Sunday, February 28, 2010

Goodbye February; Goodbye Rain?

What a horrible wet, windy and miserable weekend to finish February - visitor numbers have suffered as have spends in our shops and cafes - but it is no surprise that numbers are low in such weather and given the extensive live sport on TV to keep people at home - assuming of course you like a diet of rugby, football and winter olympics!

Roll on March and hopefully better weather as our start over the first two weeks has been decidedly average - as they say, things can only get better!

Last week raced along with a few interesting occasions including a visit on Tuesday to Confex at Earls Court. This event for years has represented the main show in the UK for the Conference and Events business and I have attended in some guise or other for more years than I can remember. This year we were merely represented on the Sodexo Prestige stand (as they carry out all of our catering at Blenheim Palace) and the show on the Tuesday/the first day was worrying quiet. The aisles were too empty and a number of regular exhibitors were not present this year - the doom merchants would cite the economy as the primary reason and I have no doubt that this was a huge factor - but I also think that people are generally working in different/smarter ways to engage with clients and to secure business. Familiarisation visits; one-to-one meetings and the power of the website (and other more modern media streams) are replacing the traditional slog (and expense) of standing at trade shows for days on end. We enjoyed a reasonably good Confex over the three days but it has in the past been much stronger - does this signify a turning point in how we do business? It will be interesting to watch and see.

Wednesday saw Roger File (our Property guru) and I joining the Carter Jonas conference at Blenheim Palace where we talked to them before lunch before hosting them on a tour around the Estate after lunch - Roger and I hosted a coach each as we visited the Bottling Plant and various development sites in varying stages of completion. All went well - well, all finally all went well! The coach route took us out of Combe Gate on the western side of the Park - a gate which normally works on the button press of a remote control - simple! - but on Wednesday the mechanism was faulty and the gate was locked with a huge chain and padlock. No problem, Roger gave me the four digit code - with various complicated instructions about what to squeeze and when! - and I got out of the coach to quickly open the gate at around 2.09pm - or so I thought. Unbeknown to me, the gate code had been changed at 2.00pm and a message had been left on my phone which was on silent in my pocket! I radioed Roger - with a slightly desperate tone in my voice - to find out that the code had changed. Roger supplied new code; Graham, one of our excellent managers, arrived on cue to open the gate and we carried on with our tour. The 50 on my coach thought it was very funny to see the CEO temporarily locked in; the 50 on Roger's coach were highly amused to hear the slight strain in my voice over the radio; and generally it was an entertaining moment for everyone on our radio system. Ho ho ho - we did laugh!!

On Thursday morning it was into Oxford early to attend the County Council/City Council Business Breakfast - a good gathering and a very valuable opportunity to network with colleagues in the public and private sectors. Especially important as the emerging Destination Management Organisation ("DMO") for Oxfordshire moves closer - exciting/interesting times. We are going to host the next Business Breakfast at Blenheim Palace in June - frightening to think that this will be AFTER the General Election which is now only a few weeks away. Poll predictions are swinging fast and furiously - it should be an interesting campaign.

The week ahead looks busy both at home and at work. The builders arrive to start work on the long awaited kitchen project (so we need to prepare ourselves for many weeks of chaos!); various meetings should move the DMO forward and most worryingly my mother goes into hospital for a fairly major operation on Tuesday. She is a remarkably tough 85 year old and I am sure she will be fine - but it will be a relief to know she is through the operation on Tuesday and I will go over to Cambridge on Wednesday to see her. Luckily my sisters both live very close to my mother so they are able to be more "on-site" if needed.

Roll on March; roll on some sunshine and lets hope the week ahead goes well - especially for my mother.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Arranging a Group holiday to the Cotswolds so have been checking on places to visit - Blenheim Palace sounds wonderful - so hopefully we shall be coming. My good wishes to your Mum I hope all goes well. Regards.

March 1, 2010 at 2:35 PM  
Anonymous John Hoy said...

Blenheim looks glorious now that we have some blue sky and sunshine - so please do visit and enjoy this wonderful world heritage site.

Many thanks for your good wishes regarding my mother - very kind of you.

John

March 2, 2010 at 5:51 AM  

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Saturday, February 20, 2010

High's and low's

What a frustrating week - such a variety of high's and low's amidst generally depressing weather!

The high's included enjoying "Les Mis" in London on Wednesday with Tracy and the girls (such a powerful and emotional musical) and a number of very positive meetings for future events at Blenheim Palace - including the first Orvis Fly-Fishing Fair to be staged on Sunday 11 April 2010. There was also a very positive meeting to look at the future restoration of the Willis Organ in the Long Library at Blenheim Palace and some fund-raising efforts to be launched over the coming months.

The low's, apart from the weather, were particularly centered on Thursday - when it also managed to rain virtually all day. They say things come in three's - well that was certainly true on this particular day.

Incident one was two of our retail staff crashing one of the staff cars into a tree into the Park and writing it off - the car that is! Thank goodness both members of staff survived virtually unscathed, as did the tree, but the car is a mess. Still not entirely sure what caused such an outcome as no other vehicles appear to have been involved - but not a good start to the day.

Roll forward to lunchtime and incident two. I was concluding a lunchtime meeting with Kelvin Thomas (the Chairman of Oxford United Football Club who are closing in on promotion from the Conference) when Grace from the office ran into the dining room at The Bear Hotel (where we were lunching) to announce that there was a fire at the Palace and the fire service were on site! I can move fast when I need to and so I departed quickly from the Bear (promising the staff that I would return later to pay - which I did!) and I raced over to the Palace to catch up with the incident. About 10 appliances were in the Courtyard and the full evacuation procedure had run smoothly - within minutes of my arrival (no connection) it was determined that there was no fire and that the incident was indeed merely a false alarm - caused by burnt toast in one of the flats on the west side of the building. The all-clear was given and staff/visitors were allowed back into the building - panic over! Much will always be learnt from such rare incidents - access to keys, the whereabouts of residents in the staff flats, etc are all ways that we can improve - but fundamentally the evacuation procedures where handled superbly by all of the staff on site and the response from the fire service was first class.

Having returned to The Bear Hotel to settle my lunch bill, the day was finally topped off around 5pm when incident three was reported from our retail team. They feared that some French school children had stolen some books from The Churchill Shop next to the Palace and our review of the CCTV footage proved that their fears were correct. We will trace the group, we will sent them the footage and we will hope to get a sensible response from them with regard to the behaviour of a few members of their party - but a depressing end to a long day and not the first time that we have had problems with groups of French school children!

Friday seemed to pass off very smoothly after the challenges of the previous day and some blue sky and sunshine was even spotted - let's hope the weather maintains a more spring like air for the weekend so that we can get a final positive half-term surge before the children go back to school on Monday.

The high's and low's of life do excite and challenge us every day - but it is true that Blenheim Palace creates so much diversity and opportunity because there is so much going on each day around the Palace and around the estate.

It certainly is a wonderful place to work and it is a wonderful place to visit - we hope to see you soon and at least we got everything out of the way last Thursday!

Have a good weekend.


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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry you had all those problems to deal with, but Blenheim sounds such a happy place to work in with everyone pulling together!

February 24, 2010 at 3:34 AM  
Anonymous John Hoy said...

Most times yes - very happy - but some days (like that Thursday!) can be challenging!

Let's hope that we goteveything out of the way in one go - and that sunshine will soon appear!

John

February 28, 2010 at 10:22 AM  
Anonymous Mary Monfries said...

John - love your blog and Dominic's. Particularly the sense of "high's and lows are part of the rich tapestry of live and isn't every day precious and something to be grateful for." So looking forward to meeting you both later. Mary

March 12, 2010 at 12:41 AM  

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Sunday, February 14, 2010

Up and running!

And so we are now open and visitors are returning to see the Palace and to see the stunning photographic exhibition (depicting the winning gardens from the Historic Houses Association/Christie's Garden of the Year Award from the last 25 years) in the Long Library - always good to get re-open and to see everyone slightly relax and go back into the normal mode of daily business.

Visitors yesterday seemed in good spirits (although it was very very cold!) and hopefully the warm glow from Valentine's Day will produce another good crowd today.

Despite it's size and scale and despite it's battle victory connections - Blenheim Palace exudes a romantic air - perhaps best typified by Sir Winston proposing to Clementine Hozier here in the Temple of Diana. The Saloon table is laid for a romantic dinner for two and hopefully many visitors will enjoy either lunch in The Orangery or a Champagne Tea in the Water Terraces - both memorable ways to connect with Blenheim Palace.

Today is an interesting day as it is the first day when annual passes from 2009 could be out of date - we launched the "Buy One Day - Get 12 Months Free!" offer on 14 February 2009 and our desire into 2010 is to get as many of the 98,000 annual pass holders to come back and re-join as well as continuing to spread the word and to find new members to experience and enjoy everything that Blenheim Palace has to offer. We still believe that it is a powerful offer - especially for those who live within an hour of Blenheim Palace - and hopefully this offer (and it's focused promotion through press, radio - and even maybe regional television) will drive good results for us this year.

The plans for the season are exciting and we have a full calendar of events - hopefully something for everyone and for every taste - and we are looking forward to lots of sunshine - yes, I am an optimist!

Most children are now on half-term and thus work pressures need to be balanced with entertaining the family at home - Tracy has a busy week with the girls - various trips out and sleepovers/play dates, etc - and on Wednesday we are taking them to see "Les Miserables" - one of the best ever London shows and one which we hope they will enjoy. Annabelle sang "Castle in the Cloud" on a couple of occasions at school last term and thus seeing it sung as part of this musical on the London stage should be especially powerful for her.

Enjoy half-term and don't foget to enjoy Blenheim Palace - now "up and running" for the 2010 season!


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Saturday, February 6, 2010

One week to go!

Life at "the Palace" is a hive of activity as the countdown to the 2010 season reaches it's last week.

High level/low level cleaning is reaching a crescendo (not sure if cleaning can reach a crescendo but it feels as though it is?!) and everything is being cleaned, polished and painted ready for the doors to open next Saturday. There is always excitement around opening and there is always a keen anticipation for the months ahead - we have the same excellent core team in place and we go into year two of the annual pass scheme.

A year ago we were treading unknown ground with the annual pass scheme as it was a totally new initiative & product for us to trial; this year we open with 98,ooo annual pass holders out there and the uncertainty this year surrounds how the scheme will perform in year two. We are maintaining the scheme pretty much unchanged - a very clean and simple message - "Buy One Day - Get 12 Months Free!" - and we hope it will be popular again with high levels of renewals and high levels of new subscribers driven by positive word of mouth.

We have produced an excellent annual pass holders booklet which summarises a whole raft of initiatives, discounts and offers across the year - there really is a wonderful array of ways for an annual pass holder to connect with us and to derive excellent value from the relationship.

We hope year two will exceed our expectations - watch this space!

We are also looking to refresh and re-launch our "Friends" scheme and to run this through our charity - the Blenheim Palace Foundation - which will be very tax efficient through the gift aid scheme and which will allow us to demonstrate a direct linkage between our Friends support and the extensive repair and restoration agenda that lies ahead. Friends will have a dedicated hospitality space on site as well as a special programme of evening lectures and talks - we hope this 'product' will appeal and that "Friends" numbers will grow over the coming months.

We open with a 6 week exhibition in the Long Library showing an amazing collection of photographs depicting the winning Gardens from the last 25 years of the Historic Houses Association + Christie's Garden of the Year Award. Around 80 framed photographs, commissioned from a number of the country's leading photographers, will grace the Long Library and will look stunning - a "must see" once we get open next weekend.

At home, the girls are working hard at school and making us very proud with their achievements whilst Tracy is hard at work planning our forthcoming project to refresh/enlarge our kitchen. Only 7 years in the planning and now finally about to become reality - will be glad to get it underway and to get it completed - and to maintain our sanity throughout!

The weather yesterday felt positively spring-like (but the forecast talks of more snow and ice - aaaarrrrgggghhhh!!!!) and we hope to launch next Saturday with a positive start which then carries us through with positive momentum for the whole season.

Come back and see us very soon; use and renew your annual passes; explore and connect with the updated Friends scheme and make full use of everything on offer this year at Blenheim Palace.

We need your support and we value the contribution that you make to the long term restoration of this priceless world heritage site.


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Anonymous John Hoy said...

Thanks Paul - apologies for the delay in replying.

We were very disappointed that the planned Festival for Heroes concert did not materialise last year - we had hoped that it may resurface for 2010 but as yet we have heard nothing from the organisers - great shame but I suspect it now looks unlikely for this year - at least here at Blenheim Palace.

We have our annual Battle Proms Concert in July and we are working on plans for three small concerts in June that we hope will confirm very shortly.

Thanks again for your interest

John

February 6, 2010 at 2:23 AM  

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