Last week saw three piece of news of potential interest to the wider tourism industry and especially to destination managers:
1. Lone Star the American property investment giant behind the SSE Arena at Wembley has taken full ownership of the UK’s biggest coach holiday operator, Shearings, which offers coach, air, rail, cruise and hotel breaks to destinations in the UK and oversea. Shearings also owns and operates c 50 hotels all in major UK destinations. Wigan based company last changed hands in a management buyout in 2014.
1.1. Lone Star are expected to grow the company by a series of selective acquisitions before looking to resell in a number of years’ time. The first of these acquisitions, that of: Equalmatch, a specialist firm which owns the Travelstyle and UK Breakaways brands, has already taken place As a major player in the domestic tourism market and with its own portfolio of destination based product and a distinctly destination based offer Shearings are a company that many destination managers would do well to watch.
2. The Hotel Collection represented by Savills and Rothchild has brought to market a portfolio of 10 regional hotels in the UK including the Imperial, Blackpool and Torquay, The Majestic Harrogate, The Old Ship Brighton, Billesley Manner Stratford on Avon, Stirling’s Highland Hotel, Aberdeen’s Altens Hotel and the Angle Cardiff.
2.2. Between them the hotels offer 1,433 rooms, all are significant properties and all are major players within significant leisure and business destinations. Any news of potential buyers and especially firm news of their subsequent plans for the future direction for either the portfolio or for individual hotels within it are keenly awaited by those in the destinations involved.
3. At a brief hearing at North Staffordshire justice centre Merlin Entertainments pleaded guilty to breaching health and safety laws following last year’s serious accident on The Smiler ride at Alton Towers. As a consequence of the guilty plea they could face an unlimited fine when sentenced at a later date in the year.
3.1. Following last Friday’s hearing Merlin has come under some public criticism for its recent handling of the accident, although more informed opinion suggest that their honest and forthright approach throughout has done much to mitigate the potential damage to reputation and to the business. It is therefore cited as a potentially good example of how to handle such difficult situations, accepting that no approach in such regrettable circumstance can ever be perfect.
3.3. Meanwhile Merlin’s share prices and UK business levels have seemingly recovered to pre incident levels after an understandably difficult period following the accident in 2015. The size and timing of any fine, which is likely to be significant, together with the degree and nature of any resulting press reaction and comment, will be critical to Merlin’s UK performance in 2016, especially but not by any means exclusively to that at their Alton Towers site. Hopefully dented but not irreparably damaged Merlin will put this incident behind them and continue to operate and grow a wide range of highly successful products both within major UK destinations and at their own standalone destination sites.
3.4. In normal times Merlin don’t really need to have their importance within the domestic market publicly recognized by the rest of the industry, nor do they need any public expressions of support from the industry to help their business succeed. That said, I do wonder whether these are, “normal times” and therefore what if anything could or should be done?