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Audleys Wood Hotel named Hand Picked Hotels’ ‘Hotel of the Year’


Hand Picked Hotels, a collection of privately-owned country house hotels and spa resorts, has awarded Audleys Wood Hotel in Hampshire its Hotel of the Year accolade.

The 72-room hotel, situated  just outside Basingstoke, was selected from Hand Picked Hotels’ portfolio of 19 hotels in the UK and the Channel Islands, in recognition of its “outstanding performance throughout 2018”.

The accolade was presented to Richard Storey, GM of the property, during the annual awards ceremony held at New Hall Hotel & Spa in Birmingham, during which the hotel was praised for its “commitment to delivering an excellent guest experience” and “solid financial results” by Julia Hands, chairman and CEO of Hand Picked Hotels.

Hands said: “It gives me great pleasure to present this award to Audleys Wood Hotel. In addition to achieving strong financial performance during the year, Richard and his team have demonstrated exceptional levels of guest care and attention to detail, which is evident from its high customer satisfaction scores, rave guest reviews and consistent repeat bookings.”

Storey added: “On behalf of the entire team at Audleys Wood, I am delighted to accept this award.  Hand Picked Hotels is committed to maintaining meticulous quality standards and our teams are trained to be completely guest-focused so I thank each and every one of the team at Audleys Wood for helping to deliver a successful year for the hotel that is recognised by both our guests and our colleagues.

“The hotel is multifaceted, appealing to a wide range of audiences from our regular corporate guests to those on a romantic break, delegates attending a meeting and wedding parties celebrating their special day, so our teams have to be agile and responsive to ever changing guest needs.  This award underlines the expertise, dedication and passion within the team and I am extremely proud.”

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How to get payment and booking systems right


Critical to the day-to-day running of a successful hotel is organisation; it’s necessarily a keystone in operational management from back of house to front of house.

But once you’ve got a potential guest about to book, how well can you manage it? The software you choose to deploy for organising your records of guests’ bookings, stays and managing their payments, will make a huge impact on how tight a ship you can keep.

Property management systems give hoteliers a diverse, but simple, range of features to use. From booking systems and management features to digital marketing, choosing the right system can drive up occupancy and boost revenue figures, while simultaneously allowing more time for your hotel and its staff members to flourish. Kate Fuller, marketing manager at Guestline, which offers the Rezlynx property management system says: “[It is about] providing users with an easy-to-use system, enabling them to deal with guests quickly and efficiently, enriching the overall customer journey.”

THE CAPABILITIES

Many systems available are rather more than high-tech diaries – they have virtually become essential for anyone running a hotel of any size, be it a large branded chain or an independent boutique. A property management system is the core of the operation of a hotel, while payment and booking systems are essential to the smooth running. Payment and booking systems keep track of both current and future guests, from check-in to check-out, laid out clear designs, and these systems will show hoteliers how many rooms they have left for a particular day, and using algorithms help to determine at what rate any vacant rooms should be sold for to maximise occupancy.

Not only does this make the organisational life for a hotelier much easier, it also clearly lays out what days and what price range of consumers still need to be targeted to maximise revenue. Craig Stewart, co-founder and director at Freetobook, an online booking system, says: “Freetobook helps independents make sense of and bring together the whole of the online marketing space – offering new and exciting services that help them grow their business and save time on the manual stuff.”

Using one of these systems will allow you to place a booking button on your website, allowing guests to visit your website, check availability and rates, before ultimately making a booking. In return the hotel will be notified about the guests’ contact details and the booking will be entered onto the diary. Fuller adds: “By managing your rates, Guestline systems enable hoteliers to increase direct bookings, improve rates and reduce OTA commissions. Hotels will also benefit from operational efficiencies and improvements in rate parity.”

ACCESS ANYWHERE

Owning a hotel is often a stressful intense job, and for hoteliers that are on the move – perhaps they may have another job or a second hotel in another part of the country, or they are heading away for a business meeting, keeping on top of things while you are away from the hotel can be tricky.

Fortunately there are payment and booking systems offer access on the road. This allows hoteliers to organise operations and deal with any problems or changes quickly and easily. Chris Petty, managing director at Newbook UK, a property management system which offers an array of features, including access to its system on handheld devices, says: “Being able to login to your property management system from any location and device gives the general manager or hotel owner the ability to react to any problem, or pricing change, on the go.”

Peter St Lawrence, GM and shareholder of The Crown at Amersham hotel in Buckinghamshire, says that he will be making the most of “cross-selling opportunities” by bringing his smaller affiliate properties onto the Newbook system as well. Having everything on one system will not only help your organisational skills, it will also encourage you to cross-sell, driving revenue to any other properties that you own.

Using a cloud-based system, Newbook allows hoteliers to use its system with only an internet browser required. Not only does this allow the ease of access, but according to Petty it also helps hoteliers save on costs. “This allows for a much lower setup cost,” he says, “as no on site server or support is necessary, saving in some cases thousands of pounds a year.”

DIGITAL MARKETING

Property management systems can also offer a variety of other functions to help improve the running of a property and drive guest demand to the hotel, including digital marketing features, helping to increase occupancy.

Some property management systems allow you to conduct and track your own email marketing campaigns. Running these campaigns will enable you to reach past customers with deals and offers improving your chance of returning guests. Marketing campaigns will allow you to target specific consumers with exactly what they are looking for, at the time that they are looking for it.

Stewart recommends that hotels also use a mobile-friendly site. He says: “Hotels using the mobile-friendly website and booking process can increase conversion across multiple devices.” Using a mobile friendly site allows guests to book a room at your hotel, at any time, and anyplace. With a large amount of booking now coming from handheld devices this is an investment that will be sure to pay dividends. Booking systems can also support Google Analytics, meaning you will be able to track your conversion rate, and analyse where your marketing is going right, and where it is not going as well as you’d hoped. The hindsight this provides helps to plan better marketing strategies over time.

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Responding to the demands of conscientious travellers


Sustainability within the hospitality industry has come a long way since the arrival of in-room suggestions to reuse towels and save water. Hotels and other hospitality businesses are increasingly taking a more mature approach that incorporates socially responsible practices as well as sound environmental and economic policies.

As public awareness and consumer confidence in sustainability grow, the pressure is on for the travel and tourism sector to walk the talk – according to Booking.com’s 2018 Sustainable Travel Report, 87% of global travellers say they want to travel sustainably. In 2019, we can expect to see hospitality companies implementing more innovative practices to benefit people and the planet as well as financial performance, while also ensuring that guests are aware of their good deeds.

Sustainable tourism: The big picture

Government and public support for the promotion of sustainability across industries has been mounting in recent years. In 2015, 193 nations agreed to work towards the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, a set of 17 goals designed to ensure a better future for all through the introduction of significant changes by 2030.

Representing 10.4% of global GDP and supporting one in 10 jobs worldwide according to the World Travel and Tourism Council, the travel and tourism sector has the potential to make enormous social, environmental and economic contributions – a fact that travellers increasingly recognise. The United Nations captured this zeitgeist in declaring 2017 the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development, a campaign which has spread further awareness while spurring businesses and travellers to embrace ethical policies and actions. More recently, the World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) has developed a statistical framework for Measuring the Sustainability of Tourism (MST) to be adopted as an international standard in 2019.

From green to transparent: The proof is in the report

As going green becomes mainstream, it will take more than claims of good intentions for businesses to convince conscientious consumers. Transparency will become even more important in the future as ethical travellers seek evidence to back up messages of corporate social responsibility (CSR).

Leading the way are hotel groups such as Nordic Choice Hotels, Scandic Hotels Group and AccorHotels, which have set new industry standards in CSR transparency by releasing annual public reports and other detailed information on the sustainable practices they follow. Notably, the most effective brands focus not only on their environmental impact, but on their impact on society; for example, Nordic Choice’s “WeCare” sustainability approach highlights six areas of action, which include local social responsibility, ethical trade, diversity and initiatives against child trafficking.

Making a big difference through small habits

In addition to knowing the facts and figures of a company’s CSR approach, socially minded travellers want to see such measures in action. Millennials in particular care about supporting brands that resonate with their values – a 2015 survey conducted by Nielsen found that 73% of those born from 1977 to 1995 are willing to pay more for sustainable goods, compared to 66% of all global consumers.

The banning of plastic straws is one clear example of how hospitality brands have responded to changing consumer attitudes. “Single-use” was declared Word of the Year 2018 by Collins Dictionary, which noted a four-fold increase in use of the word since 2013. Growing public concern about the environmental damage caused by single-use plastics has led businesses to rethink everyday practices. Hyatt, Hilton, Marriott, American Airlines, Alaska Airlines, Royal Caribbean, Carnival Cruise Line, McDonald’s and Starbucks have all launched initiatives to phase out the use of plastic straws, and we can expect to see more businesses replacing single-use plastics with eco-friendly alternatives in 2019.

Social commitment and travelling with purpose

Innovative brands are also highlighting their engagement with social causes, often resulting in a more authentic experience for guests, who play an essential role in making these community initiatives possible. For example, Good Hotel London combines premium hospitality with a social business concept. The floating hotel docked on the River Thames provides long-term unemployed locals with hospitality skills, on-the-job training and a full-time salary. Afterwards, trainees are redirected to permanent job opportunities in the local economy.

In Vienna, Magdas Hotel is dedicated to helping refugees overcome barriers to employment and social integration. Two thirds of the hotel’s staff are people with a refugee background, and the hotel celebrates this diversity, encouraging travellers and staff to interact. Meanwhile, beyond the hotel industry, Starbucks has made a commitment to hire 10,000 refugees worldwide by 2022.
As socially minded travellers continue to seek brands that reflect their values, many may also turn to volunteering as a way to interact with and contribute to local communities. Organisations like Adventure Alternative, WorldVentures Foundation, andBeyond and The Village Experience offer travellers the opportunity to work on humanitarian projects during their journey.

Entering the circular economy

Finally, the shift towards a circular economy system has the potential to transform the hospitality industry. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation defines a circular economy as one that is “restorative and regenerative by design,” as opposed to a linear “take, make and dispose” economy. It’s a model that resonates with the “leave no trace” ethos championed by nature lovers and the ideals of responsible travellers.

The exterior of QO Amsterdam, a hotel built on circular economy principles, features thermal panels that react to the outside climate to conserve the energy needed to regulate indoor temperatures. The hotel has also been designed with recycled materials, such as carpeting made from 100% recycled yarn previously used in fishing nets. And to reduce wastewater, QO has developed a grey water system in which all water that comes from showers and sinks is used again to flush toilets.

More sustainable innovations are on the way. Scheduled to open in 2021, Norwegian hotel Svart will be the world’s first energy positive hotel concept by the Arctic Circle. Reducing its yearly energy consumption by 85% compared to modern hotels, Svart will harvest enough solar energy to cover both hotel operations and the construction of the building.

For the future of sustainable hospitality, going in circles may not be such a bad thing.


Dr Dimitrios Diamantis is dean of graduate studies at Les Roches Global Hospitality Education, Switzerland; and Dr Alain Imboden the associate professor and Accreditation Officer at Les Roches.

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Dominvs Group acquires the Arbor City Hotel


Dominvs Group has acquired the Arbor City Hotel in Central London to add to its UK hospitality portfolio.

Arbor City, located at 12-20 Osborn Street, London E1 is a 4-star hotel comprising 115 rooms and suites, with meeting and events space including a cinema room and a large function room.

Dominvs Group is partnering with Hilton Worldwide to rebrand Arbor City to a Hampton by Hilton, as part of its London focused strategy. The group said it is also exploring options for development and expansion of the existing building in order to add more than 150 rooms to the property.

Sean Brookes, COO of Dominvs Group, said: “We are very pleased to announce our partnership with Hilton Worldwide on this project. This deal represented a great opportunity to acquire an established hotel in a key location to add to our growing UK-wide hotel portfolio.

“Sites include two luxury and upper upscale hotels currently in development in St Paul’s and Tower Bridge, as well as Old Marylebone Road, Holborn, Heathrow, Hammersmith, Milton Keynes, Bath, Oxford City Centre, York, Glasgow and Aberdeen. With an extension of the property planned, this will more than double the current room inventory, adding to a portfolio of over 2000 hotel rooms in London and the Regions.”

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The Biltmore to join Hilton’s new luxury collection


The Biltmore is set to open under Hilton’s new luxury collection brand  LXR Hotels & Resorts’ following an agreement between Hilton and Millennium & Copthorne Hotels.

The luxury hotel, located in the heart of Mayfair on Grosvenor Square, will open for business in Spring 2019, marking the new brand’s European debut.

The hotel, which will be known as The Biltmore, Mayfair – LXR Hotels & Resorts, has undergone a multimillion-pound redevelopment following its closure in early July 2018. Designed by Goddard Littlefair, the hotel will offer 257 luxury guest rooms, many with views over Grosvenor Square, as well as 51 curated suites.

Martin Rinck, executive vice president and global head Luxury & Lifestyle Group, Hilton said: “LXR properties are truly best-in-class hotels, known for their distinctive character and unrivalled service. We are incredibly excited that The Biltmore, Mayfair will bring to life everything that the brand stands for by joining as the first LXR hotel in Europe.”

LXR is a collection of independent hotels which Hilton says is distinguished by an “unrivalled commitment to personalised attention and luxurious yet locally immersive experiences for guests”. Last year, the collection welcomed its maiden hotel in Dubai at Habtoor Palace, a 234-guest room luxury hotel situated on Sheikh Zayed Road.

The Biltmore, Mayfair will feature an all-year round alfresco terrace, an exclusive cocktail bar and a large gymtech fitness suite. In addition, the hotel will showcase an 500 sqm ballroom with capacity for up to 700 guests, with further suites available for smaller events.

Patrick Fitzgibbon, senior vice president, Development, EMEA, Hilton, said: “LXR is designed to bring together the best of luxury in global destinations. The Biltmore, Mayfair is a stunning addition to the new collection and prestigious extension to Hilton’s growing luxury portfolio in London. Guests will experience first-class service in the heart of Mayfair, and the unique craftsmanship and historic surroundings of the hotel will make for a truly memorable stay.”

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What should a room look like?


A very interesting article by Tammy La Gorce in the New York Times on 26 May got me thinking again about the state of our industry and the ‘infighting’ that is going on to design the ‘best possible’ room  for the new generations of guests. Tammy states that with more than 500, yes, you read correctly, 500 hotel brands operating in the global markets, there are ‘smaller and smaller slices of the market for hotels to capture’.

Ben Schlappig, a hotel blogger, points out that: “Hotel executives are building everything around millennials right now and expect the millennials to want to work in these hip communal lobby spaces or in bed.” However, is the elimination of closet space, writing desks and whatever the designers come up with next the real answer? Is it true that a vast majority of millennials do not want a closet or a desk? And what about the boomers and all the other generations that are still here and will be for years?

I, for one, still like having the desk in my room in case I want to use it. I like to unpack the minute I arrive and have my room set up as my ‘home away from home’, something the brands tout as the feeling you will have when staying with them. But my home has a desk and plenty of closet space, so how can a room without those be my home away from home?

I have written many articles about the looming threat to the independent owners and operators, and have also underlined the coming saturation point of rooms and hotels supply. Luckily for our hospitality industry guests cannot experience a ‘stay online’, and so hotels will always be necessary. This is the opposite of the retail industry which is experiencing the demise of big brand name shops and outlets as people purchase more and more online. In the papers today there is a headline that states that Reitman’s, a Canadian clothing retailer is going to shutter 40 more stores in addition to the 100 stores it closed in 2016.

But this does not mean that the threat is any less for the hotel industry. More and more ‘cookie cutter’ hotels are being built to the new and ever changing trends. Communal lobbies, sparser bedrooms, cutting edge technology and communications; everything is jammed into these cardboard boxes in the attempt to gain occupancy and real estate value.

So where does that leave the independents? The situation in Europe is better than in North America as many of the independent operators are in historical buildings or buildings with some history to include in their branding.

However, all of the independents are caught in the crossfire of the big brand juggernauts who are trying to take over all the different types of hotels in order to clean up on the market.

More and more hotels are added to the supply, and the OTAs are gobbling up more and more of the occupancies. AirBnB and private home owners are adding supply to the vacation market which will reach saturation point at some time in the foreseeable future.

With this frantic competition going on, and with costs going up all the time it is natural to go for the easiest occupancy available and give more rooms to the OTAs. Some properties now have as much as 70% of their rooms taken up by OTAs. Some hotels start cutting staff. Others save on maintenance while others delay renovations.

All of these measures are understandable but inexcusable and will inevitably lead to losses and eventual closings. Can you begin to imagine the hotel battlefield if another recession hits? The answer for independents is to adapt to the new generations of customers and create a niche slice of the market for themselves. This means daring to go in a different direction than just competing with the generics in the hope that it will all be OK in the end.

The first and most important task is to create a good and caring hotel culture. This is not easy but will lead to keeping valuable staff for longer times, save considerably on turnover costs (up to £3,000 and more per employee), create pride and foster better achievements. Do not cut training budgets, but educate more on the diversity of the new generations of guests.

The executives must understand and fulfill the new needs and expectations of the millennials and other new guests. There must be added value to the stay experience. What the baby boomers and the generations before them expected from a stay are radically different than the expectations of the new guests.

Lastly, the branding must be created that differentiates the hotel from the generics. Creative ideas must tie the property to the history of the building or the town. Community involvement must be a mainstay for the hotel, and environmentally friendly policies should be introduced. Perhaps some funds are necessary to alter the interior design to give it a meaningful makeover and refresh the message of the new branding.

All of these changes do not mean that the hotel should not install the latest communication technology, or find a happy medium for the new room design and the furniture that is installed in it. Good maintenance, clean rooms, good facilities, friendly staff and a good F&B standard are still of utmost importance, but that is not enough for tomorrow.

The time has come for independents to sit down and contemplate their future as small fish in choppy seas where sharks are added daily.


This feature first appeared in the August 2017 issue of Hotel Owner. 

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UK hotel market struggling to keep up with Europe, says UKHospitality


New data from UKHospitality has revealed that the UK hotel market is underperforming compared to the EU average “on every key metric”.

According to the group, in November 2018 Europe saw year-on-year (YOY) RevPar increases of 4.5%, compared with 1.7% in the UK, and occupancy results on the continent rose by 1.2% during the month, compared with 0.6% in England.

Additionally, ADR change by country in November 2018 vs 2017 saw a 2.7% increase in the European hotel sector, compared with 1% in Britain.

The group said it is now urging the government to “foster an operating environment that enables the hotel market to thrive and remain competitive against European counterparts”.

UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls said: “Whilst we wait to review the full year figures for 2018, data showing the UK’s latest performance is a concern – particularly during a time of such great political and economic uncertainty.

“These figures arrive at a time when an ill-advised proposition of a tourist tax remains a possibility, business rates continue to damage the growth of the hospitality sector as a whole and more clarity is desperately needed on the Brexit deal and future immigration system.”

She added: “The decisions made in Westminster in 2019 will have a significant impact on our sector and we are making every effort to ensure that the government fully understands what the sector needs to fulfil its growth potential and continue its significant contribution to the UK’s economic and social wellbeing.”

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Whitbread acquires Dublin freehold for 180-room Premier Inn


Whitbread has completed a freehold deal to purchase the Twilfit House development site in Dublin 1 for a new build 180-bedroom Premier Inn hotel.

The purchase is Whitbread’s first freehold acquisition in Dublin and represents a significant step in Premier Inn’s expansion into Ireland as the business looks to fulfil a requirement for 2,000-2,500 bedrooms in Dublin.

Kevin Murray, head of acquisitions (North & Ireland) for Whitbread, said: “Securing Twilfit House is an important landmark in Premier Inn’s expansion into Ireland and builds strong momentum to our acquisition drive in Dublin. Being close to many major tourist attractions and  great transport links makes Twilfit House an excellent location for a Premier Inn hotel and we expect it to trade very well on opening.

“The deal marks Whitbread’s first freehold investment in Dublin city centre and we are actively pursuing  other live freehold and leasehold opportunities, including potential office-to-hotel conversions and going concern purchases, as we seek to secure up to 2,500 Premier Inn bedrooms in the city.”

Whitbread has acquired the freehold on the Twilfit House site from Abarta Investments ICAV. The investment fund had previously secured full planning permission from Dublin City Council to build a 180-bedroom hotel on the site. The planning consent was upheld by An Bord Pleanála in late December 2018 and, upon expiration of the existing tenancies, Whitbread will demolish the existing three-storey Twilfit House building and construct a new seven-storey Premier Inn hotel on the site.

Daniel O’Connor, senior vice president JLL Hotels Ireland, who advises Whitbread on its expansion in Ireland, added: “We are delighted to advise Whitbread PLC on this high profile off-market acquisition of the Twilfit  House site in Dublin 1. The acquisition is an excellent fit for the company’s first freehold purchase in Dublin, given its prime location and expertly designed hotel scheme. The hunt is very much on for further Dublin opportunities for the business.”

The purchase of Twilfit House is the second Premier Inn hotel to be secured in Dublin city centre after Whitbread confirmed last autumn it had secured planning permission for a 97-bedroom Premier Inn hotel on South Great Georges Street.

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CastleCollection.com acquires Perthshire spa hotel for £2.5m


The 72-bedroom Scotland’s Hotel and Leisure Club hotel in the town of Pitlochry, Perthshire, has been sold in an off-market deal to Irish-owned CastleCollection.com, off a guide price of £2.5m for the freehold property and business.

The hotel features a lounge, restaurant and swimming pool, as well as planning consent for 24 additional bedrooms, and was sold by Julian Troup, head of Colliers’ UK Hotels Agency, on behalf of the Crerar Hotel Group.

Troup said: “The acquisition of Scotland’s was conducted in a highly confidential fashion and is a further example of domestic and overseas buyers looking to secure a hotel in a prime Scottish location.”

CastleCollection.com, which is owned and run by the MacCumhaill family, said the acquisition forms the group’s seventh hotel property across Scotland, Ireland and Wales and joins Fishers Hotel and Atholl Palace, also in Pitlochry.

Fionn MacCumhaill, managing director of the CastleCollection.com,added: “We are delighted to add Scotland’s Hotel & Leisure Club to our collection, which will strengthen the hotel base and tourist offering, in what we believe is the heart of Scotland.

“Pitlochry is a great choice for staycation tourism and we aim to create a modern metro boutique hotel with spa to grow this segment of the market.

MacCumhaill added: “We will be investing a further £2m over the coming year to develop Scotland’s Hotel & Leisure Club into a modern vibrant metro boutique hotel, so keep an eye on ScotlandsHotel.com for updates and great new special offers.”

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Village Hotel Club to invest £480m in ‘aggressive’ UK expansion plans


Village Hotel Club has revealed its “aggressive expansion” plans to open five hotels over the next two years, with a further 15 sites planned by 2026.

Executive chairman Gary Davis announced the plans as the hotel chain opened its 30th hotel this month, in Filton, in what he called the “heart of Bristol’s technology and business hub”.

According to the group, the development of the business will cement the hotel chain’s “significance as a big employer in regions across the UK”, with the group investing £24m and employing 120 people per hotel – a total planned investment of £480m over the next eight years.

Davis said: “At Village Hotel Club, we do things differently. For us it is all about being a part of the local community – not only through investment in the local area, but in offering both guests and local residents alike the opportunity to take advantage of our full lifestyle offering.

“We offer more than just rooms, but a thriving hub for locals, gym goers, the business community and guests for our events, such as our hugely popular live tribute acts.”

He added: “We are continuing to innovate and develop the product with the modern visitor and resident in mind, and I look forward to working with the entire Village team to ensure that we continue to deliver success.”

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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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