A report by Harrogate Council has criticised local hotels for being expensive and having a damaging effect on conference business.
Titled ‘Barriers and Blockages to Economic Growth in the Harrogate District’ the report, commissioned by the the Overview and Scrutiny Commission of the Borough Council, said that conference organisers had complained about the lack of affordable accommodation.
The full report can be viewed here Barriers and Blockages to Economic Growth in the Harrogate District
Hotels in the town have reacted by saying that room rates were reasonable and subject to the inevitable supply and demand as large events come to the town.
The report claims that in some cases hotel prices are equivalent to London prices and that a number needed refurbishment and modernisation.
The Director of the Harrogate International Centre, Simon Kent said in the report that there was regular feedback from organisers of events suggesting that hotel prices in Harrogate, as well as some other UK venues, were too high and that prices were also increased when large events take place. He added that the Chartered Institute of Housing event had re-located their main annual conference to Manchester and cited hotel prices as a key factor in the decision to move.
The Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) announced their move to Manchester in the summer of 2011. They said the decision was made after a 3-year period of discussion with the Manchester venue.
Sarah Webb, Chief Executive of the CIH, commenting at the time of the announcement:
The CIH annual conference and exhibition is the flagship event in the UK housing calendar. It provides a unique opportunity for the whole of the housing sector – public, private and non-profit – to come together in one place to learn, improve and influence.
While Harrogate has provided a great home for many years, moving to Manchester will enable us to provide a better conference and exhibition, make the most of the state of the art facilities at Manchester Central and provide improved access and accommodation for exhibitors, delegates and visitors.
Councillor John Fox, Chair of the Overview and Scrutiny Commission said:
The purpose of the Report was to see what barriers there are to our District’s economy and whether there is anything the Council could do to help the economy.
The tourism industry is a major player providing several thousand jobs and generating nearly £50m per year.
The Commission received comments from a number of people. The Commission’s Report suggests that the Council and the Hotel building owners should discuss their investment plans to ensure that Harrogate provides good accommodation.
Harrogate, like other Conference and Exhibition venues, sees accommodation prices vary according to supply and demand, but we must recognise that visitors who leave feeling they have paid too much for their accommodation may not return. The Commission wants our tourism industry to be sustainable.
The Chief Executive of Yorkshire Agricultural Society, Nigel Pulling referred to the outdated nature of some of Harrogate’s hotel provision.
The General Manager of the Old Swan Hotel, David Ritson said:
Harrogate has a wide range of fabulous, traditional hotels and there number one aim is to provide a great experience to guests at all times of the year; a combination of price, service and quality of product.
It is fair to say that occasionally for a town the size of Harrogate demand outstrips supply however this is probably limited these days to one or two dates in the year, the trend for the majority of events over the last three years has been one of declining footfall.
The myth that we are ‘more expensive than London’ has been studied, alongside other cities during event times and the fact is that we compare favourably, in fact the Housing Show that has been quoted as leaving Harrogate because of hotel prices is paying similar rates in their key hotels in Manchester to those they paid here.
There were other major contributing factors for their decision including Harrogate’s lack of social housing that was not seen as a political ‘winner’ and more importantly Manchester council were able to sub vent the event with a six figure sum, something Harrogate were not able to do although Destination Harrogate and the HIC did assist financially in their last few years.
Hotel prices just like rail tickets and holiday prices, for example, do vary so an event or individual organising a stay in February on a Monday (A quieter time of the year) is likely to get a better deal than one in the middle of July or over a bank holiday when our calendars are busier .
Destination Harrogate continues to get involved with all of the organisations working hard to deliver business in to Harrogate district including the HIC, YEC and Visit Harrogate but Harrogate needs more than just the hotels to contribute and it is time that other sectors got involved with both finance and effort to help Harrogate prosper.
A notable omission in the report was any comment on the offering of the Harrogate International Centre and if it was competitive and attracting new business. There is also no discussion in the wider offering of the town and if Harrogate still attracts people as a visitor destination.
Although the report makes mention that groups need to work together in a more effective way, a report like this, given its selective scope, is unlikely to help achieve that.