Friday, November 27, 2009

The Annual Cycle

As we head out of November and into the final month of the year, it is frightening to think how fast 2009 has raced by - just where has the year gone? - and that 2010 is virtually with us.

We are heavily into setting our budgets for April 2010 to March 2011 and we are hard at work sorting out our leaflets and our marketing materials to support the 2010 season - but before that we have a few weeks left before we close followed by a very hectic two month period when the Palace is closed (mid-December 2009 to mid-February 2010) and this heralds the annual deep clean when we try to reach every part - however high, low or hidden - and leave it sparklingly dusted, polished and gleaming ready for the new season.

2009 will always be remembered for the sensational success of the annual pass scheme; for the significant surge in visitor numbers (an extra 200k in the year!); for a number of iconic and memorable events and for the extensive location filming for 'Gullivers Travels'.

Looking into 2010 we start again from zero visitors and we must now be looking for a minimum of 500k visitors to maintain momentum from the current year and to maintain performance - sounds daunting but I have no reason to believe that the annual pass scheme will be any less successful in year two and thus this must represent a realistic and achievable target.

Next year will for certain see a General Election and a Football World Cup - who will win in each case and how will these "events" impact upon the country's mood and desire to enjoy their leisure time? General Election's can distract the country and World Cup's can either absorb our total attention (at the exclusion of all else) or it can put us into a deep depression! We shall see what evolves and I shall resist trying to predict outcomes or winners + losers!

What will the weather be like in 2010; what will happen to the strength of the pound, where will bank interest rates track during the year; and how will the recovery from the economic downturn pan out into the coming year - all factors that we cannot control but all factors that may (or could) (or will) have a significant influence on the performance of our visitor business through the coming year.

All of our managers are knee deep in budgetting - they love it really! - with excellent support and encouragement from Dominic and his team - and it will be tough to keep the focus on cost containment/control after such a positive year of trading whilst also driving repeat/new income streams for the business.

It will be interesting to see the first cut of the budget figures next week and to get an early insight into how things are looking - our progress over the last seven years has been exceptional but we cannot rest on our laurels and we must continue to push for 'growth with stability' so that we can continue to reinvest in the repair, restoration and conservation of this unique world heritage site for future generations to enjoy.

2009 has been a ground breaking year for so many reasons but that year - with only a few weeks to go - will soon be consigned to the history books and then we face the new challenge in making 2010 even more impressive!

It never ceases to amaze me how hard everyone works across the Estate and how unified we are as a team in both understanding the challenges across the business and in supporting + encouraging each other to drive the business forward - we are very fortunate to have such a talented and dedicated workforce at every level.

And so we must focus back onto the tail-end of the 2009 season - the Palace stays 'dressed for christmas' through to Sunday 13 December with our theme "Christmas Nostalgia - Toys, Treats and Treasures" bringing the Palace State Rooms to life and the fnal weekend (12 + 13 December) will see lots of choirs and singing in the Palace to give the season a good sewnd-off!

Our shops are full of wonderful gifts for christmas and from Tuesday we start selling our home-grown christmas trees - if you want to buy a "Blenheim" tree then call 01993-813196 or visit to place your order.

Christmas is coming and so is the next year - enjoy this special time and thanks for all your support!

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Anonymous Lisa Lowry said...

I have to say how much we enjoyed "Living Crafts for Christmas" event on Sunday 22nd Nov. It really was a treat seeing all the beautiful artwork, creations and lovely food and drink.
I enjoyed the feeling of celebrating in true British style in the run up to the Christmas Festivities and can take a little bit back with me to USA.
Thank you!
Lisa Lowry, Georgia, USA

November 30, 2009 at 12:20 PM  
Anonymous John Hoy said...

Thanks Lisa - great to get your feedback and delighted that you enjoyed your visit and especially your visit to Blenheim Palace.

We hope to see you again here very soon.

Best wishes


December 1, 2009 at 6:58 AM  

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Friday, November 20, 2009

Wow! What a week that was!

Since I was last able to write early on the morning of Friday 13 November, it has been an extremely busy few days - a brief summary follows:

>> Friday 13 November

A wet and windy day (highly appropriate for Friday the 13th) heralded the arrival of various dignitaries to celebrate our various awards this year - but particularly the Siver Award for our Green Business Tourism Scheme entry. Lady Penny Cobham (Chair of Visit England) and John Williams (Chair of Tourism South-East) joined the Duke in welcoming David Cameron (our constituency MP) to Blenheim Palace for these celebrations. At the last minute we were notified that David Cameron was being accompanied by Her Excellency Madam Fu Ying, the Ambassador of the People's Republic of China to the UK - she apparently wanted to shadow a British MP to see how they worked in their constituencies. Now this was a huge opportunity and after discussions surrounding Plans A, B and C, we eventually agreed to go ahead with the planned tree planting despite the rain. An inspired David Cameron (down to his shirt sleeves in the rain!) set about the tree planting and then invited the Ambassador to join him to signify the "Chinese Friendship Tree" at Blenheim Palace. A plaque will follow (well why wouldn't we!) and hopefully many thousands of Chinese tourists will flock to see the tree at Winston Churchill's birthplace! What had seemed a wet and miserable day turned into a triumph and everyone went away inspired and happy.

>> Saturday 14 November

A calm/sensible day which culminated in a delicious dinner at The Grove Hotel in Hertfordshire where we met up with the Keane's and the Woodies - very old and very special friends from our Knebworth days. The Grove Hotel was heaving - wedding, parties and diners everywhere you looked. Almost too busy with car parks overflowing - but who says there is still any recession?

>> Sunday 15 November

An early return from Hertfordshire in time to get Annabelle to school for the Chamber Choir to perform in the Sunday morning service. Always moving to see Annabelle sing and she is thoroughly enjoying being in the Choir - they have lots of exciting engagements including being in the final 6 for the BBC Songs of Praise School Choir of the Year and also a choir trip to Portugal next Spring - lucky girl!

>> Monday 16 November

Tracy and I headed into London for a special treat - we were invited to attend the Christies Dinner in their Great Rooms off King Street. A stunning evening where we were also able to see the HHA/Christies 25th Anniversary Garden of the Year Award Photographic Exhibition - some amazing photographs and an amazing exhibition - which incidentally moves to Blenheim Palace for 6 weeks when we re-open on 13 February for the 2010 season - assuming we can figure out how to display it!. With Victoria very very kindly looking after our girls at home, Tracy and I spoilt ourselves by staying at the fabulous Goring Hotel in Beeston Place. One of London's hidden delights and without doubt one of London's finest hotels - we had a wonderful evening and just for a change it was nice to pamper ourselves!

>> Tuesday 17 November

Attended the 36th AGM of the Historic Houses Association at The QEII Conference Centre in Westminster - an interesting and valuable day to network with owners and colleagues from across this important and valuable heritage sector. Saw many friends and enjoyed a very positive day - rushed back to pick up Annabelle from school at around 6pm as the choir were putting in extra hours in readiness for the BBC challenges that lie ahead next week!

>> Wednesday 18 and Thursday 19 November

Up to Castle Howard in Yorkshire for the annual Treasure Houses of England Owners and Managers meeting and AGM. 450 mile round trip (carefully avoiding A1(M) closure courtesy of sat nav route through Doncaster and Selby) for a very positive gathering - for once our stunning performance this year through our Annual Pass scheme put us top of the class for visitor performance - something which both the Duke and I quietly enjoyed! We were looked after in sumptuous fashion - black tie dinner on Wednesday in The Garden Hall at Castle Howard; overnight at The Worsley Arms Hotel in Hovingham, meeting on Thursday back at Castle Howard in The Long Gallery followed by lunch in the Grecian Hall prior to departure and the long drive home.

Got back to Blenheim Palace just in time to attend the christmas reception for our press/media contacts as well as for our Friends of Blenheim Palace. A warm and friendly event which seemed to be enjoyed by all of those present - well done to all of those here at Blenheim Palace who worked hard to set up and deliver this important annual event.

>> Friday 20 November

And so the cycle completes and I am back at my desk and finally able to catch up on emails, etc. Today is the first day of our "Living Crafts for Christmas" event - we pray for sensible weather as we have to park cars on grass and nobody wants the underfoot conditions to become too severe. Last nights rain has not helped but we will keep our fingers crossed!

Phew - what a busy days - but throughout I have been inspired by how positive, how generous, and how engaged everyone is with regard to moving themselves and their business interests forward through the remainder of 2009 and into 2010.

Hopefully the "Chinese Friendship Tree" will flourish - and hopefully our fortunes will flourish alongside it!

Have a good weekend

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Thursday, November 12, 2009

Christmas is coming!

October half-term out of the way, children back to school, in the midst of a very wet November and the christmas decorations are once again adorning our gates, courtyards and Palace.

Saturday sees the launch of our Palace Dressed for Christmas season with our theme "Christmas Nostalgia - Toys, Treats and Treasures" bringing the state rooms to life. Many toys have been kindly loaned to us (or should that be 'invited to stay') and loads of teddy bears, meccano, lego, cars, etc are carefully positioned amogst the trees and decorations so as to enhance a magical time to see Blenheim Palace. At this time of the year we are open Wednesdays to Sundays inclusive (through to Sunday 13 December) with various special christmas highlights for all to enjoy incding the "Living Crafts for Christmas" event from 20-22 November, Handel's Messiah performed in the Long Library on 6 December, and Festive Music and Carols over the final weekend - 12-13 December.

A great time to visit Blenheim Palace - and don't forget that the shops are full of tempting christmas gifts and our christmas trees are also on sale through most of December.

It has been a busy week having been away in Cornwall for a few days.

Cornwall was great fun - we rented a big house in Gillan (near Helston on the Lizard) with 2 other families from school and it was great fun throughout. 6 adults and 6 children got on brilliantly and we had great days out to the Maritime Museum in Falmouth, to St Ives, to the National Seal Sanctuary in Gweek, to St Michael's Mount + Porthleven and down to LIzard Point for some bracing fresh air! The slightly dodgy weather seemed an irrelevance and the evenings were filled with laughter and games (particularly some very feisty rounds of Scattegories!) - plus lots of food, wine and too much washing-up!

The only slight disaster occurred on the Thursday when all 12 of us were having fun on a large kids playground near St Michael's Mount (as you do!) and inspired by yours truly the adults were trying to run up a childrens slide - very irresponsible! All achieved it (eventually!!) but R (to maintain his dignity!) decided that it would be clever to moonwalk or surf back down the side and he ended up in a heap at the bottom with a badly damaged, bruised and swollen ankle. Not sure anything has broken but it was still very swollen (and turning a wonderful shade of deep purple) by the time we left on the Saturday - his wife, T, was singularly unimpressed as she was most likely going to have to drive all the way home whilst R "rested"! If only grown-ups could behave better!

A great week with fun people - would be good to return as Cornwall is such a pretty county and it was blissfully quiet having missed the main half-term crowds.

It has been a productive week but also a sad week as Remembrance Day this year seemed to carry so much more significance with Afghanistan dominating the headlines each day and all three remaining First World War veterans having passed away in the last year. So important that we never forget their sacrifices.

The weather forecast is dire for the next few days - hopefully we will all survive and that the weather will be kinder for our festive craft fair next week - this event needs fine weather and dry conditions for car parking - fingers crossed.

Have a good weekend and I will update you next Friday on a very busy week that lies ahead.

Have fun.

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