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Strathclyde Business School

Putting customers first: The key to Scottish Hospitality’s future

By Laurie Nicol - Posted on 2 May 2013

Laurie Nicol, General Manager of Grand Central Hotel, discusses how her experience of the Executive Masters in Hospitality and Tourism leadership programme helped her to focus on the next stage of her career…

Scottish tourism is facing a difficult time. According to recent figures from the Office for National Statistics overseas visitors to Scotland fell by 5% in 2012, while Caterer and Hotelkeeper’s own research points to a 7.5% drop in hotel bookings during the same period.

While the hospitality industry appears to have weathered the current financial climate better than some, we’d be naive to be complacent and positively foolish to think our only option is to fall back on the hard-sell or heavy discounting to improve occupancy rates.

No, Scotland’s hospitality industry must focus more on the level of service provided to its customers, as it is this which can mean the difference between success and failure.

Hospitality and tourism industry body, People First, suggest 61% of employers have an issue with customer handling skills among their staff – the number one skills concern for the future.

Scotland has always been a prominent tourist destination in Great Britain and next year’s Commonwealth Games provides the perfect opportunity to further raise its profile on the world stage.

The increase in cost for electricity bills, food and drink have all negatively impacted hotel management, as well as the way the public spend their money; which has led to more emphasis being placed on cost saving. Industry leaders have become more inclined to focus on sales and less on customer satisfaction.

But is this wise? Having worked within the hospitality industry for more than 20 years, in business development, operations and management, I think it’s vital to make sure customers receive the quality of service they pay for.

These days, hospitality managers need an understanding of business practice, human resources, customer service as well as food and drink. The pressure can be high but it’s necessary to drive forward business growth.

I spent the better part of two years building the reputation of Grand Central Hotel in Glasgow as its General Manager. Saved from closure, the building received a £20 million refurbishment investment which gave the hotel a completely new lease of life to the extent Grand Central is enjoying a renaissance and offers a unique experience. More recently, when Starwood Capital added Grand Central to its portfolio, through its acquisition of Principal Hayley, I took a step back and noticed an opportunity to further develop my skills as a leader.

The Executive Masters in Hospitality and Tourism leadership programme was beneficial for me because I could learn from others and gain valuable insight into valuable business tools such as the practical application of social media – something I hadn’t really considered before.

The hotel industry is always changing and you have to adapt and change with it. The demands of your guests mean we have to anticipate what they want before they want it. And that’s where the strategy comes in. Having learned new ways of using my existing knowledge to look at the bigger picture, there is an opportunity to plan and develop new ideas that will build on Grand Central’s current success.

What do you think makes an excellent industry leader? What issues do you think face the hospitality sector? Please let me know in the comments below.

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