|Top trends to strike gold in Olympic Year|
Iain Hardman is the Deputy Managing Director of multi award-winning East Lodge Country House Hotel in Rowsley, in the heart of Derbyshire’s Peak District. He outlines some of the top trends for 2012.
2012 is set to be a critical year for hotel owners throughout the UK. The twin celebrations of the Queen’s Jubilee and the Olympics on the horizon, presents a unique opportunity for hoteliers, with the expected flood of visitors set to give the whole industry a financial boost estimated at anywhere between £100-£150 million.
Many in the industry have been preparing for this moment for the last few years, looking to capitalise on these signature events. Only hotels at the top of their game and up to speed with the latest trends in the hospitality industry can hope for a competitive edge when competing for this potential influx of new business.
When looking at current trends in the hotel industry, there are some general themes which are solid and evolving and coming to fruition now, and these need to be distinguished from some of the fads that come along from time to time only to fade away. Some of these solid trends, particularly in terms of food and décor are clearly here to stay for the foreseeable future and are the ‘ones to watch’ for 2012. The areas trending now in the four areas of décor, multi-media, food and ‘value adds’.
Boutique style is still very much in vogue. Traditional and modern hotels have always appealed to different types of guest, but the modern traveller is now expecting more, with even the most traditional of hotels and chains expected to have the latest in modern touches of style. This has seen many venues become ‘boutique’ in style and here the challenge is to deliver the modern style of décor demanded, while remaining in keeping with the often very traditional features and historical significance of some hotel buildings.
While boutique is still very much a buzz word, its original meaning was to distinguish, small, elite hotels, specialising in fine dining and a high standard of personalised customer service from some of the larger chains. While this still remains the case, there has been a clear effort on the part of everyone to up their game and deliver in these areas too. This trend is certainly going to continue and is forcing Boutique hotels in the original sense of the word to themselves offer greater choice.
This trend also extends from the interior generally, to specifics like the restaurant. Choice is becoming a watchword for many consumers now and having one basic offering is now proving insufficient. While many guests continue to demand the classical restaurant setting – others want the availability of other options, such as a private dining area or a Chef’s Table and many venues are now looking at these options as a way of delivering additional customer satisfaction and as a means for delivering a feast for the eyes as much as the appetite.
As well as keeping an eye on the visual aspect, culinary excellence is rapidly increasing in importance. While good food has always been a ‘bread and butter’ weapon in the good hotel’s armoury, ‘good enough’ just isn’t good enough any more. Increasing competition from the high standards to be found in many restaurants has led to a welcome increase in competition.
At one time you could expect a top hotel to provide some of the best cuisine in the area in which you were staying, but the advent of many more gourmet restaurants nationwide offering the very highest standards – many hotels have had to on the one hand offer food to an elite standard, yet at the same time, not lose sight of regular guests and diners still looking for classical simple cuisine as opposed to the latest cutting edge tastes and dining concepts.
This has undoubtedly served to raise standards across the board, which is good news for guests and the old claim that the very best food and service could only be found overseas is starting at last to ring hollow.
A good yardstick for the standards of food are the number of AA Rosettes a property has and thanks to the growth of social media, sites and apps, consumers and regular travellers are very standards and ‘awards savvy’ and are often very informed over which hotel has secured what award and what standard. The dilemma for many in the hotel business is the need to constantly strive for excellence and new levels of fine dining, while continuing to bring existing customers with us who prefer a more traditional, classical approach to cuisine.
Customers want choice – to indulge in high quality traditional favourites, or to indulge themselves and their clients with a more exclusive experience. Top-end hotels are increasingly offering Tasting menus and even a chef’s table experience for that added touch of exclusivity. One menu, unchanging from one season to the next is clearly less of an option in today’s marketplace.
As part of this trend, there is also an increasing focus on where food comes from – not just in terms of local authenticity, but in the traceability of ingredients too. At East Lodge for example, we have our own on-site smokery, vegetable garden and our own flock of hens and all meat is sourced from our local farms too. Provenance is increasingly important word in connection with food, and many venues will have a commitment to similar sourcing policies; those who don’t, probably soon will.
We could call this technology, but whatever you call it, the days when you could offer guests a few satellite channels and a morning newspaper are long gone. Guests and particularly business users expect free Wi-Fi – not just in their room, but easily accessible throughout the hotel to enable them to work, from in the bar area over a drink, in their room or even in the grounds.
In 2012 this may seem like an obvious trend to mention, but any seasoned traveller will know that even today this is by no means a universal offering. Even some luxury London hotels still charge (sometimes astronomical amounts) for Wi-Fi access, but with plans to extend free Wi-Fi to the capital as a whole, the pressure for hotels either to offer Wi-Fi, or offer it free is likely to become irresistible. A TV in the room again is not enough. People are looking for at the very least Wi-Fi access as above and the necessary power points to plug in appliances. While this used to be for a hairdryer, these days it is for a laptop or tablet.
Again, Wi-Fi is one thing, but the trend for this year is going to be delivering high speed internet access that business guests are looking for. It’s the added touches that can also make a big difference, so look out for things like iPhone docks in rooms too. Once the reserve of bigger establishments, many are now starting to offer a DVD/CD library for guests.
Value added features are also going to be big this year and this is another area where people look to stay one step-ahead. Complimentary tea and coffee in the room are a given. What else can you offer guests that will make their stay memorable and make you stand out from the crowd? For example, having your own branded umbrellas and making sure staff escort guests to their car under the umbrella in bad weather may seem a small and trivial point. Yet it is those small and carefully thought-out value adds that make all the difference from an ‘ok’ hotel and a ‘wow’ hotel.
Another growth area is in ‘take-away’ food. The fabled packed lunch is one thing, but increasingly we are seeing the growth in popularity for something a bit more special and the rise of the gourmet packed lunch, with champagne and smoked salmon and exclusive, branded packs and picnic baskets are coming increasingly to the fore.
At the end of the day, if you care passionately for your guests and what experience they have in your hotel and restaurant, none of the current economic challenges is insurmountable; old fashioned excellent service will always prevail in hospitality – in the long run.