Monday, March 29, 2010

Sunshine - please!

Computer at home is poorly so this update has had to be delayed into Monday - hopefully the engineers will soon get us fixed at home - something to do with the mother board (whatever that is!) and/or the power supply - as Tracy is going bananas without access to her emails!

Last week was incredibly busy - highlights included:

>> 8 of the 10 staff team briefings - each of an hour duration with lots of questions and feedback. Hopefully valuable and inspiring for all of those present - only Operations and Blenheim Hospitality to go - phew!

>> Delivered one of the Oxfordshire Economic Partnerhip monthly seminar's at Oxford Brookes on "Marketing and Managing Blenheim Palace" - pathetically small audience (which depressed me hugely) but I hope that those present felt it was worthwhile

>> Attended a managers meeting for the Treasure Houses of England - always valuable to sit around the table with colleagues/managers from the other 9 Treasure Houses - we all learn so much from each other.

>> Attended an Historic Houses Association/English Heritage dinner at the House of Lords - only a very select few present and very honoured to be invited as a guest of the HHA. Lots of interesting ground covered and hopefully relationships between these organisations will be even stronger going forward. Tourism and "our heritage" are rising up the political agenda - finally!

>> Attended an Oxfordshire 2012 Torch Relay committee as we try to understand the opportunities that may exist to get the torch relay into and through the County. Hopefully Blenheim Palace, as a world heritage site, and Iffley Road, as home to the first 4 minute mile, are strong assets in bidding for the torch relay - we shall have to wait and see!

.........and socially the week included:

>> Watching both my girls perform in the Stagecoach production of "Billy Elliott" on Friday evening - one was a ballet dancer and one was a policeman!

>> Watching (finally!) Avatar in 3D - what an amazing film!

>> Attending the Gala Finale Dinner of The Sunday Times Oxford Literary Festival in the Great Hall at Christ Church College and hearing Lynne Truss give a very entertaining after dinner speech. A wonderful evening - good food, good company and a stunning setting steeped in history.

>> Getting up at 2.30am on Saturday morning to get my daughter Annabelle to her school for 3.15am so that she could leave with her Chamber Choir colleagues to go off to Lisbon, Portugal for a short choir tour. Amazingly uncivilised time to depart - but Annabelle went off with a huge excited smile on her face and we look forward to welcoming her back home on Wednesday evening - no doubt tired but hopefully in one piece!

And so we are counting down to Easter and hopefully the weather will be kind to us as it is such a vital 4 day period that can set the tone for the whole year.

The forecast does not give rise to much optimism with talk of snow, etc but hopefully it will be dry and good fortune (and some sunshine) will favour us as everyone descends upon us to hunt for easter eggs at the Pleasure Gardens.

The "Hare-Brained Hunt" here at Blenheim Palace should be fun for all the family - come and join us!

Have a restful week and an enjoyable easter!

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Blogger Timothy Belmont said...

I viewed Avatar some time ago; curiously captivating film, wasn't it?

I'm going to see Clash Of The Titans tomorrow evening; the 3D 2010 version, that is!

I'm posting an article on my blog this afternoon about Garron Tower in Co Antrim, which Sir Winston inherited in 1921.

Perhaps the Duke might be interested?


April 2, 2010 at 4:26 AM  
Anonymous John Hoy said...

Thanks Tim

Hope you enjoyed 'Clash of the Titans' and that it lived up to your expectations - despite some fairly underwhelming reviews.

Interesting to read about Garron Tower - I think we have enough on our hands here at Blenheim Palace - but a nice thought.

Hope you had a good Easter


April 6, 2010 at 1:54 AM  

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Monday, March 22, 2010

Baaathing sheep and straining dogs!

Apologies for being late with this but the weekend raced by and Monday arrived before I had time to hit the keyboard! Part of the explanation may also lie behind the fact that we were out at a party on Friday night (yes I can still party even at my age!) and out for dinner on Saturday night (to The Crazy Bear in Stadhampton for a delicious thai meal with old friends from Hertfordshire) and driving children around to parties and sleepovers for any spare time in-between!

Highlights from last week included the CLA Oxfordshire Branch 'Question Time' event at Millets Farm near Witney which I was asked to chair! I think the event was a success and it was interesting to co-ordinate the questions and answers (some planted!) amongst the panel which included the CLA President plus four prospective parliamentary candidates from Labour, Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Green parties - and to make sure that everyone had a equal slice of the action! Feedback has been positive (but I don't think David Dimbleby need lose any sleep!) and hopefully those who attended went home happy - they certainly went home well fed and watered after a delicious spread was provided for everyone by the team at Millets Farm. As to whether it will influence voting tendancies in Wantage or nationally only time will tell - frightening to think that the election in all probability is a little over 6 weeks away!

Fresh from Question Time success, it was into London on Wednesday to visit the first day of the "Best of Britain and Ireland Travel Trade Forum" at Olympia where we were sharing a stand with colleagues from Bicester Village and Bicester Hotel, Golf and Spa - this show was previously the British Travel Trade Fair ("BTTF") held at the NEC in Birmingham and this was the second year of the re-born/re-branded event. It was far too quiet and I was grateful for the fact that we were sharing our stand with two other partners as this helped to spread the cost (but hopefully not to dilute the message) and I do think we will need to analyse the event costs and the event returns carefully to support such decisions for the future. As I have said before, I think people are working differently and using other channels to source and secure business - the days of such events could be numbered unless we and others can see good leads, capture good enquiries and real firm business arising from our time and effort to be there. Interesting to chat to colleagues and to see what others think as there is a risk of a "me to" attitude being taken to attend rather than a decision based on sound business logic.

All of this was wrapped around British Tourism Week ("BTW") which seemed to come and go with very little fuss - not sure whether anyone would have really noticed it was BTW but hopefully messages reached the appropriate corridors of power (e.g, Westminster) and hopefully awareness surrounding tourism and it's importance will have been rammed home where it matters!

The week ahead is dominated by Staff Briefings - this round is on a team-by-team basis so Roger File (our Property guru) and I will attend 10 presentations to update all staff on how we have performed and our targets going forward - a very useful opportunity to get out and talk to everyone face to face, to answer any questions and concerns, and to hopefully inspire everyone on the opportunities that lie ahead.

The weeks always start with an Operations meeting on a Monday morning which is attended by all customer facing teams - highlights this morning included the figures for the weekend which were "just about OK" given the horrible weather on Saturday but also anything "out of the ordinary" is raised. The report from Sunday included the following incidents (i) One of our sheep diving into the Lake and needing to be rescued!; (ii) A dead rabbit in the Secret Garden that needed to be quickly and discretely removed and (iii) some hot tea being poured onto a dog - which was fine after some first aid and some TLC.

Another entertaining day at Blenheim Palace!

The staff briefings finish with a line which says "......and above all ENJOY working in this remarkable place!" We are very fortunate to have an excellent team across all areas and I believe we are very fortunate to work here - Blenheim Palace, with all it challenges and excentricities, gets inside you and no two days are ever the same!

Through all the high's and the occasional low's we are helping to keep this priceless world heritage site standing and vibrant for future generations to enjoy - not a bad task even on a wet day or on a day when sheep are trying to drown themselves and dogs are trying to bathe in hot tea!

Onwards and upwards!

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Sunday, March 14, 2010

Creating our destiny!

What glorious weather and what a perfect springlike Mother's Day - Blenheim Palace was busy with families celebrating together and both lunches and teas were heavily subscribed - but numbers were slighlty down year-on-year which was disappointing.

We lunched with Tracy's parents over at The Butchers Arms in Priors Hardwick and had a delicious meal (they were incredibly busy - thank goodness we were in the first wave/sitting as I am sure the staff would have been suffering by the time the 2nd and even 3rd wave of guests arrived!) but our thoughts were also over in Royston with my mother who had to pop back to hospital with some post-op problems - thankfully merely a small infection and so she is back home both resting and continuing her recovery. She had lunch with my sister Tricia so hopefully will have still had a happy day despite her obvious worries.

Last week was busy at work but also productive. We had Jac Windsor back with us doing another burst of strategy work around the visitor business - important to set out our future path and to try to control some of our future destiny. Jac lead the previous work 5 years ago whilst with Eden McCallum but now had joined PricewaterhouseCoopers - who the Estate have used for many years for accounting + audit services - a small world but great to connect again with Jac. This first early burst of strategy work - phase one - has already achieved a great deal in only a few days and hopefully the final outcome will be a valuable template for the next 5 years or so. A very interesting time to dwell on the success of the Annual Pass scheme; to review visitor segmentation and how to look after the "Friends" scheme; and what targets to set for the business alongside what agreed development agenda. Exciting stuff!

Thursday saw me over at Burghley House in Lincolnshire for an HHA Seminar looking at house opening and connecting with the public. I chose to travel to Burghley House via Royston so that I could call in and see my mother on the way and I got there in time for the lunch break - this worked as I was speaking at 3pm to the audience of about 100 HHA owners and members. It was a very successful event which I think was valuable for everyone present and should help everyone to better control their future destiny - my talk appears to have been well received and it was nice to be the last main speaker of the event - a good chance to wrap up much of what is needed to "Build a Fruitful Relationship with the Visitor" - which incidentally was the title of my talk! I love the opportunity to give talks and presentations - with the one caveat that I am comfortable with the subject matter - and it is always flattering to get positive feedback from the organisers and from those in the audience.

Incidentally - the "caveat" reference above is being tested next week as I have agreed to chair a CLA Question Time session over at Millets Farm near Witney with the CLA President, Ed Vaizey (MP for Wantage) and the prospective parliamentary candidates for the Wantage seat from the Labour, Liberal Democrats and Green parties. Should be an interesting couple of hours - I will report next week assuming I survive the ordeal.

Next week is British Tourism Week - a very important few days to showcase this important industry and to continue the drive to get the Government (and indeed all parties) to better value all strands of tourism activity - and to mould/adjust taxes, etc to boost and support tourism rather than to put barriers in the way at every turn! Hopefully the message will finally get through as we try to shape the future and our destiny.

Must go outside and see if the new moon is visible on this beautiful clear evening - my late father always wanted to avoid seeing the new moon through glass as this brought bad luck for a month!

Superstitious - yes of course I am - and we all need all the help we can get in helping to create and shape our destiny!

Have a great week and be lucky - be very lucky!

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Sunday, March 7, 2010

Springtime at Blenheim Palace

What a glorious week - lots of blue sky; a springlike feel in the air; and many more visitors each day into Blenheim Palace. It is frustrating that the weather is such a strong factor in our trading success or failure - but we certainly walk with a spring in our step when the weather works in our favour which has been the case since March arrived.

The week has gone well - my mother came through her operation on Tuesday in good spirits and has today gone home to carry on her rest and recuperation. I went over to see her at the Nuffield Hospital in Cambridge on Wednesday and she looked remarkably well given that her 3 hour operation was only 24 hours earlier. She will need to take it steady for the next couple of weeks - not an easy task as she hates being idle and hates being dependent on others. Together with my sisters we will do our best to make sure she does as she is told - for once!

On Thursday, I attended the latest Oxford Inspires Cultural Platform at the Said Business School in Oxford. The event was very well attended - not surprising really - as the guest speaker was the author Philip Pullman. He spoke passionately and eloquently about the breakdown in some of our core values - citing school lunches as an example as to how children now eat from a self-service cafeteria (or even take their own packed lunch) whereas in the past they sat at tables with elders or teachers to supervise conversation, manners, etc. A small example but I do share Philip Pullman's concern at the loss of pride in our core values - wherever I go I see graffiti and litter, I hear swearing, I witness bad manners and I see broken signs, traffic cones lying around and general neglect. So much more needs to be done to better showcase ourselves - especially with 2012 looming - and we should all take greater pride in presenting any areas that we can control or influence in a better condition - but ultimately the uplift in core values needs to be driven from a generational perspective - good manners (especially good table manners), respect and good behaviour begins at home and if we can inspire our children to aspire to improve then I believe society's core values will be uplifted.

Incidentally, there is an opportunity that Oxford Inspires and the emerging Destination Management Organisation ("DMO") for Oxford and Oxfordhire could end up co-joined as one organisation to deliver the cultural and tourism programme across most of the county. A great prize and a great opportunity - watch this space!

Tuesday sees the Churchill family descending on Bladon and Blenheim Palace for the private funeral of Winston Churchill - Tory MP, journalist and grandson of Britain's wartime leader - who died on 2 March 2010 aged 69 after a long battle with cancer. It must have been difficult for Winston to carry the name of his famous grandfather but he made his own mark through a varied life and he accomplished a great deal. Tuesday will of course be a sad day for the family.

Today we have welcomed the Tombling family from North London to Blenheim Palace - they will forever be known as our "100,000th annual pass holders" and we gave them a special day with our compliments to mark this milestone - hopefully they will spread the word and tell everyone about our "Buy One Day Get 12 Months Free!" amazing ticket deal for 2010!

Enjoy the rest of the weekend and hopefully the fine weather will last into the week ahead and through to Mothers Day next Sunday.

If you are still looking at ideas for "Mum" then bring her to Blenheim Palace for the day and enjoy springtime at this wonderful world heritage site.

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Anonymous John Hoy said...

Thanks Mary - good to meet you earlier and I hope your husband enjoyed seeing around the Palace whilst we talked.

Visit us again soon and keep reading the blogs!

Best wishes


March 12, 2010 at 7:27 AM  

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