Radisson Blu Hotel Resort, El Quseir – a model for ethical responsible hospitality businesses second to none.

Posted in Travel, UK tourism on September 26th, 2014 by John Coxon

Radisson Blu El QuseirIn my capacity as a professional wedding and social events photographer I have wide experience of a full range of venues including hotels of various star gradings and have unique insights from this experience of the modern hospitality industry  and, were I to be asked which venue is the very model of all that is best in the hospitality industry and ethical business practices I can think of no other that maintains higher standards in every area including staff excellence and engagement than the Radisson Blu Hotel Resort at El Quiseir . It simply ticks all the boxes and is furthermore a genuinely responsible and ethical trader not just a brand with hollow mission statement rhetoric as many company’s sadly still are.

radisson hotel el quseir

poster - brief history of radisson green credentials

poster – brief history of Radisson Blu  green credentials

 

It was , I hear , the vision of Swedish philanthropist  Peder Wallenberg to build a first class hotel and resort in an area of formerly  barren Red Sea costal desert specifically to create a  tourist industry for the nearby small town of El Quseir and genuinely support its people in a variety of ways and help boost its ailing local economy and counteract general poverty. This included sourcing fresh food and materials locally, helping local charities and for example creating and  funding an education centre for local kids.

 

It also embedded as normal practice  a range of responsible policies to ensure minimum impact on the local environment with for example , active recycling, energy saving lighting, use of grey water sourced from the hotels own well, absence of chemicals in cleaning products , water saving measure and a raft of other environmentally friendly embedded ethical behaviours as standard.

radisson blu el quseir

They have constructed a huge pool and stocked it with various fish both for the enjoyment of guests and eventually as a source of food using water from their well with streams either side filtering into what was to be an additional organic style lagoon swimming pool.

Water oxygenated by pumping well water in several parts of the pnd.

Water oxygenated by pumping well water in several parts of the pnd.

 

Sadly due to the high daily temperature and shallowness of the water a big algae problem developed. Thus the bottom pool had , reluctantly to be chlorinated but the upper pools left unchlorinated and it became the daily chore of the gardening staff  use nets and brushes to clear the algae.

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The hotel run’s a conservation project to support the rare and highly endangered Egyptian Tortoise and is beginning another initiative to cultivate fish and to use the resultant water , high in nutrients from fish droppings to cultivate plants for food for the hotel.

There are some 250 local people on the staff who have all been given free professional training in house and college based  in hospitality, IT, languages and other relevant skill areas and  many of them are the sole bread winner for their families. During the recent crisis caused by the “Arab Spring “ and  unrest in the major cities of Egypt government foreign offices wrongly advised that all of Egypt was no longer safe to travel and  this relatively remote  and very safe hotel resort suffered badly in terms of occupancy rates crashing from the mid 80% to little over 10%. The overheads for staffing and maintaining such a large complex to the highest standards are of course considerable and it would not have been unreasonable for the owners to have put a large number of staff out of a job.

But , as a responsible ethical business the owner was confident that the situation would be temporary and the hotel would recover in time and get back to full occupancy and thus agreed to keep and fund the staff. As things recovered however it was thought vital to source new customers and the local choice was either Russian or Italian visitors – having compared the two cultures at other resorts  it was easy to choose the polite, temperate friendly Italians and hence , on the first week of my stay there four fifths of the guests were Italian families, and the second week, in keeping with the start back to school in Italy, two fifths of the occupancy were Italians but of those only a handful of children.

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Although you would expect very high standards of accommodation, amenities , food and service in a five star resort (it offers all those things in spades)  it’s the genuine  friendly courtesy of the hard working dedicated staff in all roles throughout the resort that makes staying here such a delight. The senior management must be thrilled to have an entire staff who are very evidently so proud to be working here, are totally engaged in their work and all so genuinely welcoming and helpful.

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It comes as no surprise whatsoever that my elderly mother, now in her ninety first year , has stayed here on ten occasions , for a month at a time and only recently stayed again just for two weeks because the travel company were uneasy about her travelling without a carer when she had fallen on the previous visit and spent the last week in a nearby hospital. Thus I had the pleasure of travelling with her and so looked forward to the opportunity of experiencing the hospitality she never stopped  talking about when she got home. The hotel resort exceeded all expectations and my mother was again treated like royalty by the staff as if she was family and I felt like a VIP too.

Mum had developed a routine over the years she has been staying here, despite the incredible range and variety of all that wonderful food – her breakfast  was always a freshly cooked single egg mushroom omelette, bread roll with butter and coffee. For lunch and evening meal she wanted freshly made mushroom soup and each day those things appeared magically, usually in the hands of her favourite waiter and friend Eslam.

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In the second week she became a little more adventurous and would walk over to the fruit and desert counters to add another course to the soup one. Often Eslam would help her and , when pomegranates were not out, for example, he would always go and find some for her. Nothing was too much trouble.

Mum likes to sit in the sun by the pool  near the main building close to a loo by the pool but only a short walk to the eating areas. Every morning, beyond the call of duty and the hotel’s towel card system,  the man in charge of the towels ,Abdou, wDSC_1604 on her leg one day he spent half an hour giving her first aid and came back next day with some cream for the injury. I lost my voice one day (all those hellos I shouted in Italian and Arabic) plus singing along to lovely  Akmed , the singer keyboard player who entertained us at one of the beach bars in the evening. When I saw Eismat next day he went off , came back with fresh mint leaves , honey and sharp lemons and made me a remedy at the bar to soothe my throat.

I fell having tripped on a path going down to the beach bar  late one night and cut my head, knee and heel and my German companion Oliver insisted I went to reception to see the doctor. The house doctor was called and arrived within ten minutes from his home.

The excellent hotel doctor

The excellent hotel doctor

( He’s responsible for all the staff as well as guests.) He was charming , very thorough, stitched my head and dressed the other injuries. Alas he said no swimming in the sea of showers to avoid possible infection!  I did have to call in and see him to have the dressings changed but such a great guy.

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Sadly Mum slipped in the loo on her very last day early morning and the hotel staff , house keeping and front of house people were brilliant. She had a bad cut on her head. They helped clean her up, get her to reception and  again the doctor came . He stitched her head and bandaged her up on site. she was dreading having to go to hospital and happy she did not have to thanks to the doctor’s care. All that last day staff showed such care and concern for her – happily she was fit to fly and is hoping to go again. Her health visibly improved within just a few days at the resort her movement was better getting round and she was much more out going and chatty. All through our stay as shifts of staff changed people who remembered her so fondly would greet her warmly and genuinely happy to see her again.

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As a nation we are inclined to complain of things don’t go well but less inclined to offer positive constructive feedback ( so vital for the genuine businesses like this Radisson flagship who value feedback as a means of self assessment and looking at potential problems and ways to further improve and I sure some people can never be pleased and actually look for things to complain about. I have written two very positive and constructive unsolicited reviews , one for Trip Advisor and the other for Hotel Check for this great hotel and in fact also have shared countless photographs of the resort from my two week stay there generating extraordinary activity on my Facebook from friends but also staff and guests I met there who joined my friends list. I have no professional connection with the hotel whatsoever  – I simply became a huge fan of its facilities, location and accommodation, food and exceptional genuine service and wanted to show the lovely staff how much I valued their efforts.date palm Radisson Blu

I like to snorkel but don’t do sun bathing and it was a great joy as an ardent  photographer to find so many great things to photograph and that included shooting most of the staff at work to share with them as public recognition for the great job they all do.

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The hotel gets generally great feedback on Trip Advisor from the range of nationalities they serve and either the General Manager or the front of house manager always responds to every review from guests and openly address any issues they raise in an attentive, courteous, professional  and friendly manner.

TripAdvisor ( Unsolicited Review) : Mercure Brandon Hall Hotel and Spa Warwickshire CV8 3FW

Posted in Travel, UK tourism on July 27th, 2014 by John Coxon

Mercure Brandon Hall Hotel and Spa

                                                                                                              Hotel main entrance and reception

(Please note – click on any image to view an enlarged version )

I am by trade , a wedding, social and corporate event  photographer , and  think, regrettably ,  as a nation,  we tend  to give feed back only when we have a complaint and  rarely volunteer an opinion when people meet or excel our expectations in the services they provide and deserve public acknowledgement.  I am writing this simply because this hotel met and exceeded my expectations on an occasion when I was due to attend a family wedding in Stratford on Avon with my partner, her eldest  son, his partner and our toddler  granddaughter . He’d booked us in to the Mercure Brandon Hall Hotel  partly because it is quite near to  another picturesque Warwickshire village ,Wolston,  where we would gather at my partner’s brother’s cottage to make our way to Stratford for the big day.  But also he had done some internet review research and made some price comparisons and wanted somewhere  special as it was part of a milestone family occasion.

Mercure Brandon Hall Hotel and Spa

He picked us up from the railway station in Coventry and drove us through some lovely countryside on to Brandon where we all stayed . (He and his young family for a few nights and myself and my partner  just the one night  because of other family commitments )

We turned from a leafy lane, entered the hotel grounds via a wooded private driveway past an electronic security barrier and were immediately taken by the  tree-lined serenity of the hotel site  set in huge swathes of recently mown lawns  with open fields and woodlands beyond and beautifully maintained borders and shrubs around the main buildings.

Foyer furnishings

Foyer furnishings 1

We parked in front of the main very human scale building, with a wide and impressive front elevation  with the look and feel of a well  maintained  opulent family country house.  Walking through the welcoming  foyer with a large  period decorated bar to the left, and a conference room to the right and with a  range of original large oil paintings, lovely antique furnishings – down a couple of steps  to the reception desk .

 

Receptionist Rona at your service

Reception

Foyer furnishings 2

Foyer furnishing

 

 

Clear and prominent  hand painted signage makes it easy to find your way round

Clear and prominent hand painted signage makes it easy to find your way round

So easy to find our way to our room  through a range of well signaged  corridors , fine art  framed prints on the walls and further period antiques on display at every turn. The luxury carpeting on all the shared  walkways looked as if it had been laid the day before.

Corridor furnishings (1)

Corridor furnishings

Not one of the bigger double rooms on offer but immediately impressed with the design and  welcoming feel , the huge comfy double bed, state of the art flat screen TV and impeccable en suite white tiled bathroom with loo, bath and integrated shower.

biggest and most comfy bed I've ever slept in !

biggest and most comfy bed I’ve ever slept in !

spotless bathroom (1)

spotless bathroom

shower and bath

shower and bath

Search of the ample wardrobe and there was an  ironing board and iron  plus electric kettle, cups and saucers and a large  ebony box containing complementary coffee, tea, biscuits and extra hand towels beneath.

Little extras in the wardrobe

Little extras in the wardrobe

 

Expansive desk with table lamp, customary guide books , menus and important other hotel and local  information, a large drawer with hair dryer and up to date county magazine. Bedside tables, one  with phone, note pad and pen.

Mercure Brandon Hall Hotel and Spa

 

Very substantial curtains , essentially when closed blackouts so no chance of outside light disturbing your sleep but best set your alarm or ask for a call from reception lest you miss dawn’s light which won’t make it through those curtains!

Mercure Brandon Hall Hotel and Spa

 

Mercure Brandon Hall Hotel and Spa

After we’d freshened up we chilled on the lawn, served with  coffee for me and an OJ for my partner from the Bewick Bar, a  period decorated bar I mentioned earlier with French window access to outside ,  while my partner’s son took daughter for a swim in the Spa, a separate modern new building a less than minutes walk down the path from the main hotel.

my partner & her son enjoying refreshments on the lawn outside the Beswich bar

my partner & her son enjoying refreshments on the lawn outside the Bewick bar

(I should point out as he told me that hotel guests do not have all day access to the Spa pool and you need to check with hotel reception what times it is open to guests.)

Modern new fitness and health spa building adjacent to the main hotel with swimming pool which hotel can use.

Modern new fitness and health spa building adjacent to the main hotel with swimming pool which hotel guests can use.

(The only thing I saw out of place throughout our stay, and I’m a smoker,  was , sitting outside , enjoying my coffee and using the ashtray on the table provided, under it , on the grass,  were a number of cigarette ends people had thrown down and couldn’t believe it and the disrespect it signalled for all the effort clearly put in by staff here to make it the perfect place to stay.)

Not only am I a photographer but also a keen gardener and just sitting there I actually found it hard to believe that the grounds, the borders, the flowers in such a large space could be in such meticulously maintained condition especially in the sweltering heat we have had in the past few weeks.

so many little spots in the  ground to relax and enjoy the surroundings

so many little spots in the grounds to relax and enjoy the surroundings

 

I am commissioned to cover weddings and social events at a range of venues in Cheshire and Greater Manchester to suit a variety of budgets and this place could match and trump any top-end  country house venue I have worked at but I have rarely seen a venue’s grounds offering so many splendid backgrounds and views.

Mercure Brandon Hall Hotel and Spa

My job also makes me incredibly observant of fine details and yet inside , in our room, along the corridors and communal spaces  hard to find a single blemish. We had heard about the hotel’s reputation for gourmet food in its main restaurant but that evening we had been booked into a pub restaurant in a nearby village by my partner’s brother so missed that opportunity. However, the next morning we breakfasted in the  hotel’s main restaurant , the Clarendon.

Fresh fruit juice bar

Fresh fruit juice bar

In my job and as an occasional tourist, I have stayed in a number of UK and European hotels from budget to five star and I can honestly say that the range of options of  English and continental  breakfast items, hot or cold,  the quality and the presentation matches the very best and exceeds most I have ever  stayed in.

Cereals  bar

Cereals bar

 

Breads and unique auto toaster

Breads and unique auto toaster

 

fresh hot English breakfast elements

fresh hot English breakfast elements bar

All help -yourself but just fresh tea or  coffee supplied by a couple of courteous and discreet waiting professionals also eager, from our experience, to make sure all our needs were met especially  for our young granddaughter.

Breakfast table setting for one.

Breakfast table setting for one.

 

I had already taken a number of photos around the hotel for my own pleasure but I’m also cheeky and asked the “maître d”   if I could be allowed to take a few discreet shots in the breakfast area as it was such a lovely spot and wanted to share my appreciation of all the effort (with my on line friends)  that had clearly gone in here and around the hotel to ensure you had a great stay.

Ornate mirrors-wall display in Bewick restaurant

Ornate mirrors-wall display in Bewick restaurant

 

I also asked the receptionist , when giving in the  keys , if she would mind me taking a few shots of her at her desk and she was charming about that. All the staff I encountered were friendly, polite, helpful and professional, and that includes the grounds men and the cleaning staff.

Way back in my early days as  professional educator the staff were given the rare  luxury of a weekend training conference at a bespoke country house hotel in my region and I noted that this Warwickshire  rural hotel and spa caters for corporate conferences with I think ten dedicated function rooms and looking back , I’d take it that, if my company or place of work  hosted a conference at a location like this I’d know that I was really appreciated and valued. Many of us travel for work or pleasure and depending on location and available budget, in the main often it can be just a base and somewhere to stay but our expectations have been raised in the last few decades and for example, we have seen major improvements in what was , in the past , a less than perfect UK hospitality industry. There isn’t perhaps usually a vast difference in the quality and features of most decent reasonably priced  hotel rooms these days and for example most of the better known chains match each other in that regard but essentially they are dormitories and you’d willingly pay a little extra for something beyond the norm and the Brandon is great value for money given it is an experience in its own right , way beyond just a place to sleep for the night.

Receptionist , front of house Rona so typical of the friendly and professional staff at the Hall.

Receptionist , front of house, Rona so typical of the friendly and professional staff at the Hall.

Looking back, for me,  the  Brandon Hall had more the feel of a welcoming country retreat or rural resort and left me wandering about the UK’s hotel star rating system that almost underestimates or “damns” it with the faint praise at  four stars as I can’t think of anything during my stay that needed addressing or could be improved.

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