What makes Edinburgh so special and appealing to MICE visitors?
Meet Tristan Nesbitt, the General Manager of the Sheraton Grand Hotel & Spa and Chair of the Edinburgh Hotels Association
Overlooking Edinburgh Castle, the Sheraton Grand Hotel & Spa is one of the city’s favourite meeting places in the heart of the city, with dedicated meeting and events space, complete with its own private entrance. Tristan will also discuss the role of the Edinburgh Hotels Association in the Capital.
Q: What is the co-operation at the destination like? Are you satisfied with the promotion and work of Convention Edinburgh?
We co-operate very well as a destination and participate in many trade shows and sales missions under an Edinburgh umbrella. We are of the opinion that the destination sells first and foremost and we aim to present a professional, dynamic and diverse choice for meeting and incentive planners.
Q: If there is one area where you would like to see immediate improvement, what would it be?
Historically I would have said better flight connectivity including more direct routes. However this has dramatically improved within the past few years with Edinburgh Airport now serving 120 direct air routes around the world including New York JFK, the Middle East (Abu Dhabi, Doha), and many new European destinations (including Vienna, Warsaw, Helsinki, Barcelona and Stuttgart).
Q: What trends do you think we will see in meetings and events in your city in the next 12 months?
I can speak on behalf of the trends that we are noticing at our hotel which include:
- We are noting a trend for late-lead bookings (typically the event will be taking place within a 3-month period).
- We are seeing more “spontaneous” business; traditionally there would always be an annual conference or event that would be planned a year in advance; but we are now receiving enquiries for this type of event sometimes just a month out
- Association business lead-time is also getting shorter
- European incentive programmes often happen within the year, rather than longer planning (US Incentives are still longer lead)
Q: What do you believe are the strong points for Edinburgh as a meetings destination?
There are too many to mention! On the meetings side, we have a wonderful choice of world-class conference venues and hotels. However the destination will always be the strongest pull, and Edinburgh is a World Heritage Site offering stunning architecture and a colourful history – I have heard many of our guests say they have felt inspired and energised after attending an event in our city. Edinburgh is also known as a centre of excellence in the world of science and the arts and the city has helped to develop some of the greatest scientific minds (Charles Darwin) as well as the most creative writers and artists (Robert Louis Stevenson). Today its four universities continue this tradition of innovation in education and it is a world leader in many areas of research and development in medicine, new technologies and the life sciences. Edinburgh is also home to the largest arts festival in the world (Edinburgh Festival Fringe) with live theatre and comedy performances. With this illustrious background, Edinburgh has always attracted international meetings and many delegates who love to visit our city.
Q: All of the big hotel groups are trying to figure out how to drive more direct bookings. What is The Sheraton Grand doing in that regard?
I would say that direct bookings may be more attractive when trying to drive leisure business, however I think it’s quite different for the MICE markets. We value our relationships with our overseas agents, ground handlers and DMCs and work hand-in-hand with these partners to sell the destination and offer our clients the complete package. For a convention or a large group there are so many factors involved – from transfers, accommodation, dinners, receptions and special events. You really need to work as a team to deliver the promise.
Q: What do you think the hotels could be doing better to improve customer experience?
Here are the Sheraton Grand Hotel & Spa, we set out to recruit talent– someone that has that natural instinct and a wish to make each and every guest experience an outstanding one! As well as attracting the right people from the outset, hotels must also take training very seriously to make sure they are constantly equipping their staff with the right skills and knowledge to make sure they deliver the best service, as well as to empower them with confidence.
Q: What should hoteliers really be thinking about more of in terms of staying ahead of the curve instead of falling behind it?
Technology is a key driver and today’s guests can now check in to their room with their smart phone and enjoy TVs that interface easily with their mobile devices. At Sheraton we believe that our guests seek effortless travel experiences and find value in simple, creative solutions that save them time and allow them to experience more while they are visiting a destination. Sheraton launched their Sheraton Grand tier just over a year ago, which recognizes hotels and resorts offering distinguished design, superior service, and exemplary guest experiences in iconic destinations. I am very proud that the Sheraton Grand Hotel & Spa, Edinburgh was the first hotel in Europe to be recognized within this Sheraton Grand tier.
Q: In terms of digital communications and marketing, what keeps you up at night?
We embrace digital communication and view social media platforms as fantastic tools in keeping our guests up to date with our imagery, news and offers. In addition, review sites such as TripAdvisor are an excellent means for guests to share their feedback and rate our service. This transparency means that hoteliers should be constantly raising their game to ensure consistent and exceptional service. We see this is a positive for the industry as this helps to drive high standards.
Q: How do you personally see UK’s meetings industry scene?
I can talk on behalf of Edinburgh’s vibrant meetings scene which is growing. Last year ( 2015-16) Convention Edinburgh reported its most successful year yet…having won 206 events which are set to attract more than 74,000 delegates – worth ?94.3m of local economic benefit alone. This represents 10,000 more delegates or a ?2.8million increase on the previous year’s figures. Edinburgh hosts the most international association meetings in the UK, outside London (source ICCA) and is ranked 35th business tourism destination in its 2015 World Rankings.
Q: What is the secret of a successful MICE destination?
Successful destination marketing is vital and that is why strong collaborations within the industry and a joined up approach are key. When it comes to the destination itself, I believe that authenticity is essential as well as diversity and that is why Edinburgh’s clever mix of modern versus tradition really works for the MICE markets. For example, we may have a group of conference delegates staying at the Sheraton Grand Hotel & Spa, Edinburgh who can enjoy our cutting-edge and modern facilities by day, and in the evening find themselves in a 12th century castle enjoying the finest, seasonal, local produce over a locally-crafted gin or whisky. That’s what makes our destination so special and appealing to our MICE visitors.