the past 6 months has really been ramped up to ensure that we try to cover every eventuality. I think the biggest challenge is that nobody really knows what to expect so we are making plans and ever mindful that our most important part is our ability to adapt to unforeseen circumstances.

From the elements we do know, travel poses the biggest challenge. Due to the anticipated high demand on public transport throughout the games, we have changed our teams working hours to allow them to travel to the hotel with as little disruption as possible.

We have reviewed all of our stock levels and where possible e.g. stationary we are placing bulk orders pre-games to ensure are well equipped during this high demand period. For all our orders that will be required during the games, we have set up a delivery rota throughout to handle the overnight drop offs, that we have never had to cope with before. This has required additional staff and a significant amount of planning and training.

Q: Do you still have availability for any of the Olympic Games period?

We currently have a few rooms in inventory over the Olympics period; however we do anticipate we will be operating at full occupancy throughout the games.

Q: Across London we are seeing highlight inflated rates, with even ‘budget’ hotels being sold for well over £350 a night.  How do you personally view how London hotels are inflating rates?  Has revenue management been a challenge in the build up to the Games?  

We have seen a lot of London hotels increase their room rates during the games due to the high demand; this was in part driven by the significant number of rooms that LOCOG held across the City. This led most hoteliers to believe there would be more demand than there actually was and when tens of thousands of rooms were released by LOCOG, prices inevitably fell.

We have tried to keep a pragmatic approach and balanced our long term relationships with our existing clients with the Olympic impact.

Q: How has your property been getting ready for this critical few weeks, and how long ago did preparations start?

Preparations started well over a year ago, and our Olympic Strategy Action Plan is being reviewed more and more frequently as the 27th July rapidly approaches. We have covered everything from counter terrorism to our linen order, cycling to work and transport options to cross training our team and pretty much everything in between. We have tried to plan for every eventuality.

Q: How have you found dealing with the Olympic committee’s, in terms of committing stock and organisation?  Reportedly a huge about of room stock was released back to London hotels – have you found this?

Large numbers of bedroom stock was released back to hotels in various phases as has been widely reported in the press. This has made it difficult for the hotels to set their pricing as any revenue manager or system relies on accurate data to make good decisions. I believe this is one of the main reasons we saw very high pricing early on, which has subsequently been reduced.

Q: Your team will be at the centre of ensuring everything runs smoothly at probably the busiest few weeks the hotel will have experienced – how have you prepared them – are they gaining excitement?

Training, training and more training. We have covered everything from refreshing our service behaviours to disability awareness training. During the games our support staff will be moving into operational roles, so cross-training plans have been a great help and also given the teams a taste of what to expect. The teamwork has never been better in the hotel. The race around the world charity events where IHG sponsored us $1 for every KM we cycled, definitely helped get us in the mood and having Victoria Pendleton in the hotel to cheer us on was something all our cyclists will never forget.

We have already planned a much deserved party for the whole team between the Olympics and Paralympics to thank them for their hard work and to make sure we are all geared up for the Paralympics too.  And once it is all over, I’m certain we will be able to look back with pride and know we did our bit to ensure London 2012 was a real success.

Q: Have you got to know any of your Olympic related guests in the build up and heard their stories?  (I’m thinking about the couple you told me!)

In the build-up we have got to know a number of Olympic related guests and hear their stories. We hosted Tommy Godwin who won 2 Olympic medals for cycling in the 1948 games. He brought his medals in to show us and told us what it was like to compete back then, it sure has changed a lot over the years. We have also had a number of Paralympians stay with us and every time I meet one of them I am truly humbled by the obstacles they have overcome to compete in the sport they love. Then there have been the very proud family members, I particularly remember the American lady who called us the day she found out her son would be representing their country. She was so excited and emotional; the reservationist who took her call also shed a tear or two of joy at his selection.

Our thanks to Joanne for her time in talking with Hotel Insight and sharing her experiences – good luck to the whole team!

Accor announce new Carbon Optimizer tool for MICE segment

Accor have unveiled their Carbon Optimizer product for professional customers, which allows meeting and seminar organisers to discover and cut their events’ carbon footprint across Accor’s 2000+ venues.  This interactive Carbon Optimizer combines a comprehensive set of variables, including the number of participants, the number of nights they plan to stay, how long the seminar will last, how big the meeting rooms are and the energy mix in the host country. It also factors in food services, i.e. the type of food and whether meals are buffets or table-served.

Accor claim that this means this is a unique product in terms of its methodology – the calculators on the market often only measure emissions from production processes and energy consumption to power hotel equipment.  Accor, however, includes indirect emissions associated with organizing seminars, i.e. waste treatment, paper and, especially, food which is a substantial source of carbon emissions.
This way, customers will be able to choose menus based on their carbon footprint, and adopt more responsible choices.

It is forecast that by the end of 2012, all Accor sales teams will have access to this tool to help their customers organize their seminars.

This carbon optimizer was developed by Accor to meet its professional customer expectations. The guest survey that the Group ran in six countries and published in June 2011 revealed that 84% of business customers are sensitive to sustainable development – compared to 76% of all customers. Business customers are also more aware of large business firms’ responsibilities and 57% of them say that they take sustainable development into account when they choose a hotel – compared to 51% of the total. The environmental footprint report published by the Group in December 2011 provided all the necessary databases to build this carbon optimizer.

Ludovic Dupont, Accor Vice President Travel Agencies – Meetings & Events, adds that “Sustainable development is an opportunity for our customers and a decisive competitive advantage for our brands, in every country. I am convinced that our commitment creates the sort of perception that nurtures customer trust and loyalty to Accor.”

This carbon optimizer is one step towards achieving the goals in PLANET 21, the new sustainable development program that Accor launched in April 2012.  Sophie Flak, Accor Executive Vice President for Academies and Sustainable Development, explains, “The ambition of PLANET 21 is to involve more our customers in our continuous-improvement drive on the sustainable development front. The carbon optimizer, an innovative tool packed with completely new calculation variables, is a step in that direction. It will allow us to work with our professional customers to on sustainable offers for meetings and seminars in our hotels.”

For me, the requests from HBA and those in the MICE sector for carbon data peaked a couple of years ago and it had started to subside and become less important, particularly in RFP’s.  I think that some even viewed this subject as something that they could “tick a box” to say they could do, in terms of providing some kind of estimated data, without actually worrying if it was accurate or could provide environmental benefit in any way.  But this year, we have once again seen this topic rise to the top of corporates agendas and I think many events businesses do not know where to start, so will certainly welcome Accor’s leadership on this.

Hotel Insight talks to Rosie Akenhead ahead of this year’s Travel Distribution Summit

The Travel Distribution Summit Europe is one of my most eagerly awaited dates in the calendar, and that’s no exaggeration.  Each year, EyeforTravel put together a fantastic conference with key speakers from all areas of the travel world.  From the latest mobile trends to social media, and from revenue management to marketing, the Travel Distribution Summit is full of key industry leaders sharing their opinions and businesses practices.  A particular highlight of last years event was meeting Naveen Selvadurai, the co-founder of FourSquare.  Naveen spoke passionately about his company as he shared the stage with Facebook and Yelp – it was a fantastic session that had everyone talking and I was lucky enough to speak with Naveen afterwards.  This is a true measure of TDS – attracting the best in the business year after year.

So it gives me great pleasure to bring you a short interview with Rosie Akenhead who is the person that brings this event together.  If you have any questions please feel free to post a comment.

Q: Rosie, please tell us about your role at EyeforTravel and the organisation of TDS?

RA: I am the Global Director of Events & Industry Analysis at EyeforTravel. Along with the research and industry news that we provide, I also head up our flagship events, one of which is on 17-18 April in Islington, London –TDS Europe. This event focuses on almost every aspect of online travel- distribution, pricing, innovation, mobile & tech, marketing & social media. It brings together the travel industry as a whole- suppliers, consultants, solution providers- and makes it easy for us all to discuss industry trends and to network with friends old and new. We expect around 1000 attendees in total over the two days, so it is our biggest and best event, and we’re very proud of it.

Q: The speaker list at this years event is particularly impressive – is there one session your particularly looking forward to?

RA: This year’s agenda is really varied, which is probably a reflection of a slightly turbulent industry and economy. I think if I had to choose one (out of 36!), the top session to watch out for is our first keynote. This looks at the remodelling of traditional travel companies. EyeforTravel has seen in our research a blurring of the lines between luxury and low-cost. It’s interesting to see big luxury brands giving in to the unbundling phenomenon (particularly airlines), and seeing some of the lowcost get a) decidedly less low cost and b) rebundling their ancillary products. It will be fascinating to hear the opinions of very high level execs from Accor, TUI and The Travel Horizon Group. On top of this, we’ve got Airbnb on the agenda for the first time. I can’t wait to hear more about their model and how this idea of the “consumer becoming the supplier” will impact travel moving forward.

Q: What was your highlight of last year’s event?

 RA: I am slightly biased (!) but I felt last year’s TDS was our strongest ever in its 15 year history. It was really great not just to have the travel brands that we know and love, but also “the kings of online” (Facebook, LinkedIn, Google, Foursquare, Ebay). To hear from their perspective their plans for the forthcoming year was invaluable. The other session which really grabbed me (and everyone else, the room was overflowing!) was the search session. Panellists like Google, Bing, Skyscanner, Travelsupermarket really made it the session to watch. We are looking at search again this year, and with the introduction of google flights and google hotel finder actually in action, this session is still hot stuff.

Q: The social media interaction at TDS is fantastic – is there anything new planned this year? 

RA: We’re lucky because our moderators are all so social media savvy.  We have a big Social Media Conference in San Francisco as well so when it comes to keeping up to speed on this we can do so with reasonable ease! We welcome feedback and comments on the event hashtag #tdseurope before, during and after the event on Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin. We’ve developed a twitter feed platform for this year to make it a little bit slicker in the conference rooms. We’ve also got new extensive EyeforTravel social media and mobile research that we’ll be sharing, plus a marketing barometer available to download on-site for everyone attending. Social media is huge for us, and it’s important that we practice what we preach!

Q: We talk about the upcoming trends a lot at TDS – give us a sneak preview, what do you seen as the trends of 2012 and beyond? 

RA: TDS always covers the hot topics for the forthcoming year, because we’re always talking to the industry and finding out about challenges and goals from every brand we deal with. Aside from this, in the other part of my job, I look very closely at industry trends and analyse them. One of the first key trends I see is something I’ve been discussing in detail with Scot Hornick from Oliver Wyman over in the US. We both see a trend towards a change in the whole travel eco-system with the OTA-supplier relationship. Of course, which way this goes depends on a number of factors. First and foremost, what happens when the big group hoteliers re-negotiate their contracts with the OTAs (this will happen for a lot of the big hoteliers in 2012/2013). The flipside of this is the introduction of new models such as Roomkey, which gives the power to the supplier direct, or HotelTonight, the last minute mobile OTA to watch. It wouldn’t be fair to consider this lengthy topic without thinking about the future of meta-search too. A lot of the big merchandising characters in the industry are thinking about if/how/when the meta guys will start including ancillary products in the offerings, and if they do, that will have a huge impact.

All in all, it’s a seriously interesting time for travel. What happens with the economy in 2012 and 2013 is really going to show up who sinks or swims. Now is the time to find or re-negotiate partners, but also to innovate and develop mobile and social strategies, and I think all our attendees for TDS 2012 are attending for those very reasons.

Our thanks to Rosie for speaking with Hotel Insight.  The Travel Distribution Summit is held at the Business Design Centre in London on 17-18th April 2012.  To find out more about Travel Distribution Summit, please visit their website by clicking here.

Bringing on the festivities at London hotels

I’ve been talking on the blog recently about creating positive publicity for your hotel whilst bringing in extra revenues in unique and interesting ways.  The key is thinking of a concept that captures the public’s imagination, whist using the resources on your doorstep.  Christmas provides the perfect setting for doing just that, whilst remembering that only the truly imaginative will succeed at a time of year when money is often tight.  So I wanted to write a festive and fun post covering some of the seasonal activities going on at some of our London hotels.  I hope your inspired – or become a little more festive at the very least!

The May Fair Hotel is sparkling with seasonal spirit as it hosts its very own gospel choir!  Talented vocalists, Hot Butter Soul Collective, performed at The May Fair on Thursday 8th and Friday 9th December allowing you to escape the Christmas crowds and drop by to enjoy an array of traditional Christmas carols with a soulful spin, including Silent Night, White Christmas, Joy to the World and Have Yourself a Merry Little Xmas.  The hotel even provided hymn sheets so everyone could join in and get get festive!

The Berkeley Hotel have created a very inventive concept – “Winter classics on the big screen“.  Hot chocolate, Christmas classics and Moncler blankets set the scene on the Berkeley’s roof top terrace, from 18th November 2011 until 31st January 2012.

Known as the place to see and be seen during the summer months, The Berkeley’s Health Club & Spa is transforming its roof-top terrace into a pine-filled forest cinema this year. Hotel guests and Londoners are treated to winter classics on the big screen while nestling between warm Moncler blankets, fluffy cushions and hot water bottles. Home-made hot chocolate and Berkeley mince pies are on hand to complete the festive atmosphere while heating lamps will keep guests warm when the cold really sets in.

Home-made hot chocolate with marshmallows make for the perfect treat while watching winter classics such as ‘Miracle on 34th Street’ and ‘Bridget Jones’ Diary’. Towering high above bustling Knightsbridge, this pine-lined outdoor theatre is London’s only private cinema featuring only four seats, whisking you away to the ultimate winter wonderland.

Marriott London County Hall, located in the centre of London on the south bank of the Thames, have published their top five activities in the capital this Christmas, incorporating packages at their hotel:

  1. Visit the Ice Rink at the London Eye, enjoying the breath-taking views from the pods, and the slips and glides from ice rink. Book into the Silver Bells package and enjoy a three-course meal and tickets to the London Eye as part of your stay. (From £330 prpn based on two night stay)
  2. Enjoy the serene beauty of the Messiah by Candlelight at the Royal Festival Hall after indulging in the quintessentially English afternoon tea.
  3. Explore the Real Food Christmas Market before enjoying the culinary excellence of Executive Head Chef Chris Basten’s County Hall Restaurant Menu.
  4. Experience the magic of the Southbank’s Christmas Market before warming up with a special Winter Cocktail in the County Hall Leader’s Bar.
  5. Head across the river for the traditional Midnight Mass in Westminster Abbey and wake up to a very special Christmas at County Hall.

Finally, the Jumeirah Lowndes have create two great Christmas packages: “Stay and Skate at Jumeirah Lowndes” which included overnight accommodation in a deluxe bedroom, ice skating at the Natural History Museum, a Winter Warmer cocktail at Lowndes Bar & Kitchen, continental breakfast, fruit platter, box of chocolates and mineral water in your room.  “The Spirit of Christmas” package offers a unique chance to experience the local area of Belgravia with a bespoke candle-making course at Rachel Vosper’s Kinnerton Street boutique and tickets to ice skate at the Natural History Museum.  The package includes overnight accommodation in a deluxe bedroom, a bespoke two hour candle-making course with Rachel Vosper, one of the UK’s leading chandlers, a Winter Warmer cocktail at Lowndes Bar & Kitchen and two tickets to ice skate at the Natural History Museum.

Hopefully these Christmas ideas have well and truly got you in the mood for Christmas and given the hoteliers amongst you some ideas and inspiration at just how creative you can be.

Travel Distribution Summit 2011 – A Great Success

You may remember I posted not so long ago about the Travel Distribution Summit, which was held in London this June.  I attended the event and wanted to share with all those who couldn’t make it, my thoughts and opinions,share some insight’s into what was discussed and the latest trends we all came away with as well as my own personal highlights.

If you remember, there was a huge list of speakers, so planning your time is critical to ensure you get the most out of the event.  All kinds of topics were covered, from social media and online marketing, to revenue management, to mobile technology, so there was a wide range in industry experts giving their thoughts (and a little self promotion along the way!).

For those who have not attended in previous years, the Travel Distribution summit is held annually at the Business Design Centre in London.  It’s made up of a mixture of supplier stands and several conference/seminar rooms where you can attend to hear from industry leaders and people with something new to say about the given topics.  These are wide-ranging – some are free, some you have to pay for (whilst on the topic, I do feel that the admission price is a little steep – but it is a great event) and of course, it’s a great place to network with colleagues from the travel industry. 

I actually felt there was quite a big presence from the hospitality industry this year, both in terms of speakers and attendees which was great to see.

As for highlights, two sessions stood out for me.  The first was to finally watch Josiah Mackenzie present live.  I’ve followed Josiah’s passionate work in hotel social media and online marketing for a number of years, and he really knows his stuff.  What you find so often at events such as this are speakers who have been brought in because of their job title, rather than ability to present and relevent content to provide.  Josiah’s passion for what he does shines through and the whole room was gripped, intently listening to what he was telling us.

The second highlight was a debate that saw Naveen Selvadurai, Co-Founder of Foursquare, Dave Scheine, Director of European Operations at Yelp and Andy Ellwood, Director of Business Development, Gowalla.  A very impressive list!  In particular, I really enjoyed hearing from Naveen, explaining how Foursquare came about, how it’s changed and what makes its model very different from other competitors.  I also found it humours to see that people tweets were appearing on the screen behind the stage, with the same one popping up time and time again “I bet you guys were really pissed when Facebook Places launched”. 

I should probably also give a mention to the Keynote Debate on customer Tech and Trends, called, “How will your customers interact with you through and beyond 2011”. Taking part in this debate was Romain Roulleau, SVP e-Commerce at Accor Hotels, Danny Barrasso, Senior Director of e-Commerce at Hilton and Alun Williams, e-Commerce director at TUI.  Very interesting topics covered here, including each mobile strategy and mobile web strategy.  I particularly liked Romain’s presentation of what Accor have done, what didn’t work so well and plans for the future.  Accor time and time again show their belief in investing in as many channels as possible and drive this forward year in year out.

My only negative point was probably the fact that some of the smaller conferences taking place lacked relevent content. I don’t really appreciate someone telling me that social media is still unproven, and that experts should be brought in to manage it.  Come on. Please. You could have said that 10 years ago. Today’s different (I’m naming no names!).

Thanks to everyone involved with Travel Distribution Summit 2011, it was a great couple of days, and looking forward to next time.