Hotels need to get better at leveraging other leisure offers

Hotels, hospitality and the leisure industries need to be more joined up to leverage the opportunities that events such as concerts and sports bring to cities, according to a panel that debated The Concepts Leading the Way for Hospitality at AHC, Manchester on 12 September.

Nick Russell, Director of sports arena specialist IPW was particularly critical of the way that the hotel provision and operation within some UK cities fails to capitalise on the captive market that an events venue can offer a city.

“As city centres lose retail, everyone is looking at leisure to fill that space,” he said. “They are looking at both larger arenas of about 10,000-capacity and smaller of around 3,500, depending on the size of the town or city. However, the city doesn’t always link into the hoteliers to make use of the potential bed nights. It’s no good generating economic impact if you can’t capture it. It is a symbiotic relationship.”

That lost opportunity was evidenced in both the lack of hotel provision that some cities provide after opening a new arena and in the operation of those hotels, which are often not linked to the events taking place in their own neighbourhood.

“You can link up arenas and hotels, which can make the experience better. People have all sorts of different layers of spending and you can link those in and package them up to offer rooms and tickets, or simply to keep the bar open after an event and be playing the music that fits with the concert people have attended,” he stressed.

Simon Wood, Chef Patron and Director of the fining dining business Wood Restaurant Group, concurred and used the recent example in Manchester where in the space of a couple of weeks the city and region hosted Creamfields, a Liam Gallagher concert, Pride, international cricket, and both Manchester football teams playing at home.

“As a restaurateur, what we see is that hotel rates go up, so people stay one night and that [short visit] doesn’t encompass high end dinners. They might go for more accessible dining instead,” he said.

“We have to be agile, so we’ve looked at our demographic and revamped our product, with instead of a tasting menu a mix of small and large plates. So we haven’t compromised on fine dining but the customer is in charge,” he added.

Wood said that this reflected a more general trend, where people want to choose all the element of their trip.

“The customer wants to direct their own destiny. Bookings on an app for a neighbourhood would make that process simpler,” he added of joining hotels and residences with local facilities and restaurants.

One such example is the nearby Vita Group, where David Ancell, Chief Brand Officer, said that its city centre complex Union has around 1,600 beds, of which some are four bed apartments aimed at students, plus studio apartments run as serviced, short term accommodation.

“You have to be sensitive to how you work those models together, because the students want a community and the short-term stays just want the location,” he said. “On the student side we’re putting more into the check-in, where especially overseas students want to have a tour of the amenities, while for serviced apartments we’re doing the opposite and streamlining the check-in process. It’s about letting the consumer drive their own experience.”

Another leisure footfall generator are food halls and Simon Anderson, Founder of Ideas Food Consultancy, said that the concept is currently seeing major growth in the Middle East, while he pointed to the crowds that Borough Market still generates in London, and also the huge pulling power of Time Out Lisbon.

“We’re seeing a growth in global culinary tourism,” he said, echoing Russell’s view that hotels and dining should be closer aligned. “Altrincham Market was used as a catalyst for regeneration in what was an ailing town. Operators are currently looking at high street and empty department stores and culinary destinations are a major draw for visitors.”

The panel The Concepts Leading the Way for Hospitality took place at AHC in Manchester on 12 September.