Thursday 30 April 2015

Touches on Tour at the UK Blog Awards

For months I had been boring people at 4Networking groups across the North West that I was up for two UK Blog Awards in my 40 seconds pitch ! Now it was time to head down to London to see if I could flourish in Food & Drink and triumph in Travel.

Choo Choo Thomas

Having booked my train tickets in advance, I was armed - like all substantial journey British train travellers - with my pack of orange playing cards. Yes, even though trains were privatised many moons ago, there is not such much of a hint of this when it comes to ticketing. 

Here's the situation: if I wish to get a train from Bolton to London I have no choice but to engage with the services of First TransPennine express for the Bolton to Manchester part of the journey and then Virgin Trains for the Manchester to London leg. As with most industries that were privatised, what has happened is that they have gone from being a public monopoly to being private monopolies

I accept the fact that the zig zag National Rail logo is being retained, but I firmly believe that the orange needs to be axed in favour of red for Virgin Trains and purple for FirstTransPennine express etc on all tickets. Network Rail can continue to kid themselves, but the fact is the rail system is a collection of private monopolies and not a fully integrated public transportation system like it should be. Orange represents a bygone era that they are clinging onto, whereas they should accept that signposting the various ticket elements - in glorious bespoke branding and technicolours - should be at the heart of all they do.

In my view this is what my deck of orange cards should have looked like:

  • Bolton to Manchester - Purple for FirstTransPennine express
  • Manchester to London - Red for Virgin Trains
  • Bolton to London terminals - Dark blue. This is the London Underground ticket, but there is not a whiff of it being so in writing on the ticket. I had to ring an 0345 number the night before to confirm that I could use it to do "open sesame" at the barriers ! 
The addition of a small logo for each individual monopoly at the side of the National Rail zig zag would also alleviate any concerns about my propsals for those that are colour blind. Zig zag and F, zig zag and V and zig zag and roundel, leading to less stressed, card-shuffling passengers and slicker validation by staff. 

In a recent Daily Mail article, it has been confirmed that tickets are changing (for the first time since the 80s), but do not get your hopes up too much...


Photo removed due to miserable stock photo agency


Photo removed due to miserable stock photo agency

I welcome with open arms the move to abolish the separate seating reservation coupon and place the information on the main ticket, but that does not go far enough in my opinion. Over three decades have passed, with unprecedented levels of social and technological change, therefore I hope - for the nation's sake - that when it comes to trains the future's bright, the future's not orange. 

That was a party political broadcast on behalf of The Detail Delights Party. Anyway, got to Manchester Piccadilly at 11.03, rushing as always because there's not much time to get off, get up a flight of stairs, get your ticket checked, look at the allocated platform, go down another set of stairs and then march down the gangway passing carriage after carriage.  

Smooth operator

Virgin's seat reservations were displayed digitally, compared to the backseat paper pokers of First Transpennine express. An unofficial detail which delights was also found in the form of two googly eyes that had been added to the onboard alarm system. Indulge in more so-called eyebombing by clicking here to immerse yourself in what the founders see as "humanizing the world, one googly eye at a time."                                        

The journey to London flew by, which makes me question if the whole HS2 malarkey is really worth it. Signage on the London Underground was crystal clear too, so no worries on that front. I had been keeping my eyes peeled for one of the Underground's legendary thoughts of the day, but did not spot a single one throughout my whole journey. It is perhaps only natural to throw over to BuzzFeed at this point for what could have been. 

Budget accommodation behemoth

The award ceremony was being held at the five-star The Montcalm, and my hotel was located slap bang behind another of the capital's legendary five-star haunts, The Landmark (which coincidently used to be British Rail's head office). Checking in at the London Central Marylebone Travelodge, there was a bit of a wait to check-in, but I used the opportunity to discover that a small bottle of Coke would set you back £1.75 from the well-stocked vending machines. Budget beds, but clearly no budget bevs ! The gentleman who checked me in was very friendly, asking "Have you stayed with us before?" and reassured me that if I needed more teas, coffees, milks etc to pop back and see him. 

I had been allocated room 402, fourth floor, which meant that I was only a digit away from being able to sing a McFly song. The lyrics to Room on The 3rd Floor state:
Room on the third floor, not what we asked for
I'm not tired enough to sleep.
One bed is broken, next room is smoking
Air-conditioning's stuck on heat. 
And outside it's raining, hear the Guests upstairs complaining
About the room that's got their TV too loud.
Guess it's times like these remind me, that I've got to keep my feet on the ground. 

Wake up early, round seven thirty
Housekeeping knocking on my door.
Do not disturb sign, the back of her mind
I must have left it on the floor.

My eyes are hurting, 'cos the cheap nylon curtains
Let the sunlight creep in through from the clouds.

 'Cos the times like these remind me, that I've got to keep my feet on the ground. 


I was asked where in the building I would like my room to be. The room was immaculately clean and there was no smell of smoke. Signage was clear throughout about no smoking and the room temperature was just right. Not a peep could be heard from the other rooms and in the morning there was a knock from housekeeping - but it was about 60 seconds before I was ready to leave.  And as for the curtains, they were so effective that they caused the sun to do a total eclipse.

Harsh words?

If you run a B&B, Guest House or Hotel and cannot do the basics like Travelodge exceptionally well then you are in the wrong line of business. By that I mean:
  • 100% cleanliness in 100% of Guest all times
  • 100% maintenance in 100% of Guest all times
  • 100% cleanliness in 100% of public all times
  • 100% maintenance in 100% of public all times
  • 100% friendliness by all times
Naturally, at Little Touches we like to take the tight baseline above and go beyond this to inject creativity by the bucketload into our clients business, however we also recognise that some establishments provide low-cost accommodation on par with Travelodge and Premier Inn, indeed sometimes they do it better. That is why on our booking engine LT Details Club there is the option to put yourselves forward to be marketed under our Triple C strand - clean, cosy and comfortable. 

Compelling concept

Logically, I didn't find room service menus nor a welcome folder, but I did find almost everything else for an overnight stay. Plus, if I was to need a hairdryer or iron and ironing board then reception had got it covered. The Travelodge colour palette is also used appropriately: curtains, bed throw, wall art and tub seat all dipping in or brought out of the red, blue and grey. 

Design triumphs include backlighting and in-built bedside lighting. One of the main bugbears that many accommodation providers tell me about certain accreditation schemes is their one-size fits all approach, whereby often you cannot get a particular star rating unless you have a bedside lamp on either side of the bed. Perhaps a Travelodge approach would overcome this lamented aspect of you know who's criteria. Then again, they could always engage with us as we take into account the full, fat, historic nature of their building and do not bar establishments from getting a higher rating if it is not physically possible to let there be bedside light ! 

Spoons at a 60 degree angle appeared to be a Standard Operating Procedure and another TL SOP saw the hospitality caddy containing:
  • 4 UHT milks
  • 2 tea
  • 2 regular coffee
  • 2 decaffeinated coffee
  • 6 sugars 

If you are an owner or General Manager reading this and your refreshment sachets fall below this number, then you are subliminally saying to your Guests in a subconscious truth kind of way that "they'd be better off at Travelodge or one of Lenny Henry's purple palaces." Travelodge and Premier Inn are so, so soooooooooo good at what they do, at least match them if you are chasing the budget market and if you are mid to high-end, here's my PG Tip: give a couple of handfuls and don't be afraid to hand out hot chocs and go the extra mile with camomile.  

The Landmark, London
A city escape with a classic London view
Below, ease of opening bottles and six as standard clothes hangers

The main event

The drinks flowed, the nibbles did their rounds and the bloggers networked in the exquisite setting of The Montcalm's Grand Ballroom. Hosted by Vlogger Andy Samuels, with music by DJ Roman Kemp (the actual son of Martin !), big thanks must go to UK Blog Awards founder Gemma Newton. However, for me personally the standout star of the night was Kristian Dando from headline sponsor Go Compare who did a fantastic couple of minutes on blogging being the highest form of free speech. Cookie cutter, status quo, business as usual organisations are under attack from bloggers like myself and I thrived being in a room chock-full of other like-minded doing things differently people. 

More big danke schons need to be extended to the gang from Peachy PR and Sally from The Cambridge Raincoat Co who took me under their wing for the evening. What made the night even more special was that the theming of Alice in Wonderland was spot on due to the intricate work of Event Trees

Tom Metcalf and Peachy PR at UK Blog Awards 2015

The big reveal

In the Food & Drink category we were beaten by Fed up and drunk and in the Travel category WWF got the gong. I am probably boring people keep saying this, but my jaw hit the deck when I found out Little Touches was a finalist in two categories.  As a year-one business to be up against real heavyweight household name brands in Travel - including Thomson and Teletext holidays - was truly gobsmacking.  

Terrific toilets

In all honesty the toilets at The Montcalm deserved an award of their own. If the Loo of the Year inspectors were there they probably would have been doing cartwheels with excitement. Not only were tissues well stocked in decorative casing, when it came to hand drying the paper towels looked and felt quality. This is in stark contrast to the bluey green ones that most of my generation were used to throughout school. I'm not going to lie, I would have preferred mini cotton hand towels with a basket to put used ones in, but it was a nice surprise to find an upmarket version of a paper towel on my big night out in the big smoke. I hereby throw down the gauntlet to more places to up their loos. 


                                   MORE THIS

Onwards and upwards

Little Touches might not have the big blog budgets or the sizeable teams tasked with churning out content day to day, but I feel that an epic post around once a month works for us. OK, so maybe we are not everyone's cup of tea, but I am incredibly flattered that feedback from our most committed readers all leans to them liking the blog because I have developed - in their view - an outlet for outlandish no holds barred hospitality insight that is refreshingly different. 

Written by Tom Metcalf

Founder and Lead Consultant 

 Little Touches ®
Improving B&Bs, Guest Houses and Hotels
Google Plus

No comments:

Post a Comment