When rare weather hits, treat its arrival as a gift
When rare weather hits, treat its arrival as a gift
05 MARCH 2018 8:47 AM

The United Kingdom was visited last week by the so-called Beast from the East snow system. Hoteliers took the opportunity to extend an even warmer welcome.

Who would not want to come to London when it looks like the view from my apartment?

The sun comes up over my apartment in a snowy Forest Hill in South London; more snow came later that day and the next, 1 March. (Photo: Terence Baker)

That was taken last Wednesday morning, on the same day the United Kingdom media went into 24/7 mode with blanket coverage of the so-called Beast from the East/Storm Emma snow system and why any of us who even thought about venturing out into it was mad at best and dangerous at worst.

The incessant, excited clamor to fill infinite media space does many industries, and especially the hotel and hospitality arena, a clear disservice.

Yes, there have been some alarming stories, but the media has gone full out to make sure it has reporters on empty high streets (maybe they search for empty parts?) and on usually busy roads snarled with non-moving traffic.

The message is one of fear, although that is tempered by people’s genuine concern for the homeless and resultant goodness and hospitality.

Those are the core values of hoteliers, obviously.

Headlines such as “Emmageddon,” while inventive, add to the alarm and the dampening of economics.

It never snows in many parts of England and even less so in congested, warmer London. It really doesn’t, so this unusual event should be an opportunity for us all to be warmer to one another.

Winters are technically warm here. Yes, it gets cold, sure, and the humidity often permits that coldness to bite, but if ever we get snow, it’s a light dusting that disappears after the first two buses go over it.

But not in the tail end of winter 2018, when the “B ft E” swept across from mainland Europe and caused travel delays, numerous working-at-home business hours and media photo-hacks going into tailspin trying to get the most graphic images of abandoned cars, skiers skiing to the office and, this being eccentric Britain, people going swimming in lakes after first breaking holes in ice.

I with interest await the results of this on the hotel industry.

Maybe there will be good revenue per available room as F&B does well.

It is, after all, a golden opportunity to extend the welcome our industry is known for. So snow should be treated as a shiny bauble, not the stricken Britain the media always wants to push to sell more advertising.

I see others feel the way I do. Restaurant chain D&D London sent an email that in part said “London’s restaurants are keeping calm and carrying on as intrepid Londoners defy the widespread doom-laden media reports to continue to eat out.”

So it is not all knee-jerk madness.

And it is, of course, all relative.

I lived in New York City for 20 years, so I know something about snow. My home on 21st Street in Brooklyn was every year at least three times cut off from civilization after heavy snows, and the ploughing of more major streets into side streets meant even getting to those main streets required Reinhold Messner-style ascents of newly formed mini-mountains.

Hotel News Now’s main office in Cleveland, Ohio, sees fairly brutal winter weather, too, and once when I was there, temperatures of -33°C were recorded. (At those temperatures, Fahrenheit and Celsius read off with the same numbers.) It was even given a name—The Polar Vortex.

If New York City did not experience snow like it does, and then did so, there would be several thousand enterprising souls on the streets the next morning selling “I survived the Beast from the East” T-shirts. Here in London—after all, a huge financial center—not one.

It is easy to poke fun at a few centimeters of snow in the U.K. and how that amount plays havoc with life, but as we have so little snow, there is little point in having aircraft hangers of rock salt and multi-million dollar snow ploughs.

The New York Times poked fun, and I for one am not impressed. Not only do we have fear from inside the country; now we have ridicule from outside.

Newspaper The Telegraph said snowfall in London between 1981 and 2010 fell on an average of—drum roll, please—2.5 days a year. And that is snow falling, not settling, which I would warrant might be 2.5 hours per year.

Some hotels might have benefitted by employees not being able to get home and thus taking last-minute bookings; others might not be affected as cancellation charges kicked in, with guests not realizing the severity of the storm until within 24 hours of it happening.

But for once, I am abandoning cynicism, thinking the world’s strongest economies and those paying high rents to live and work in them want to continue as normal and do not like confusion, delay and inconvenience.

It is ridiculous to hear people berate London life for coming to a near-halt. We’ll just work double-hard the next day and still beat everyone else.

One thing that never stops, though, is hotel data, so I will try next month to have a look at the damage done or the opportunity seized upon.

Do not cry out for local authorities to buy mega-expensive equipment but enjoy this very rare weather for being a change in the normal life of a city.

Email Terence Baker or find him on Twitter.

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