Suffolk’s TA Hotel Collection rebrands as The Hotel Folk

TA Hotel Collection, which owns and runs six hotels and event venues across Suffolk, has rebranded under The Hotel Folk banner.

The group said the new identity focuses on its “planned investment in people, both its own Folk members and its guests”.

Independently owned, the hotels include the 15th Century Swan at Lavenham Hotel and Spa; The Brudenell and White Lion in Aldeburgh; The Crown at Woodbridge; Crown and Castle in Orford; Thorpeness Golf Club and Hotel and the Thorpeness Country Club.

Some £500,000 has also been invested in IT and new marketing systems including redesigned websites for the group and each individual hotel. A new EPOS booking system has been introduced across all properties including a move to ResDiary to centralise room and restaurant reservations, plus central food and liquor procurement.

The new ‘Folklore’ team training system with rewards and recognition for the Hotel Folk will be fully integrated by Easter. This will allow the Folk to spend more time in front of hotel guests enhancing their experience with new and greater values. Improvements and upgrades to the various properties are also ongoing.

Jenny Hill, COO at The Hotel Folk, said: “The hospitality industry is all about people. Our aim is to ensure we have the very best teams across all sectors of the industry from bed makers to baristas and chefs to sommeliers, each carefully trained to be an expert in their own sphere. We believe our guests’ experience should exceed expectations every time they visit one of our hotels.”

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Heather Laverne joins Hilton from American Express

Hilton has appointed Heather Laverne as vice president – customer engagement, loyalty and partnerships for Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA).  

Based in Watford, UK, at Hilton’s European head office, the Canadian-born Laverne will lead a team focused on creating and growing “direct relationships” with customers through “delivering exceptional branded experiences”.

She joins Hilton from American Express where she served in leadership roles for more than 13 years. Most recently, she served as VP, international premium products where she owned the product strategy for American Express’ iconic portfolio of charge products including Centurion, Platinum, Gold and Green cards, across 90 countries.

Mark Weinstein, global head, customer engagement, loyalty and partnerships, Hilton, said: “Serving guests has been the bedrock of our business for nearly 100 years. As we look ahead to the next 100 years, Heather and her team will play a crucial role in shaping our customer experiences and creating ever-more meaningful relationships with our guests.”

Laverne added: “I couldn’t think of a more exciting time to join Hilton and be part of one of the world’s most iconic brands.

“I look forward to working alongside the fantastic global team to help shape the future of customer engagement and continue to look for new and unique ways to surprise and delight guests across the world.”

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Misleading online ads by booking agents are just the tip of the iceberg

The decision to crackdown on booking websites that advertised misleading discounts on hotel rooms has been praised by a leading digital marketing agency, but they warn the scale of the issue is much larger.

Experts at Fat Media say there are still major issues surrounding the use of backdoor online advertising and influencer promotion.

It was recently revealed that high profile booking websites such as Expedia,, Agoda,, Ebookers and Trivago have been investigated over high-pressure selling tactics and misleading discount claims by The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA).

The CMA admitted concerns that the sites were making rooms seem more popular than they were. And experts at Fat Media have revealed that this isn’t the only issue with online promotions.

A recent survey on bloggers and vloggers, commissioned by Fat Media’s sister company CollectivEdge found that only 38% of brand collaborations were disclosed as an ad or sponsored post to readers, and 40% of those who didn’t disclose admit they were confused about the rules and regulations surrounding disclosing paid-for content on their blogs or social channels.

Alexei Lee, head of communications for Fat Media, said: “We welcome the decision by the CMA to crackdown on misleading advertising, but in all honesty it’s the tip of the iceberg.  Some businesses are employing a range of methods to drive sales from native ads, which don’t look like advertising, just normal content, to sponsoring influencers, who, as our own surveys have revealed don’t then disclose who they are collaborating with.

“Our experience is that influencer content and native advertising is valued and engaged with by consumers if they are delivered using best practice, and consumers are fully aware of the link with a brand. It’s when consumers feel duped that problems can arise for all concerned.”

The survey by CollectivEdge revealed that nearly three quarters of bloggers and vloggers are not disclosing when a brand has collaborated with them.”

The Advertising Standards Authority sets the rules around disclosure and these require an influencer to clearly inform their audience when a payment or product has changed hands in exchange for a review or mention in a video or post.

A third of the 1400 influencers asked admitted that brands were asking them not to disclose paid content, which, in light of the fact that paid-for collaborations makes up 26% of influencers’ content, highlights a lack of awareness or willingness to play by the rules across a significant proportion of brands.

Not disclosing paid-for content can cause major issues when building consumer trust and could damage both the brand’s and the influencers’ reputations.

Lee said: “Influencers are now media owners, but often aren’t aware or are pressured not to comply with ASA rules which can lead to misleading their followers.”

On native advertising he added: “Companies are also circumventing ad block technology by using practices like native advertising to encourage people to buy.  The content appears in social news feeds and often looks like any other story rather than an actual advert.

“The fact is, any content that an influencer, or publication, produces that has been commissioned by a brand is classed as advertising. It is really important that influencers and brands understand how to make consumers aware of this, otherwise both parties could be at risk of damaged reputation, and potentially even financial penalties.

“It’s important that the rules and regulations that surround paid for content are made clearer but also followed, otherwise we could see a complete erosion of trust in the content and information provided by brands and influencers.”

Contributed by digital marketing agency Fat Media

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Surge in far east visitors drives growth for UK hotels in 2018

UK hotels saw positive growth throughout 2018 as a result of a surge in international visitors, particularly from the Far East, according to the latest data from Expedia.

The group found that global interest in ‘destination UK’ has remained strong, with major cities and regions across the UK experiencing “significant” double-digit growth.

In part, this growth has been driven by visitors from the far east, with demand from Chinese travellers to the UK rising by almost 160% year-on-year last year. The increase was further supported by a rise in demand from visitors from Japan (+30% year-on-year), Malaysia (+45% year-on-year), Korea (+20% year-on-year) and Thailand (more than +30% year-on-year).

Demand also remained buoyant from the traditionally strong visitor markets of Germany, Canada, Australia and France, and was further fuelled by visitors from several fast-growing markets such as Italy, Ireland and Spain, all of which registered  double-digit increases.

The top UK cities by travel demand in 2018 were:

  1. London
  2. Edinburgh
  3. Manchester
  4. Birmingham
  5. Glasgow
  6. Liverpool
  7. Cardiff
  8. Newcastle
  9. Bristol
  10. Leeds

Irene Roberts, director of market management at Expedia Group said: “Last year was clearly a year of growth, with greater numbers of travellers choosing to visit the UK and experience more diverse locations. Our data suggests that we continue to work successfully with our lodging partners to provide access to valuable international customers.

“The significant rise in demand from valuable Far East visitors is great news for hoteliers – lengthier booking windows and increased on-property spend enable them to focus their time on maximising bookings during shoulder periods. Our proposition of providing hotel partners with a global reach through continued investment in technology and marketing is helping capture those visitors and drive conversions.”

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Travelodge opens at Ashford International railway station

Budget hotel chain Travelodge has opened its 574th hotel close to Ashford International railway station.

The group said with the opening of Ashford Town Centre Travelodge, the company now operates hotels close to 200 of the UK’s busiest railway stations. The new 58-room hotel represents an investment of £5m for the landlord, Ashford Borough Council.

Travelodge has also identified 10 “key commuter towns” where it would like to open a hotel close to the railway station which offers a fast service into London. Locations include: Broxbourne, Gillingham (Kent), Haywards Heath, Maidstone, Reading, Shoreham, Stevenage, Tonbridge, Ware and Watford.

Collectively this proposed railway expansion plan would represent an investment of £60m for third party investors and create approximately 300 new jobs.

Tony O’Brien, Travelodge UK property director, said: “We are delighted to open our 574th hotel by Ashford International railway station and cement our presence close to key railway stations that will connect the south and north of Britain via HS1 and HS2 routes. This hotel opening also means we now operate hotels close to the UK’s busiest 200 railway stations.

“Our next stop is to open hotels by railway stations in key commuter towns across the south east that have a fast service into London. These towns are important business locations in their own right and are growing at pace and attracting businesses of all sizes.”

Wendy Spinks, commercial director at HS1 Ltd, added: “HS1 is continuing to drive regeneration throughout Kent by attracting new investment to local areas. The opening of Ashford Town Centre Travelodge will help serve the increase in leisure tourists and business commuters using the high speed services. ”

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Cycas appoints Matt Luscombe as company’s first CEO

Hotel management company Cycas Hospitality has appointed Matt Luscombe as its first ever CEO.

Luscombe is set to join the business in March and will be based from Cycas’s head office in Amsterdam. The appointment follows a period of expansion for Cycas, having welcomed three new brands in 2018, doubling its portfolio in the process.

Luscombe brings nearly 20 years of hospitality and consumer experience, including ten with InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG). At IHG he held several senior leadership positions, most recently as COO for Europe where he was responsible for building the company’s hotel and loyalty brands.

Prior to that he spent five years heading up IHG’s franchise business across Europe and Africa, working with Cycas Hospitality and leading the hospitality industry’s first Olympic partnership by Cycas’s dual-branded property in London Stratford City. He joins Cycas from Coles Group, one of Australia’s leading retailers, where he was general manager.

In his newly-created role, Cycas said Luscombe will be responsible for “steering” the company through the next phase of its growth plans, which aims to see the business triple in size and boost its presence across Western Europe.

He will work closely with the co-founders and Cycas’s executive leadership team to further strengthen the company’s operations across the UK and mainland Europe. Co-founders Eduard Elias and John Wagner will both remain active in the company’s strategic leadership through positions on its board, alongside Cycas investors Huakee.

Matt Luscombe said: “Cycas is a true innovator in the hospitality sector and a business that over the last decade I’ve watched grow into a significant European hotel management company.

“While at IHG I always admired Cycas’s deliberate focus on employees and company culture, and saw first-hand how its distinctive approach successfully translated into happy, loyal guests and delighted business partners. To join at such a pivotal moment in the company’s inspirational journey is a privilege and, as CEO, I look forward to helping Cycas roll out its award-winning concept further.”

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Tui Group sees 4.4% Q1 turnover growth

TUI Group, the German travel and tourism company, has reported turnover growth of 4.4% to €3.7bn (£3.2bn) for the Q1 period ending 31 December 2018, compared with €3.5bn (£3bn) last year, driven by strong performance from its hotel arm.

However, underlying EBITA decreased by €46.9m (£41.1m) year-on-year to €83.6m (£73.3m) during the period, with the main reasons for the decline in earnings being attributed to the “unusually long and hot summer in northern Europe”.

The group’s ‘holiday experiences’ segment, which encompases hotels and resorts, cruises and destination experiences, also accounted for around 70% of the group’s operating results during the previous financial year. During the 52-week period ending 30 September 2018 profits increased by 10.9% to €1.22bn (£1.09bn), and the group also saw its turnover jump 6.3% to €19.7bn (£17.7bn).

CEO Fritz Joussen said: “The overall trends for our sector are intact. Travel and tourism remain a growth market. Customers continue to travel, but they are currently resistant to increases in price. During this consolidation phase in our sector, it is particularly important to adequately participate in market growth.

“TUI has a good strategic and operational positioning, and the transformation of the group as a digital platform company is progressing. We have paved the way with our investments in hotels and ships, our IT and digital strategy and the acquisition of the Italian digital platform Musement in 2018.”

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Front of House: Maytime Inn

Tell us about your background and how you came to own the Maytime Inn.

I have always worked in pubs from as soon as I was old enough to do so. The opportunity came up for me to get my hands on the Maytime just after I left university. I was originally looking with a friend – who had a much better financial backing than me – at buying an old manor house and converting it into a country house hotel. Unfortunately that didn’t happen, but I still wanted to go it alone and decided to go after the Maytime. I went and created all the business plans and got the bank loan approved as long as I could come up with 50% of the money, which I couldn’t. I was working for Greene King at the time as an assistant manager and not earning anywhere near enough for that. Fortunately I have a great family who agreed to give me the financial backing and actually cut the banks out, but do the deal on the same rate. That was very lucky. Maytime was actually the first place I found on Google – I knew I wanted a place in the Cotswolds and this was the first property that came up.

What was it that particularly drew you to the Maytime?

I wanted something that could be a project. When I saw it I thought the property had fantastic potential, but it wasn’t being used. It was owned by a couple who had owned it for about 40 years and not a lot had changed during that time. I thought that it was something that I could take over and really have the opportunity to put my mark on.

You renovated the inn when you first bought it, what changes did you make?

When I took it on it needed quite a lot of work doing to it. It had been flooded in 2007 and the previous owners had refurbished it afterwards, but they hadn’t really fixed any of the damage properly. There was still quite a few issues electrically, plumbing wise, and a lot of areas with damp in the walls. We stripped everything back and repainted, resealed, re-did large parts of the electric in the building and reinstalled and modernised a lot of the building’s plumbing work. During the first stage we changed all of the windows and doors, we took out the old carpet in the raised restaurant area and put wooden flooring down, as well as changing all the furniture. We changed the bar and we refurbished the toilets as well.

What were the biggest challenges you encountered during that process?

I had never done it before. I had come from being an assistant manager in a Greene King-managed house to being the owner of a property, so I wasn’t only being the general manager I was also taking on the role of owner, which has its own set of challenges. You become a lot more responsible for the business. General managers always have the option to walk away, but as the owner it is your life and you have absolutely no choice but to get it done and make the business work. I had pretty much come straight out of university and I had never studied hospitality – I did an undergraduate degree in city and regional planning and a masters in construction project management, so I got to use those skills. It was all about juggling everything, in the beginning that was quite hard work really.

You were just 23 when you bought the property, was it hard at such a young age?

I remember sitting down on one of my first days that I moved and thinking, ‘right I’m here now, what do I do?’. I just sat there thinking about everything that needed doing and I just had no idea where to start. One of the first things I did was take a sledgehammer to the old bar, just so I could see the space and work out what we could do with it.

What did the second stage include?

After the first stage we opened and we traded for the rest of the summer, and then just after Christmas in the first full-year that I was here we shut the kitchen down for a couple of weeks and completely refurbished that. At the same time we were completely refurbishing the bedrooms, which took a couple of months.

How did the second stage compare with the first?

In hindsight I think we rushed the first stage a little bit. I wanted to get in the property and open it to make the most of summer. From me finding the property, moving in, making the plans and getting them executed and then opening for business, that whole process was about a month and a half. It really was a quick turnaround.

Tell us about the bedroom designs.

We based the concept on the pub’s old name, which was the Three Horseshoes. Pubs are part of the UK’s heritage so I think it’s important to remember the heritage of the pub, it would be a shame to forget that and there’s too many pubs that are becoming standardised. It’s called the Maytime as the old owners were called May and Tim, and I thought that was a nice touch so we kept the name. Before that it was called the Three Horseshoes so we based the bedrooms on that theme. We have the Hunting room; Sadlers room; Tack room; Farriers room; Boot room; and the Yard and Groom room.

Maytime is an inn, how would you say it differs from a hotel?

We are a pub that’s also an inn. We are in the middle of nowhere so the room trade is very important to us and we need to make sure they are full, but people will only come and visit us if the food is nice and the drinks offering is where it needs to be. We have a 70-cover restaurant and only six rooms, so if I don’t have that food and drink offering at where it needs to be I will not be able to survive on just those bedrooms. That’s where we differ to a boutique hotel as a lot of them won’t have restaurant space and if they do it’s certainly not as large as ours.

You have a passion for gin and the bar stocks more than 70 different brands, does that give the property a niche?

It’s actually 85 brands of gin now. We are a freehouse and we can buy whatever we want from whoever we want, without restriction. That gives us the freedom to have a much more diverse range. It gives guests the ability to just have a play – the idea of a bar is that it’s supposed to be a fun place to visit and that’s what we do. We have books that we have written at the bar, and they are all about the gins with distillery details, what the gin is about, how it is made, what botanicals are involved and for each gin we have our own recommended ‘perfect pour’.

You also have a selection of fine wines?

We have fine wines by the glass, and that’s proven very popular. We are a drive-to destination for most people so many guests will just want a glass of wine. We have a range of very fine wines, but by 125ml glasses. These are wines that you would never normally find by the glass. We have a system that allows us to get the wine out of the bottle without actually opening it – it replaces the empty space with argon gas, which is neutral so it stops the wine from going off. That means we can do as many wines as we wanted to by the glass without any risk of wastage.

You are located in the Cotswolds, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, does that help attract guests?

The Cotswolds is definitely a tourist destination, so that helps to draw people in. We are on the edge of the Cotswolds but we are quite well placed for people coming from London, so we are perfectly situated for people that fancy that weekend escape to the countryside. Internationally it helps a lot as well because people want to come and experience the British countryside, and by staying in an inn they get a unique experience as well as an historical feel.

What has been your favourite aspect of the whole experience so far?

I think watching it grow, it’s almost like having a child. You take something on and you keep building on it. When we first opened nobody in a 10-mile radius had ever heard of the Maytime. We now have a much better reputation locally and are also better known further afield. It means a lot to me that the business has grown to that extent.

What are your future plans for the Maytime Inn?

We have renovated the garden in 2015, and we came third in the best beer garden in the UK competition by SME Insurance. That was our last major project and it really extended the garden – we put in an outdoor bar and extended the seating from about 20 to 120 people. I have just moved out of the pub and we are now in the process of turning the space upstairs, where I used to live, into staff accommodation. That’s the next expansion because due to our location we really struggle to get staff in and keep them. The Cotswolds is an expensive place to live and people that live around here generally don’t want to work in hospitality. We have to provide the accommodation to get the good staff. As we get busier and busier we can’t survive on that core management team anymore, we have to expand on our staff. After that we will see, but we are running out of space now.

Perhaps a second property then?

It’s on the cards. That’s another reason for me moving out, to make sure that this place can continue to run as well as it is now without me being here seven days a week. Say six or twelve months down the line, and I’m happy that it is managing, then perhaps we could start looking at pub number two.

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IHG opens second UK Voco in Solihull

InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) has signed a franchise agreement with CL Capital to opens its second Voco hotel in the west Midlands town of Solihull.

According to the group the 180-room hotel now benefits from the brand’s “bold and distinctive interior design, bringing warmth and a modern touch”, following a “transformative” refurbishment to the guest rooms, lobby, and the hotel’s restaurant and bar.

The hotel also offers a host of leisure facilities, including a fully equipped health club with an indoor swimming pool, sauna and gym. The hotel will be managed by Kew Green Hotels (KGH) and will be the second Voco property in the UK, following the opening of Voco St. David’s, Cardiff.

Jane Bowler, general manager at the hotel, said: “This is an incredibly exciting time. [The hotel] will be a fantastic addition to Solihull, and we are proud to be the first Voco property in the midlands. We want [the hotel], to be an inviting place for both hotel guests and our local community, and we look forward to them experiencing the new brand.”

Karan Khanna, managing director, UK and Ireland at IHG, added: “We are excited to open our second Voco property in the UK following the successful launch of St. David’s in Cardiff.

“With a focus on conversion opportunities, the brand allows us to retain the existing charm of an independent hotel whilst also bringing the reassurances of a trusted brand, along with the power and strength of IHG’s systems.”

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What developments in tech mean for the future of hospitality

Business related technology continues to evolve at a fast pace across so many industries and sectors, making wide changes to the daily activities of many businesses.

Because of these advancements across other sectors and lifestyles, we are able to identify how industries such as hospitality are likely to take advantage of them in the near future, and how these technologies will become part of the hospitality industry.

Modern businesses should aim to be as inter-connected as possible. Multichannel services  and greater customer accessibility make your business as user-friendly as possible. For the hospitality sector this often means online bookings and payments such as restaurant bills, bar tabs and activity reservations, but also creates an overall improvement to the customer experience.

Payment Systems

Payment technology has evolved a huge extent over recent years, and your business needs to be properly ready for future advancements in order to keep up with customer’s expectations. Recently introduced mobile payment services from the likes of Apple and Google have created new challenges to businesses, as they have had to strive to keep up with such new developments. Cryptocurrency has even begun to infiltrate the hospitality market, with some businesses allowing payments to be made online and in-house via blockchain-based formats.

In October 2018 contactless payments overtook their chip-and-PIN counterpart in the UK for the first time ever – this was helped in part to a huge increase in the number of mobile payments made. However, millions of small businesses across the UK still only take cash payments. In order to remain competitive, hospitality organisations need to ensure they offer as many different kinds of payments as viably possible in order to provide customers with the flexibility that they have come to expect. Businesses that happily offer a range of smooth transactions will succeed over those that are stuck firmly in the past.


Interest in self-service solutions is continuing to grow. An increasing number of businesses are likely to introduce technology that removes the need for customers to interact with another human being, such as when making a booking, taking an order or requesting services. Self-service tech will continue to improve, becoming quicker and more convenient to both the customer and the business, future-proofing the technology to create long-term solutions. By investing in automated services early on, businesses will be able to cut their costs in the years ahead.

Inevitably, not all parts of the hospitality sector can and will be replaced by a robot, but in these situations a self-service option is a welcome addition alongside a human member of staff. This could take the form of an automated phone line in order to take the strain off staff, or a self check-in service alongside the reception desk to ease waiting times.

Public Wifi networks

Today’s consumers expect to be able to connect to public Wi-Fi networks easily and seamlessly in almost every place of business they visit. Public Wi-Fi is nothing new, but modern consumers anticipation of widespread coverage can in fact change their plans based on the usability of a public data service.

When it comes to setting up a public Wi-Fi service, you must ensure your broadband package is able to handle the amount of potential traffic that you predict will be accessing it on a daily basis. Even data limits that sound large can easily be used up quickly if lots of people are logging on to your account freely. It’s also worth investing in a fast package speed, as slow connections can easily frustrate customers and discourage them from visiting your premises in the future.

It is recommended that businesses consider implementing a hotspot gateway – this provides a virtual portal that guests access your customer network through, meaning their traffic is separated from your private network so you can ensure a more secure Internet connection for both you and your guests. A hotspot gateway creates an extra barrier between cybercriminals and your data, while also allowing you to put firewalls in place across your network. Your business will also be provided with some legal protection when any guest connects to your network through a hotspot gateway, as they must accept terms and conditions in order to access the connection.

By Nathan Hill-Haimes, founder of Amvia, a privately-owned, voice, data and cloud application provider based in Sheffield, UK which supplies services to companies of all sizes

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A recent survey from hotel solutions provider HRS has found that the demand for innovative technology in hotels is on the rise


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