VIEWPOINT

Bedford Lodge hotel chief executive Noel Byrne on the benefits of hotels joining consortiums

Noel Byrne, chief executive of Bedford Lodge Hotel & Spa, which joined Pride of Britain last month

Noel Byrne has been chief executive of Bedford Lodge Hotel & Spa in Newmarket for the past 11 years. The hotel was recently accepted into the Pride of Britain Hotels consortium, a move Byrne is pleased with and proud of.  

Why did Bedford Lodge Hotel & Spa join a consortium?: 

Over the last 10 years Bedford Lodge Hotel & Spa's owners have invested heavily in the product and staff have worked hard to establish the business. We've aspired to get up to four AA red stars for some time now and achieved that two years ago. Our staff worked hard to get to that point and continue to work hard maintaining it. That was the kicker really for looking at consortiums. 

Every independent hotel finds global marketing a challenge. How do you get your name out there to the masses in the least cost-based way? It’s very difficult for an independent. It’s easier for corporate groups as the cost is soaked up centrally, but for the independent that isn't possible. A consortium helps you do that and bring more people to your hotel to experience the hard work your staff put into it. 

What was it about the Pride of Britain consortium that appealed?: 

We were a member of Best Western 12 years ago and then for a short period of time a member of Classic British Hotels. While they gave us a degree of exposure, we never felt like we owned our own independence. We felt that we were having to be labelled and that people thought we were part of a corporate group.

We have always wanted to maintain our own identity which we have done so for the past six years without being part of a marketing consortium, but when we got the AA red stars we felt it was time to consider who we’d like to work with in terms of marketing and who did we feel that could best associate with.

There are four major consortiums which relate to our market. We get a lot of marketing already through the racing industry as a consequence of our location, but it was in other market segments where we felt we needed to develop ourselves. We looked at a range of organisations and we felt that Pride of Britain was possibly the most prestigious and exclusive consortiums for membership.

Pride of Britain give you the option of identifying yourself and give you the chance to stand on your own two feet and continue to be who you are whilst giving you the benefit of the membership to a group which has lots of other fringe benefits, from marketing, to purchasing, to partnerships with other brands. More importantly we would have to be judged by them, so you can join other groups and just pay to be a member. Whilst you’re paying to be a member of Pride of Britain, like the AA you have to satisfy their criteria and you’re being judged by your peers. In effect it is the membership of PoB who decide if you can be part of their group. 

Do you think being part of a consortium helps independent hotels take back some of the power from online travel agents (OTAs)?:

We’ve never had a major issue with OTAs in that we’ve always been very sure to stand behind our product. The company’s philosophy is not about profit being the forerunner to the business. For us, it’s about the customer’s experience and we’ve seen over the last five years that our revenues have grown substantially off the back of our product. We haven't had to discount. 

OTAs are very demanding but they are running their own businesses as well. We have had to turn away business directed at us through OTAs, because we didn't consider it worthwhile. We are realists and understand you need revenue to run a business, but I think sometimes you need to stand your ground and not give big discounts. If you believe in the quality of your product, there's no reason why you should. 

Discounting is a slippery pole. Benefits are better. If you can enhance a product for the benefit of the customer then I believe it's as good as a discount.  

What are your top tips to other independent hoteliers looking to join a consortium?: 

As I've said previously you’ve got to be honest about your own product and be loyal to it. Make sure your property is well maintained and look at it from your customer’s perspective.

Our experience is that guests have expectations before they've even come through the hotel's entrance. Here they can see the lawns have been manicured, the lamps have been cleaned and curbstones are jet sprayed. All those elements are important in starting a positive journey before they walk through the door. 

You have to get that right so that when Pride of Britain comes in as a mystery guest they see it as all your other customers do and it can't be denied whether it's good, bad or indifferent.  

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