There’s a hospitality divide, says Best Western

A SLOW recovery in the hospitality industry has created a sharp divide between London and the struggling British regions, according to a director at Yorkshire chain Best Western, which has avoided the slump.

Tim Wade, head of marketing at the group of mid-market independent hotels, said growth in the regions had been flat for two years but that Best Western was bucking the trend after embarking on a £1m promotional drive.

“It is still a very tough time for hotels,” he told the Yorkshire Post.

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“From a Best Western perspective we are having a strong year from bookings we are driving from our central office.

“(But) the country is split. London is still very strong but the provinces are still a struggle for hotels and haven’t grown significantly for two years.

“We are bucking that trend.

“That is a benefit of the Hotels with Personality campaign and investing at the right time.”

Mr Wade was speaking in the run-up to the end of the first year of Best Western’s promotional campaign, during which it put on roadshows in York, Edinburgh, Cardiff, Birmingham and London, advertised on television for the first time and joined forces with Visit England to promote the rebrand to the 600,000 people on their database who are interested in travel.

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The group, which has nearly 15,000 rooms, wants to differentiate themselves from “run of the mill” hotel chains in a fiercely competitive marketplace.

While chief executive David Clarke has refused to comment on rivals, it could be seen as competing with the more generic offer of chains Travelodge and Holiday Inn.

Mr Wade said enquiries from new hotels wanting to join the brand increased six per cent to 165 since the launch of Hotels with Personality.

The first month of the campaign saw incremental revenue – on top of natural growth – increase by £2.5m.

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Call volumes increased by 34 per cent and web traffic increased by 32 per cent, Mr Wade added.

Best Western, based in York, has added more four star properties to the group and overall there were 14 new entrants, from a total of 50 applications.

The group, which was founded 32 years ago, is Britain’s sixth largest by number of rooms and is the largest group of independently owned and managed hotels.

Its total number of hotels has dipped slightly to 271, compared to 275 last year.

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Mr Wade said that the firm makes judgements based on quality and the number of properties it has in an area before deciding whether to admit a hotel to the group.

“We target quality as much as quantity.

“You have to make sure you get the right hotels. It is not just for numbers’ sake.

“I think we can get to 300 or pretty close this year.”

Best Western aims to increase room revenues through a bounceback among business customers, and by attracting more leisure travellers.

It has seen strong interest from recession-hit customers taking shorter breaks in Britain rather than travelling abroad for their annual holidays, a trend which has also boosted Yorkshire’s vast hospitality sector.

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Mr Wade said the group had experienced a strong January with a 45 per cent growth in bookings through its York call centre and a 40 per cent increase in the number of calls.

Monday, January 10 was a record day for Best Western as it received more calls then previously on a single day.

It has also seen a strong start to the year for corporate book- ings.

Its financial year runs until Thursday and more financial details will be revealed when its annual report is published in June.

Central office turnover for the year 2009-10 was £89m.

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Keith Pope, director of Best Western, said the group had seen a “fantastic” start to the year, which led it to take on 10 more staff.

“January is usually a quiet month for bookings, especially last year when the country was hit by bad weather, but this year the telephone has been ringing non-stop.”

Hotels with a personal touch

The Hotels with Personality campaign set up by Best Western will last for at least five years and could be permanent, according to Tim Wade, head of market- ing.

The promotional blitz has involved advertising on television for the first time, with the first 30-second clip appearing initially in the break in Coronation Street, as well as launching a social networking campaign, advertising in newspapers and relaunching its website, as it seeks to tap into a younger market.

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The group marked the start of the campaign by dressing its head office, in York, as a circus tent with clowns and ringmaster.

At the time David Clarke, the chief executive, said: “It is not my ego that runs things, there is a business reason. My goal is to sell more bedrooms.”