I was recently involved in helping an overseas organisation source a meeting space and accommodation for around 25 persons for later this month and was surprised just how complicated it became, even though it is taking place in our softer summer period.
Despite decisions taken in the past as to where to geographically locate conference and meeting facilities, the vast majority of organizers and attendees overwhelmingly prefer to have accommodation within close proximity, if not an integral part of the lodging offering. That’s why the closure of the former Dover Convention Centre was probably one of the most unwise policy decisions made by any government during our tourism history in my humble opinion.
By virtually any standards, accommodation and a suitable meeting space for a small number like 25, should not present so many challenges, but in this case it necessitated contacting ten different hotels. Only six responded at all, and of the ones who did we ended up with a shortlist of one, within the clients time lines to allow sufficient time to invite and make travel plans for the possible and confirmed delegates.
The Dover Conference Centre gave so many options with a huge range of accommodation choices at nearly all budgets within easy walking distance. It also gave the stand alone restaurants and bars in The Gap the chance to benefit. This is particularly attractive, especially to first time visitors.
When the proposed Hyatt and Westin finally open both with extensive incorporated event spaces, of course there will be more possibilities to attract larger conferences and events. But there still remains a void in the smaller meeting facility offerings and I wonder if we should not be looking at this, if it is the national intention to support the small hotel sub-sector.
Our current 100 plus small hotels (under 75 rooms) are already under a considerable trading disadvantage, when compared to the new construction larger entrants into the accommodation pool, even if you dismiss the extraordinary tax concessions granted to a tiny few.
Few can doubt the employment these massive hotels can generate, but surely this should not be the only consideration. A question that still has to be answered is where are we going to find the hundreds of staff and management who are trained to at least a 4 star standard to protect the integrity of these global brand names?
Will a systematic programme of training be put into place shortly, recruiting and exposing employees to a level of service taken for granted by guests attracted to these established groups?
The clear danger is that if this does not take place prior to opening, once again our cherished visitors will be exposed the word ‘transition’ which regrettably was repeated time after time to justify below par service when we stayed at one the recently re-opened big name south coast hotels.
For a long time our small hotels have dominated the highest guest satisfaction ratings in forums like TripAdvisor and other critical decision making social media sites.
Presumably, that also relates to the repeat level of returnees to our shores.
Should we not question what exactly differentiates us as a destination from others, when they also may offer a large proportion of identical concrete slabs of rooms, but which are totally devoid to the architecture of their environs?