Not many letters on the content of CONRUNNER 6, but a large postbag on the subject of Conspiracy, and particularly the Metropole Hotel's general manager. For the most part these are simply copies of letters that people have already sent to the Metropole Hotel's Head Office or to the Brighton Council. Before them, however, the Conspiracy committee are taken to task by
Ethel Lindsay (69 Barrie Rd, Carnoustie, Angus DD7 7QQ)
over the hotel ballot we operated. This letter was written before the actual convention.
Herewith some thoughts on the Conspiracy Hotel Ballot: Apparently the main reason for the ballot was to be fair to overseas fans. I have not heard of any other reason. Up 'til now it has been "first come, first served". I still think this is the fairest way. To bend over and be fair to overseas fans it would only have been necessary to have mailed out their forms a certain length of time ahead of the British ones.
I feel this ballot has been unfair to those who paid their supporting and attending fees early. Particularly as this is the money that any committee needs in the early stages. Should your hotel room be contingent on a ballot there is no incentive to join early. News of the ballot came long after many people had paid. As to how it worked out, what happened to me could be a fairly typical example. For over 20 years I have sent my booking form back immediately. This time I had to wait a long time before receiving the form letter "Dear Fan" and be told that I was unlucky in the ballot. I had to return this form to say "yes, I still wanted accommodation and yes, I still wanted a room of my own." Another wait. Then a booking form from the Accommodation Bureau. They had booked me into a hotel in Hove. Now Hove is approx. 4 miles from Brighton. I am now 66 years old and nervous of walking after dark even in my hometown. I rarely go anywhere unless I can use my car. I would feel much more fearful in Brighton/Hove at a Bank Holiday weekend. So I would have to add the cost of taxis to and from the Metropole. Many young fans, no doubt, could cheerfully walk the four miles but then a ballot does not take into account the age f a fan. Nor health I should imagine.
I think I would have had to seriously re-think the possibility of attending the con because of this allocation. I could foresee many difficulties and a much greater expense. Just an example - no chance of nipping up to your room for a refreshing cuppa when the room is four miles away. So calculate the cost of buying in the con hotel - this can mount up alarmingly.. I know!
So I am exceedingly thankful that I have been able to privately book a hotel next door to the Metropole. This hotel has all the amenities I want and is cheaper! I am able to be booked into this hotel as it is not one scheduled for the con. While this sounds slightly weird I am very grateful to the enterprising fan who discovered such a hotel.
Still: now that Conspiracy has tried this method it will be interesting to know the general feeling about it. It is a fact of life that whatever system is chosen you will never please everyone. All you can hope to do is please the majority; and I would be very interested to know the majority opinion on this ballot system.
I'm glad that Ethel eventually found suitable accommodation, but I can't accept the proposition that "first come first served" could have been operated in any fair way. The bulk of our problems pre-con were caused by the unpredictability of the postal service, so doing a carefully staggered mailing was ut of the question. It is true that we cocked up the handling of the returned forms by not getting them to the hotels quickly enough and causing the long delays people experienced before being contacted by the accommodation bureau. By the way, most of the hotels listed as being in Hove were in reality only a few hundred yards from the Metropole which is situated near the Brighton/Hove boundary. I any event, as you will see from the letters that follow, Ethel was better off not being in the Metropole!
And so, on to some extracts from letters complaining about the Metropole. Where I've edited out sections it is shown by ///////. I'll start with
Dave Langford (94 London Rd, Reading, RG1 5AU)
who managed to get a reply from Mr Bolland, the Managing Director of the Metropole Hotels Group (PO Box 335, NEC, Birmingham B40 1PT) who promised to look into the matter personally. I will be interested to know what he has to say to Mr Hutchings, the Metropole's manager! If you have any complaints it's not too late to write, and remember to send me a copy too. Now, over to Dave...
Dear Mr Bolland,
I trust this letter will not seem an impertinence, but I feel I really must say a few strong words about the General Manager of the Brighton Metropole Hotel: a Mr Hutchings, I understand.
Over the August Bank Holiday weekend I had the honour to be a special guest off the 45th World Science Fiction Convention, most of whose function space and accommodation was located in the Metropole. Never, in fifteen years of attending such conventions, have I stayed in a hotel which pursued such a disastrous policy of non-cooperation. By the end of the event it was clear that although the Brighton Metropole is in many ways an ideal venue for large science fiction conventions, it cannot even be considered as a future convention site until Mr Hutchings has been removed.
Immediately on arrival, the hostility was apparent. My request for a drink via room service resulted in an unprecedented conversation: "Yes sir, of course. By the way are you a member of the convention?" Myself: "Yes, indeed, and a resident of this hotel." Waiter: "In that case, sir, I'm afraid I can't serve you." I was eventually allowed to order food, but not to charge it to my room.
It is only fair to note that staff were courteous and apologetic as they reluctantly followed the unpleasant policies of the Manager.
It is surprising that they could remain polite, since the extraordinary Mr Hutchings thought nothing of throwing loud public tantrums - outbursts directed at his own staff and at members of the hard-working Convention Committee, in the presence of hundreds of guests. Even guests could become targets for random insult: "What are you doing standing around in the foyer?" was not a question that did much for public relations.
There were many other problems, the most obvious being the disgraceful state of the Metropole itself. I presume it is not the normal policy of your hotel group to accept bookings of function rooms for major events, and subsequently to arrange for their complete redecoration in the same period?
Since I was lucky enough to avoid close contact with Mr Hutchings himself, I will not discuss the comments of the acquaintance who as a psychiatrist observed him with some clinical interest. Lay members opinions of Mz Hutchings were very frequently expressed as the event went on, but are simply not printable.
It was impossible not to contrast this event with my memories of the 1984 Easter Science Fiction Convention, held in the Brighton Metropole Hotel with remarkably little friction between the Convention and the management. The chief difference was apparently that, over Easter 1984, Mr Hutchings was on holiday. Might I tactfully suggest that a semi-permanent holiday or early retirement would benefit the hotel and the group considerably?
Strong stuff from Dave! As I indicated earlier, Mr Bolland replied with an apology and a promise to investigate. Martin Hoare, who knows about hotels, is amazed and encouraged that such an august figure as Mr Bolland even deigned to read the letter, never mind reply to it. Of course, you might expect Dave to make a bit of a fuss, being a mischievous little devil at heart. But what about this from everyone's favourite nice person,
Dear Mr Bolland,
My husband and I were guests at the MEtropole Hotel in Brighton for the World Science Fiction Convention, August 27 to September 2. Our room was very pleasant and the staff were very helpful.
The convention in general, however, was treated shabbily. The letter we were handed when we registered at the hotel informed us that the swimming pool would be closed for the duration of the convention. This was not for cleaning, this was just to keep people out of it. As paying guests of the hotel, we felt cheated.
The main bar, an excellent central meeting spot, was closed for the entire convention. No reason was given, except, I suppose to keep us from damaging the upholstery.
We've attended two previous conventions at the Brighton Metropole and have always enjoyed coming back. Now, though, we will think twice.
I think it's important to let a business know when it's good customers are unhappy. There were a lot of unhappy people in Brighton in August.
Not content with simply writing to Mr Bolland, Caroline Mullan and Brian Ameringen (9 Graham Rd, Wealdstone, Middx, HA3 5RP) also wrote to The Brighton Tourist Board, The Mayor of Brighton, Conference World magazine, Association of British Professional Conference Organisers, Venue magazine and BIS Applied systems Ltd. Nothing half hearted here!
It is perhaps appropriate to summarise the contents of this letter by saying that we were generally given the impression that the management of the Metropole Hotel did not welcome us, were not prepared to extend to us the courtesies and facilities which a guest normally enjoys there, and that the staff were apologetic about the orders they were required to obey in refusing us these courtesies.
There were no tea/coffee making facilities in our room, although some other rooms in the hotel were so equipped. There was no shampoo provided in the bathroom. The room was dusty, and the temperature too warm. A bowl of fruit which was in our room on arrival was not replenished in the entire week of our stay. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there was no Guest Questionnaire in the room - we had to ask Reception for one.
Our double bed was made up with a single-bed sized sheet which was not tucked-in over the mattress, thus rendering our night uncomfortable, and the sheets were not changed in the entire week of our stay. On Monday our room was not made up until we complained in the early evening.
The Bedford Hotel, where delegates were paying the same rates as ourselves, provided their full breakfast service throughout the convention, so we cannot understand why the Metropole was unable to do likewise.
The swimming pool was "not available for residents". However, it was open to residents of the Bedford Hotel all weekend, and when Metropole residents discovered this and complained, the Pool was in fact opened to them. This seems most extraordinary.
I am forced to agree. Wilf James has been busy writing to everyone in sight with the catalogue of complaints about the way we were treated. He has also written to many people and papers to express his delight with the convention generally. He did, however, have some sharp words for the Repro Room staff who seemed to him most unhelpful when he wanted to do some duplicating at the con. All I can say in their defence is that they were working in a room that was being redecorated round them, had no power points initially and they had too few staff to produce what they were supposed to produce for the convention. I'm afraid that ordinary convention users simply didn't get much of a look in down there! Let's move on to Conspiracy Corner.