September 2022, Virtual
September 29 2022, Virtual
Now in its 27th year, the Business Travel Awards
Andrew Pring, regional director London and South East for Ramada Jarvis talks about competing against the major chains
When the balance shifted at least some of the way from the hotels to the corporate buyers in the annual negotiations last year, most hoteliers knew they were in for a tougher year than expected.
It was a shift that was not lost on Andrew Pring, regional director London and the South East for Ramada Jarvis, who candidly admits: "These are challenging times."
To complicate matters, as the market forces moved and the future darkened, Ramada Jarvis opened its new flagship hotel near London Heathrow Airport. The former hotel on the site was demolished in 2006, save for its listed facade.
In its place, a new £27m 200-roomed hotel with a restaurant, bar, business centre and five meetings rooms has been built. The new Ramada London Heathrow opened in October, four months after its originally planned opening in May. Its first guests arrived as the recession began to take a grip.
To make matters a little more worrying, the new hotel is in that stretch of the A4 road where several other hotels, including a Premier Inn, a Travelodge, a Sheraton, a Radisson and Holiday Inn compete for business.
This has not daunted Mr Pring who said the new hotel's bookings are "exactly where we expected them to be after three months."
He added: "It is going very well. It is a brand new hotel and it will take time to establish itself. We have got some good corporate business already but it is a challenging market."
This new Ramada is aimed primarily at the business traveller. Mr Pring estimates that the ratio of business to leisure traveller at the property is 70:30, although he thinks this will ease to 60:40 in the summer months.
To meet this demand, there is WiFi throughout the hotel, 24 hour room service, the business centre, teleconferencing and the five meeting rooms. Three of these can be combined into one room with space for 80 people, theatre-style while the smaller ones are, he says, ideal for private or confidential meetings.
There are also interactive televisions in all the bedrooms with internet access - a facility he believes will become as accepted and expected as en suite bathrooms did 20 years ago. It is also one of those extras that can be thrown in to make a corporate deal more attractive.
But these are almost the trimmings. The real battle in these straitened times is over rates and access to them.
"The industry challenge at the moment is over rates," Mr Pring said. "From the Ramada group point of view, we have the rates. The Best Available Rates (BAR) are also always on our website."
This is a newly developed facility in which Ramada is placing a lot of hope in the vital business of maintaining its share of the market. The site is interactive and corporates with deals with the group can log in with their unique number to secure their negotiated discount.
Ramada's aim is to drive new bookings through its website as this avoids bookings through the GDSs which carry a fee.
While good, competitive rates are vital they are not the whole story. Where smaller chains like Ramada Jarvis, which has 42 hotels in the UK, can not compete is in the multi-million pound marketing that the big boys can undertake to keep their name in the public and corporate eye.
"We don't have glossy adverts but we do keep close ties to the trade journals. Our business is predominantly driven by our sales force. We have both regional and national sales teams. That is why we have been able to attract corporate business," Mr Pring said.
Among its major clients are IBM, GSK and Barclays. But there is a layer of smaller clients who together constitute a large share of Ramada's corporate business. "Our general managers are expected to go out and meet local people and local businesses," he said.
This immediate connection with the community was one of the things that persuaded Mr Pring, after 20 years with larger chains like Forte and the InterContinental Hotel Group, to join Ramada.
"It was like a breath of fresh air. We are a small company. We are small enough to care but big enough to make a difference so we can compete with the big boys. We don't have their bureaucracy and we can respond very quickly without the politics getting in the way.
"We can make decisions quickly and disseminate them into our business quickly. The chain of command from the managing director to the regional sales director is very small."
This makes it easier for Ramada to hold its own and even to look to expand.
(The structure of Ramada Jarvis is quite complicated. Jarvis Hotels was founded in 1990 by John Jarvis. In 2001, it signed a franchise agreement for Ramada International Hotels to run its properties in the UK. Ramada itself is owned by Wyndham Hotels. Ramada now runs the 42 properties to the standards required by Jarvis.)
In the past few years, Ramada Jarvis has spent £58m re-furbishing its properties, including £18m spent on its Manchester hotel. This is distinct from the £27m spent on the new Heathrow property.
This re-furbishment along with "good" locations throughout the UK has put the group in a strong position to maintain its market share.
But the challenge, Mr Pring said, especially in the current downturn, will always be there.