It’s fair to say regional hotels have suffered over the last few years, but that is changing isn’t it?
There’s a general feeling of excitement that the market is changing – I’d describe it as cautious optimism. I am on the committee of the Master Innholders and at the last meeting everyone was generally up-beat. There’s also a lot more investment around and the forecast for the year ahead is good. 2014 was a good year in the provinces and revpar growth for 2015 is being forecast at 6 to 6.5 per cent so that’s really encouraging.
Why are things better?
The economy is becoming more resilient and business travel is picking up as well. Manchester has become such a strong gateway city for the North West and so much is happening here now.
Manchester airport is the third largest in the UK and has seen 25 per cent growth for incoming passengers since 2010, many of whom are international visitors. The HS2 high speed rail project will improve links with London and events like the International Festival for Business which took place in Liverpool last year have helped put the North West on the map.
There is such as strong and buoyant focus outside of London now and if you look at the PwC estimates for growth they are very encouraging. As a result there is a lot more investment in new hotels throughout all areas of the North West and it’s great to see.
What challenges do you think stand in the way of the industry's growth?
There are a number of challenges - in terms of financial challenges, I think having VAT at 20 per cent is one. The BHA are lobbying to get the Government to bring that down to 5 per cent which would be tremendous in terms of helping to increase tourism and trade. Legislative challenges - allergen legislation is necessary, but it puts challenges in the industry’s way and there is the issue of trying to attract talent to the industry.
It is tough across all areas, but we see it particularly with chefs and that's an important role because it affects all areas of the sector - from hotels to restaurants and pubs. Attracting them is critical for growth.
I truly believe that our industry is such a dynamic and exciting industry and I think we have to be ambitious and positive about it. We have to attract people into our industry and that means looking after our internal guests as well as our external guests. We should do what we can to look after our people so that we can deliver exceptional service, because that’s the way we attract people back to the UK and back to our hotels.
Hotels you look after that have be invested in have seen growth (Craxton Wood, Kilhey Court), but how do you convince hotel owners to take the plunge and finance improvements or refurbishments?
You’ve got to speculate. It’s not only about showing a substantial return on investment for your company, it’s about achieving, quite rightly, customer expectations. It’s an increasingly competitive environment and customers have a right to demand quality and get good value for their spend and you’ve got to be driving your business continually in terms of enhancing the quality of the guest experience, through both the product and the service you deliver.
The last few years have taught us that disposable income is precious, as is time and that has to be spent wisely, so people want to stay in establishments where it’s an outstanding experience and you can only achieve that if you’re continually improving the product and the service. It’s short-sighted not to do so.