Lessons for hoteliers from Grenfell Tower

There are lessons for hoteliers in the problems experienced by the Prime Minister and Kensington and Chelsea Borough Council in the wake of the Grenfell Tower disaster. There’s crisis management for a start. How many hotel owners and GMs have a plan in place to cope with the media fall-out from an emergency or disaster? Very few. Of more day-to-day relevance is the crucial importance of human contact and empathy. Theresa May and the Council may well have tried their best to tackle the aftermath of the fire but they failed to show residents that they cared. Hotel managers and owners must interact with guests. It is not enough to sit behind a desk – or in the case of many owners, visit your property once or twice a year from your home in another country. You need to talk with them, find out their wants and needs, and above all let them know they’re the life blood of your business. And you should respond to online reviews, however critical, and not pretend they didn’t happen or that the writers are deluded.

Reputation can be fragile

Premier Inn’s recent reported payment of six figure compensation to the family of a guest who died after being scalded in an Edinburgh shower made me think again of how few hotels and restaurants give any thought to what happens if they suffer a crisis. I’ve been involved with Scottish hotels and restaurants for more than 16 years and can count on the fingers of both hands the number of those who know how to handle the press if they get into the news for the wrong reasons. Some but far from all of the Scottish properties of international brands have a crisis plan in a filing drawer back at head office. Independent hotels and restaurants generally don’t have a clue. Yet as the Newcraighall case showed there’s a daunting list of what could, and often does, happen: sudden death, fire, serious accident, food poisoning, staff scandal, discrimination allegations, damning hygiene report. A reputation can take years to build up yet be destroyed in minutes.

Hospitality industry honours “Scotland’s perfect culinary ambassador”

Scotland’s only double Michelin Star holder has been honoured by Scotland’s hospitality and catering sector as the country’s “perfect culinary ambassador” at awards in which his long-standing protégé was named Chef of the Year. Andrew Fairlie, who runs his eponymous restaurant at the five-star Gleneagles Hotel in Perthshire, was presented with the Lifetime Excellence Award at the Catering Scotland (CIS) Excellence Awards in Glasgow on Thursday 25 May attended by over 500 of Scotland’s leading hoteliers, chefs and caterers. “Andrew’s achievements at Gleneagles have been remarkable but his contributions to the industry have ranged far beyond them,” said CIS Advisory Board chairman Neil Thomson. “He has raised the country’s food profile, been a true champion for Scotland and been our perfect culinary ambassador with commitment, skills and enthusiasm that have won him the highest respect,” he added. “Andrew has also nurtured young chefs and set personal and professional standards to which they aspire.” Stephen McLaughlin, described by judges as one of Scotland’s unsung heroes, joined Fairlie when his Gleneagles restaurant opened in 2001 and has held the position of Head Chef since 2006. Neil Thomson added: “Stephen has worked quietly behind the scenes to uphold the restaurant’s worldwide reputation. His continuous innovations and constant adherence to the highest standards have helped make possible the retention of two Michelin Stars for well over 10 years.” Other finalists in the Chef of the Year category included Tim Dover of The Roost Restaurant at Bridge of Earn near Perth and Stewart Macauly of…

“I’m sorry (well, not really). The kitchen’s closed”

VisitScotland would regard this as heresy but many Scottish hotels and restaurants don’t really like tourists. Their owners and managers are happy to accept visitors – but on their own inflexible terms. My wife was enjoying coffee at the end of a lunch (which took ages to be served but that’s another story) at one of our favourite hotels in the Trossachs in mid-May when, at 2.35 pm, an American couple entered the restaurant. “We’ve heard so much about this hotel and thought we’d come here for something to eat,” they said enthusiastically. “The kitchen’s closed” was the curt response. “The chef goes home at 2.30.” My wife had just finished a nice bowl of home-made soup. Couldn’t the couple at least have that, heated up? Not a chance. It’s far too common a tale. Try getting a cup of tea in a rural restaurant in Scotland at 4 pm!

Is British tourism making the most of the world’s obsession with football?

Is British tourism making the most of the world’s obsession with football? At an English Premier League match in Liverpool last month I was amazed at the number of nationalities sitting beside me: American, German, Danish, Irish, Japanese. All had come to the UK primarily to watch the match. All Premier League clubs attract followings around the world, some more than others. Many will pay a few thousand pounds just to watch one game, with accompanying hospitality, hotel stays and visits to nearby attractions. Celtic and Rangers are the biggest equivalents in Scotland although Aberdeen, Hearts and Hibs (and alas to a lesser extent my own home town club St Johnstone) may disagree. Are they doing enough to cash in for the benefit of themselves and Scottish tourism? I doubt it.

Game on! Skye hotels serve up challenge to Andy’s management company

A set of three boutique hotels on Skye is courting success against a company which manages Andy Murray’s hotel in the main awards for Scotland’s catering, hospitality and tourism industries. In another David vs Goliath confrontation at this year’s Catering Scotland (CIS) Excellence Awards, where finalists come from as far apart as Wester Ross and the Scottish Borders, a restaurant in rural Perthshire is up against the head chef of the two Michelin Star Restaurant Andrew Fairlie at Gleneagles. Sonas, the family firm which owns and operates the Skye hotels, is one of three finalists in the Group Hotel of the Year category along with Inverlochy Castle Management International (ICMI) and the 283-bedroom Crowne Plaza in Glasgow, part of InterContinental Hotels. Anne and Ken Gunn opened their first hotel, Toravaig, in 2007, and later added Duisdale House and Skeabost House. They have a combined total of 43 bedrooms. Properties managed by ICMI include Cromlix near Dunblane, which is owned by world number one tennis player Andy Murray and his family; Greywalls beside Muirfield golf course at Gullane in East Lothian; Inverlochy Castle near Fort William; and the Roxburghe Hotel at Kelso. In the running for Chef of the Year are Stephen McLaughlin, Tim Dover of The Roost Restaurant near Bridge of Earn, and Stewart Macauly of The Adamson in St Andrews. Dover, a Masterchef of Great Britain, opened The Roost in 2008. A runner-up in the category last year, Edinburgh’s Cafe St Honore has again reached the final of the…

VisitScotland banishes some of its best friends

We said last month how much we were looking forward to VisitScotland’s Tourism Expo and how we’d never missed it in 10 years. Alas, in a classic example of petty short sightedness, for the first time VS has stopped specialist PR agencies like ours attending this year’s event in Glasgow by refusing admission tickets, (wrongly) claiming they were using it to tout for business. Expo is a great annual opportunity for us to meet exhibiting clients and contacts, keep up to date with hospitality business trends and find out what VisitScotland is doing. We’d arranged to meet overseas luxury tour operators at the show to promote our clients – and Scotland. VS has told us we now have to meet them ‘off-site’. A golden opportunity missed for specialists like Hotel PR to help VS do its job of attracting more visitors to Scotland.

CitizenM at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport

It’s rare that we promote a non-client but a recent stay at CitizenM at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport reminded me what too many hotels lack – fun and flexibility. Plenty of cheery, helpful, energetic and well informed staff who enjoy their jobs. Good nutritious food and drink available 24/7. In many ways air travellers’ needs are different but how marvellous to be in such a lively ‘Can Do’ atmosphere. Wide range of guests too. Others seemed between 5 and 80. Some slogans in public areas may be a little OTT but there was an overwhelming feeling that guests and not management call the shots, and that a hotel stay should be, well, fun. One of the coolest hotels on the planet? No doubt about it.

Lack of Mystery Guests

After 16 years specialising in the Scottish hospitality business I find it disappointing how few hotel owners and General Managers use ‘mystery guests.’ Are they afraid what these independent souls might find? Quite possibly, but it’s also a sign of an arrogance which is especially true of some owners. “Who could possibly criticise my hotel?!” Price is one thing. Complacency is altogether different – and dangerous. In my experience, the most successful hotels and restaurants are those which embrace positive criticism and are keen to do even better. A neutral perceptive can be worth hundreds of times the small cost involved. An experienced outsider is likely to tell you things even the best GM hasn’t yet spotted. And that can mean a big boost to the bottom line.