Thursday, April 29, 2010

Joust for you; Joust for fun!

So the second bank holiday has arrived - and true to form the weather has taken a depressing dip after a couple of weeks of blue sky and sunshine. The colder, damper weather is hardly condusive to spending time outside but hopefully the appeal of our Jousting Tournaments and falconry displays will draw big crowds each day.

The Knights of Royal England led by Jeremy Richardson provide fantastic entertainment with two displays each day - both preceded by stunning falconry displays. A great day out for all the family with the Palace as a fantastic backdrop to the activities - hope to see you there!

The last couple of weeks have raced by and we are now less than a week away from the "big" election. The leaders debates have provided great prime time viewing and at least the 3rd one last night was a little more feisty - and a little less stage managed - than the first two on ITV and Sky. Brown seemed to be immensely negative and defensive throughout, not surprising after the events of the previous day in Rochdale, and he does seem to be wounded/damaged beyond repair which leaves Clegg and Cameron fighting for the floating or the switching voter. The fear of Labour securing the most seats with only the 3rd highest share of the popular vote terrifies me and hopefully the fear of this, and the uncertainty that it will create, will push votes towards the Conservatives so that they can secure both the seats they require and a working majority - probably too late to get the three leaders to Blenheim Palace this weekend for the jousting tournament - last man standing wins - sounds like an attractive proposition! Only time will tell but we will know the outcome a week today!

The Duke and Duchess have finally managed to return from a short break in America - they like many others were delayed by the volcanic ash cloud - but they got back in time for the Churchill Memorial Concert at Blenheim Palace last Saturday evening. The numbers attending were slightly down on prior years but it was an excellent evening with the main address being given by General Sir Richard Dannatt GCB CBE MC - very thought provoking and very clearly hugely inspired by the memory of Sir Winston Churchill. An excellent, high quality, event that raises good money for local charities.

On Monday evening we had a launch event to celebrate the publication of Margaret Forster's first book called "Churchill's Grandmama" - Margaret is married to John Forster (the Archivist and former Education Officer at Blenheim Palace) and this interesting book looks at, and celebrates/reveals, the life of Churchill's grandmother, Frances, 7th Duchess of Marlborough. Published by the History Press it is a great book that has been fully embraced and supported by the family - a "must read" for all of those interested in Churchill's life and his roots. Hopefully it will do well for Margaret.

On Wednesday I was in London for a meeting of the Tourism and Commercial Development Committee at the Historic Houses Association and we covered a wide range of topics including the political situation, the olympics and much more. One topic raised related to comments posted on websites and the apparent lack of controls to mitigate what is said about your property - this is a risk in today's open social media world but all we can all try to do is to ensure that everything is run and delivered to the highest possible standard every hour of every day so that we lessen the likelihood that negative comments will be posted. That said, we do know that some people will never be happy and that some people will always find fault and that some people will always just seek to complain - probably to see what they can get out of it - sad, but true. We monitor as many sites as we can and I am pleased that the vast majority of posts about Blenheim Palace are very positive - those that are negatively slanted are often price/value related but we have hugely lessened this area by way of our "Buy One Day - Get 12 Months Free!" Annual Pass offer.

So with an eye on the weather forecast we hope for a busy/successful weekend and with lots of families here to enjoy the bank holiday events - a perfect day out (even if the weather is less than perfect) to have some fun and to be entertained by the Knights.

The Knights of Royal England at Blenheim Palace - joust for you, joust for fun!

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr Hoy
May I ask when the Palace intends to send its next Friends' Newsletter? It seems a very long time since the last issue.

May 9, 2010 at 12:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr Hoy,

Please can any one of your colleagues tell me where I can find family portraits of the fifth, 6th and 7th Dukes of Marlborough? Or did the 8th Duke sell them all to increase funds for the palace, if so, I would be very interested to see them. I know there's not much information on the 5th and 6th Dukes of Marlborough, but i would like to see this missing collection as a matter of interest.



June 25, 2010 at 12:14 PM  

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Saturday, April 17, 2010

The forecast?

It seems some time since I last had time to post a blog but a lot seems to have happened in that time.

The party leaders have held their first much heralded TV debate and the pundits seem undecided as to whether much has come from it - Clegg (with nothing to lose and everything to gain) appears to have sparked some voter interest but only time will tell as to whether this will translate into votes on 6 May; Brown seemed robotic and fairly underwhelming; and Cameron appears to have done himself no harm but has probably not made the progress that he would have hoped for going into the programme. We missed watching it live as we were out but it seems to have been too much stage managed, pre-prepared and stilted - a bit like the first leg in a football match - and hopefully it will all get more feisty and off-the-cuff as they move into the second and third debates and as the finishing line draws closer. Will be interesting to see if viewer figures (around 9.9 milion) can be maintained - if not for Sky next Thursday then for the BBC debate on 29 April - as I suspect that the buzz around the first one may weaken by the third? It will be interesting to see and no-one can predict or forecast the outcome at this stage.

Work has been busy with lots of activity surrounding the emerging Destination Management Organisation for tourism delivery across the county - this is virtually ready to launch and the real work will now start to get the initial board in place; to get the staffing structure established; and to get pledges for membership turned into reality. Interesting times, positive times.

On Wednesday I took a rare day off and we went over to the West Midlands Safari Park near Kidderminster. We had a great day and the particular highlight was the drive through the safari enclosures - lots of animals, lots of healthy/active animals, and the ability to actually feed some of the animals. Both Annabelle and Louisa were enthralled to see such a wonderful variety of animals in such pleasant surroundings - despite the crowds and the convoy of cars, it was very impressive - most particularly the white lions and giraffes - especially as we virtually drove through the legs of a huge bull giraffe!

We missed the leaders debate on Thursday evening as we were invited to join the Ridge party at the Oxfordshire Community Foundation Gala Film Premiere for "Beyond the Pole" directed by David Williams and starring Stephen Mangan (Green Wing), Helen Baxendale (Cold Feet and Friends), Rhys Thomas (Fast Show) and Alexander Skarsgard (True Blood). It was an excellent film that I would recommend - funny, moving, sad and thought-provoking in a "climate change/global warming sort of way.

Roger File (our Property guru) and I lunched yesterday with our friends from Cornbury and Great Tew - both these near neighbouring estates share many of the same issues that we face here at Blenheim and it is valuable to chat through such issues and to better understand the threats and opportunities that we all face moving forward.

On the football front - the anxieties caused by following "your team" were never more highlighted than by the Spurs performances in the last week or so. Beaten badly by "relegated" Portsmouth at Wembley in the F A Cup Semi-Final last Sunday and then a storming victory over North London rivals Arsenal 3 days later! The high's and low's - next up Chelsea at home and Manchester United away - it doesn't get any easier on the nerves!

The warmer weather, the blue sky and the sunshine (despite the threat of volcanic ash invasion!) lifts our spirits and visitor numbers have been good through the school holiday week - hopefully we will have a strong weekend and that the tone will now be set for a positive few weeks into the summer.

Have a good weekend - enjoy the weather - a good forecast for once!

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Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Re-capturing our mojo!

Sheryl Cole has apparently re-captured her mojo following her split from Ashley - apparently some dance instructor may have helped this turnaround!

Blenheim Palace needs to re-kindle it's mojo after some mixed results over the 4 day Easter holiday. Overall customers were broadly flat year-on-year but the mix was heavily skewed towards annual pass holders with a worrying year-on-year drop in paying customers. The buzz that existed a year ago around the annual pass product - and the very positive word of mouth recommendation - seems to have faded and we need to take steps to understand what is going on and what we can do about it.

Easter falls early in the season and thus it is an early opportunity to test performance - with plenty of the season ahead of us if action needs to be taken.

We are going to quickly survey those annual pass holders who visited us over the Easter weekend (nearly 7k in total) and find out everything we can about their visit and their feelings; and we are also going to reach out to those annual pass holders from February and March 2009 who have not as yet sought to renew for 2010 - in order to understand their feelings and their motivations with the summer months ahead. Armed with feedback from these quick surveys (hopefully as early as next week) we can then look at some tactical steps to make sure that we pick up the pace through April and into the key summer months.

We are not dispirited - but we are very determined to understand what we can control., what we can influence and what we can drive forward.

We want our mojo back and we will go out to get it!

The Easter Egg hunt was very popular and the egg supply just lasted until around 4.30pm on Easter Monday - excellent planning or just plain lucky! My girls enjoyed searching for the clues and managed to find them all with hardly any help from Daddy - who was secretly armed with the answers in case of a crisis!

Annabelle came back from her Choir Tour to Portugal last Wednesday evening in excellent spirits and clearly enjoyed the trip - very excited though to be home and it was good to see her.

We had a good day out on Sunday and took my mother out to lunch at the Sheene Mill Restaurant in Melbourn - great for her to see the girls and good to see that she is recovering well from her recent operation. Tracy then spent a couple of days with the girls at her parents in Abbots Langley and came back yesterday - I came back on Sunday so that I could do some work on Easter Monday; look after the cat and keep an eye on the builders - such responsibility!

So finally the suspense is over and Thursday 6 May 2010 has been confirmed for the General Election - no doubt the country will go into meltdown for 4 weeks which is never good for tourism but at least the phoney campaigning can now stop and they can get down to some serious stuff - including the Leaders TV debates (on Thursday 15 April at 8.30pm on ITV; on Thursday 22 April at 8pm on Sky; and on Thursday 29 April at 8.30pm on BBC) which should make compelling viewing. Cameron goes into them with everyone expecting him to score heavily (so he has everything to lose) whilst Brown goes into them with everyone expecting him to hit the floor (so anything positive will be hailed as a triumph) whilst Clegg will come across well but will that really influence voters away from the main two parties - fascinating stuff.

And so we will hunt for answers regarding "our mojo" - if you are a current annual pass holder, or even more relevant if you are a lapsed annual pass holder, then let us know what you think as you are vital to our success and vital to the future health and stability of Blenheim Palace.

Watch this space and watch the bounce back!

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