CAMPAIGN: Tourism alliance wins fight against bed tax

Last year the 2004-2006 Lyons Inquiry into local government funding suggested the introduction of a tax on ­hotel accommodation in England and Wales.

Campaign No to Bed Tax
Client Travelodge
PR team ReputationInc and in-house
Timescale March 2006-March 2007
Budget £30,000

However, research by Nottingham Business School found that such a tax would wipe £1.3bn from the annual tourism trade and prompt 32,000 job losses. Travelodge – with its low-cost business model – realised its operation would be hit particularly hard.

Objectives
To gather industry support and make a compelling case against bed tax. To ­improve Travelodge’s reputation as a consumer champion and industry leader.

Strategy and plan
The PR teams instigated a pan-industry alliance – the No to Bed Tax Group – which included VisitBritain, VisitLondon, the B&B Association, British Hotel Association and Tourism Alliance. It also created a logo for the campaign.

The potential cost increases were flagged up to hoteliers and their customers by putting petitions in hotels and on the Travelodge website. They also called on MPs, particularly in seaside resorts, to back an early day ­motion in Parliament opposing the plan. Local media in these coastal towns were contacted to generate public awareness.

Travelodge also commissioned ­research into consumer attitudes towards local holidays should a bed tax be introduced. It found that 77 per cent would consider holidaying abroad instead, and this was given exclusively to the Mail on Sunday ahead of the deadline for submissions to the Lyons Inquiry consultation.

The teams followed this up with a May Day press release highlighting how British resorts would suffer under a bed tax, calling national and regional journalists to generate interest.

Travelodge CEO Grant Hearn led the implementation of the campaign from the ground up and was proactive in giving media interviews to all interested media. A photo opportunity was set up to deliver the consumer petition to No 10 Downing Street.

Caterer and Hotelkeeper magazine joined the campaign as a media partner, running polls and news stories.

James Garner, Caterer and Hotelkeeper managing editor, says: ‘We partnered with Travelodge, took ownership of the campaign, and championed it within the industry. They were able to use their PR ­machine to get the story to consumers. They proved to be a strong, proactive and innovative partner.’

A photo opportunity was then set up to deliver the consumer petition to No 10 Downing Street.

Measurement and evaluation
National press coverage included the Mail on Sunday, Daily Express, The Times, Independent on Sunday, and FT. Regional papers such as the Manchester Evening News, Yorkshire Post and Birmingham Post covered the story, as did trade journals – Caterer and Hotelkeeper, Hotel Report and Hotel Magazine. The BBC and Channel 4 News ­also ran pieces.

Results
The early day ­motion was signed by 100 MPs and more than 90,000 people signed the consumer petition. The government rejected a bed tax in the last budget. CEO Grant Hearn was subsequently ranked as the third most important person in the hospitality industry in the annual Caterer and Hotel­keeper Top 100 (up from 26th place).

The campaign helped raise the profile of the company in the run-up to its purchase by Dubai International Capital last August.

SECOND OPINION



Jonathan Sloan (pictured, above) is PR director and travel specialist at Hills Balfour Synergy: The power of this campaign lies in partnership. To gain critical mass in the time given, against a government looking to maximise revenues, was no easy task.

Joining forces with such strong brands and organisations as VisitBritian, the British Hotel Association and Caterer and Hotelkeeper magazine added weight to the campaign’s authority and provided communication and media platforms.

By taking the initiative Travelodge ensured it was the main UK hotel group backing the campaign and made sure it got the best of the ‘halo’ benefits.

This campaign shows how commissioning genuinely valuable UK consumer research can be a powerful tool in securing media attention. Pushing research proving that a bed tax would push holidaymakers abroad gave the drive a powerful leverage point.

Most coverage appeared in the news or business pages, thus acting more as a profile-raising campaign for Travelodge than a ‘bums in beds’ exercise. However, hosting the petition on the firm’s site created brand awareness in a positive environment with Travelodge as consumer champion.

The campaign was able to rally an industry faced by a real and dangerous common threat, presenting a cohesive front and delivering a well-argued case.

That it so ably aligned itself with strong industry partners in such an effective and efficient multi-platform endeavour illustrates PR at its campaigning best.

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