Breaking Travel News Interview: Sally Beck, Managing Director, Royal Lancaster London | To concentrate



In the hotel industry, not a day goes by without a new “iconic” product being brought to market. The future always arrives; the old is forever swept away to make way for the new glorious and unimaginable before. Over time, one learns to take such predictions with more than a pinch of salt. In general, things change a lot less than salespeople would like you to believe.

But, at the Royal Lancaster in London, there might be a glimpse of what tomorrow will look like. The new XR SmartStudio, installed in a ballroom shelved during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic earlier this year, allows customers to step into a brave new virtual world.

Developed in partnership with Smart AV, the facility includes an extended 20 square meter reality stage, complete with LED backdrop and floor, audio system, broadcast cameras and ready lighting. for television. It allows users to have both a live audience and virtual participants, generating a fully immersive 360-degree experience for both.

As Sally Beck, Managing Director of The Royal Lancaster, tells Breaking Travel News editor-in-chief Chris O’Toole, necessity has been the mother of invention.

“Everything was going well – we had completed renovations worth £ 85million, climbed TripAdvisor and got great reviews from our customers – and then, of course, it all came down to half with Covid -19, ”she explains. “We were taking the Royal Lancaster to where it could be and, in fact, should be. We tried to stay open, but closed on April 1 – reopening on the August bank holiday. The XR Studio played an important role in this reopening – and we started working on it at the end of March. We realized at first that things were going to be different and we worked with our partners in Smart AV to bring it to life. They’ve invested £ 1.5million in new equipment and they’ve taken up the space we would have filled with events without the pandemic. “

To date, hybrid events have seen a mix of attendees hosted, some staying in the hotel’s Westbourne suite and others virtually. Fully virtual events can also involve speakers prerecording their messages, which are then broadcast live or recorded for a later date. The Royal Lancaster team can even create an app for the delegate so they can choose which session of a conference they want to attend.

Beck continues, “When we started the lockdown we had a lot of things to do for the fall – but we saw that canceled or postponed. Annual events could skip 2020, or organizers postpone next year. But XR Studio changed that – our partners are realizing that while they may not be able to do what they originally planned, they are still able to do something. The equipment allows for events that are a mixture of physical and virtual – which allows events to take place, but for us to stay within government guidelines. There is still work to be done, with our partners learning how the technology works, but the feedback so far has been excellent. “

Of course, in the difficult times created by the pandemic, the costs are even greater than before – but virtual reality doesn’t mean a big blow to finances, Beck argues.

“A stumbling block has been the traditional model of an event, which uses a lot of sponsorship. Some were concerned that sponsors could not be involved in a virtual environment, but this was not the case. We have seen with clients who have used the studio so far that the sponsorship model is actually much more attractive in the virtual environment than in the physical environment. We’ve all been to events where the sponsors meet during the coffee break, hoping to speak to the guests, but they might be unable to do so. In XR Studio, the content is controlled by the audience and you can make sure the audience sees it, ”she adds.

“Once an event planner understands this, that funding for an event can still be maintained, then the adoption of the technology will be accelerated.”

There are limits to what the new studio can achieve, however, and a full recovery for the hospitality industry cannot be expected until a Covid-19 vaccine, or large-scale testing, is introduced. . It’s hard to make a lot of money with a virtual guest, who doesn’t have a bed, or anything to eat, after all.

“Banquets, weddings, they will last – but in terms of world travel, companies will wonder if they should send people around the world to shake hands. However, they still have to talk to their employees, so there will be a change in the way we meet and work globally, ”Beck continues. “Obviously this has an impact on the demand for accommodation, as well as food and drink, which we will have to meet. From a staff perspective, the limits on the number of people in the room include staff, so we need to keep our team to a minimum – so changes will be needed there. “

In person, Beck is a quietly inspiring character, reinventing the Royal Lancaster as the travel industry crumbles around her. She was recently awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award by Preferred Hotels & Resorts, which represents the property, and remains optimistic about the future.

She continues: “Hospitality has to be resilient, we cannot be shaken by what is going on – we will go through this and no matter what, we will learn to live with Covid-19. If you’re resilient, you can be creative – identify ways to make money, increase sales, and survive. The travel industry is extremely creative – we invented family rooms for the national leisure market, which we didn’t offer before, while transforming our meeting rooms into coworking centers. People don’t want to go to the office, but they still need to meet, so it’s perfect for them. Parking is making more money than it used to be because people want to drive more when we have received offers to take back the kitchens which we cannot currently use.

For Beck, the retaliation begins now.

“When will the recovery come? We are now recovering. We can’t afford to wait six months, ten months for the turn to be turned – we have to see how we can increase our income now. We have to adapt – we cannot just wait for the international market to return, because we will die. At the same time, we need to take care of our partners, staff and guests – business will come back and we don’t want to do something in the short term that will hurt us in the long run. “

We all have our role to play, she concludes: “In London, there is not enough domestic tourism to help us out. In the countryside, there has been a kind of boom, but people don’t want to come to the cities now, so this market has not been an option for us. We get up to 20% occupancy on weekends – and we need that to change. I would encourage Londoners to explore their neighborhood and support their local hotels.

More information

The Royal Lancaster is a contemporary and stylish hotel next to Hyde Park and a short walk from Paddington Station, Bayswater and Marble Arch in central London.

Find out more on the official website or take a virtual tour of the property here.


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