Traditionally the independents in any industry have a built-in dislike of the chains, which have a habit of moving into locales and using their economies of scale to price the one-off incumbent out of business.
Thankfully, the independent market in the UK is a thriving one – it’s not like the ‘Starbucks effect’, where indie coffee shops would find themselves on the same street as the American conglomerate and unable to compete on either price or brand recognition. In any case, big hotel chains are not generally interested in running a slew of boutiques with fewer than 25 rooms – they’re interested in the monolithic ‘big earner’ style of hotel, with dozens of homogeneous rooms that are operationally easy to maintain.
Nonetheless, even the independents should welcome Travelodge’s input at the Conservative Party Conference earlier this week. They hosted an event called ‘New Champions: Unlocking the skills and growth potential of unexploited sectors in the UK economy’. There was a rather heavyweight panel present at the event:
- Nick Boles MP, Minister of State for Skills and Equalities,
- Peter Gowers, CEO, Travelodge,
- Ufi Ibrahim, Chief Executive, British Hospitality Association,
- Dr Gerard Lyons, Chief Economic Advisor to the Mayor of London,
- The Baroness Neville-Rolfe DBE CMG
It is truly excellent that this took place for a number of reasons. First, at the very least, the Prime Minister would have known it was taking place – even the most aloof of front-benchers are likely to have had a look at the seminar programme at their own conference to see what was booked in. As the industry continues to fight to get its voice heard on issues such as the Cut Tourism VAT campaign, it can only be a good thing that the top brass in the UK government have at least seen the word ‘hospitality’ as they discuss economic policy over coffee between speeches.
Second, the BHA and the Institute of Hospitality (IoH) are not, on their own, a sufficiently powerful lobby to influence legislation. Westminster politicians tend to refer to trade associations of all sectors with the dismissive term ‘special interest groups’, and it is language like that which allows the concerns of this groups to be more readily ignored.
Noble as a trade association can be in its lone endeavours, getting a major brand like Travelodge to put its name to the discussion is an effective propellant for the movement. Part owned by Goldman Sachs, Travelodge is effectively ‘part of the family’ – if it’s the concern of a major investment bank (a cynic might say), it is by extension the concern of the Conservatives. Hopefully enough of a concern that they are listening.
It’s probably unfair to pit major hotel chains against independents as a ‘them and us’ scenario, but in this instance, a big competitor to the independent has done a bit of shouting on everyone’s behalf.