Meet the Team: A Day in the Life of Fiona

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Name: Fiona MacLennan

Job Title: Front of House

Location: Aberdeen

How long worked for the company: Just over 5 months.

What your job entails: General administration. We’re the face that the customers see when they first come in. It’s our job to make sure that the customer is happy and help solve any issues they have. This includes being on call out of hours for any emergencies. I’ve also started helping in the running of our new housekeeping team which seems to be going pretty well.

Any funny or interesting stories that have happened to you while at work: The first time I was on the early shift on my own, Jackie had forgotten to give me the code to get in the back door. I stood there for a good few minutes before I called her to ask. When I finally got in, Craig was just sat there at his desk so all I needed to do in the first place was knock on the window.

 What do you like most about serviced apartments? : It feels more like home and as if you have your own space because you have a whole apartment instead of just one room.

 Favourite flavour of ice cream? Anything with caramel in it. The Ben and Jerry’s core ones are my favourite.

 Favourite actor/actress? Eddie Redmayne never fails to amaze me. In his current film ‘The Theory of Everything’, you actually believe that he has MND.

 Tea or coffee? When I’m in the office I’ll drink fruit tea but otherwise coffee.

 What can’t you leave home without? Shoes.

 Serviced apartment or hotel? Serviced apartments are far too handy when you have a big group of friends.

Travel with Confidence: Quality Assessment Programmes

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Recent years have seen the introduction of new online accommodation platforms such as Air B&B where individuals can put up any property they own and travellers can choose to rent it out as part of their holiday experience. The surge in popularity for Air B&B probably stems from how it helps to cut costs as well as offers a unique accommodation experience which cannot be found by going down traditional accommodation routes e.g. treehouses can be rented; you cannot get more unique than that. It is even starting to make waves into the business travel arena although the BridgeStreet IQ report: Business Travel Insights 2015 reflects how only approximately 30% of Business Travel policies allow it as an accommodation source. This could potentially link to the pertinent issue of Air B&B in that there is no guarantee of quality. As owners put up their local properties for rent, there is no inspection for them to make sure that the facilities and experience they will be offering will be of an acceptable standard. To surmise, there is no essence of quality assurance.

If you are travelling, either for leisure or corporate, undoubtedly you will have invested some money as well as stress and you will want your stay to go as smoothly as possible in order to have the optimum travel experience. In effect, you will want to travel with confidence and know that wherever you are staying has your welfare in mind as the priority. Quality Assurance plays a pivotal role in developing that confidence because it entails the inspection of accommodation properties to make sure they are meeting the defined standards and benchmarks of the industry.

If you happen to scroll down to the depths of the bottom of our rather beautiful web pages, you will find a logo that you will probably be unfamiliar with. This logo represents how The Spires is part of a Quality Assessment Programme which is implemented by the serviced apartment’s key industry body: The Association of Serviced Apartment Providers (ASAP). So, what does this mean?

Quality Assurance ASAP

Under ASAP’s Quality Assessment Programme, we receive an internet review analysis, a mystery shopping initiative and an annual quality assessment visit. Most critically is the annual assessment which includes the assessor staying overnight so they can fully experience the service standards on offer and see just how comfy the beds are (in all seriousness, the comfort of the bed is genuinely graded!). When grading, assessors take into account core scheme requirements which covers essential legislative compliance, such as in regard to health and safety (electricity, fire risks, heating and lighting) and accessibility, as well as critical features which although may not deter bookings in their absence, are held highly in regards to guest expectations e.g. emergency contact details and an adequate ratio of bathrooms to guests. After the basics and essentials are covered, the Quality Scoring Mechanism is taken into account which considers the quality not just of the apartment offering itself, but also of the firm and its members. Therefore, grading begins to be generated based on everything from location to lighting to furnishing & fixtures to cleanliness. The whole guest experience from the booking and arrival processes are all taken into account and compared against ASAP’s high standards in regards to quality and security so no stone is left unturned; online guest satisfaction reviews are even considered.

Therefore, it is clear that the assessment is a rather rigorous process but it is one that is most definitely worthwhile because we can vouch to our guests that the experience we advertise, is the one they will receive. The only surprises they should get should be good ones! Service, integrity, efficiency and smiles are all part of The Spires’ values and consequently we wear our ASAP Quality Assessment badge with pride as testament that we abide by these values.

There is so much stress associated with holidays at it is, why make it worse by travelling with that niggling anxiety in the back of your mind that maybe that hotel or serviced apartment you booked might be a little bit sketchy? Trip Advisor is a great source for obtaining objective perspectives of a particular accommodation; however, nothing can quite determine the quality of a property like an official Quality Assessment Programme.

Moreover, Quality Assurance should be part of your purchasing decision-making process because it is only set to become increasingly pertinent with it being expanded globally (the US Corporate Housing  and Providers Association are interested in grading) and with the consideration of differentiating apartment firms by quality banding underneath the Quality Programme. Numerous reports discuss the rapid growth of the serviced apartment industry, particularly in recent years, and through quality assessment programmes such as ASAP’s, it is hoped that a benchmark of quality can be set for the industry so as to keep standards high and guests happy. As published in the March/April issue of Buying Business Travel, ASAP is really hoping this year to publicize the importance of accreditation to business and leisure tourists alike; something that we hope this blog will help with.

Sources

ASAP: http://theasap.site-ym.com/page/V2_qualityassess/? 

http://www.relocatemagazine.com/articles/fiona-murchie-03-d3-2015-shaking-it-up-changes-in-the-serviced-apartments-sector

http://buyingbusinesstravel.com/news/0523497-serviced-apartment-body-unveils-accreditation-logo

Leaving Behind a Legacy

website design

As fast as time is flying, my Spires expiration date has not been reached yet and so yes the title is a bit dramatically deceptive. Recently, I have been engaging more in the website content side of the business and that is why I am talking about leaving a legacy; all the content I am putting out there, be it on the website or in the form of my blogs, should outlive my Spires shelf-life so everyone will know I was here. This is all dependent on management being pleased with what I am doing so if I leave and everything changes, I can take that as a subtle hint…

In terms of the website, apart from uploading all my blogs, I am also helping to write and design for the special offers page and the brand new Edinburgh section. This includes choosing what photographs to display and writing about all the attractions and restaurants that should be headlining an Edinburgh “Must Do” travel list. I am really enjoying having the chance to engage in such activities as it is positive to have somewhat tangible evidence of the work I am doing and to know I am doing work that is of benefit to The Spires and will hopefully last for a considerable amount of time. It is also useful to have evidence to show my university that I have indeed been working and not been getting up to too much trouble!

One thing I did not expect was the use of coding that sometimes comes in handy with embedding social media content. Although it is by no means complex coding, it is still quite satisfying to see if I can manage to input a new widget onto the website or on the WordPress blog. Looks like my Higher Computing has proven to be a bit handy!

Having reached my two month mark, I am really happy The Spires chose me to be an intern. Although it is a challenging time for the North-East, there are so many important developments happening here that it is really exciting to be even playing a minor part in facilitating that. It is always beneficial experience to be working in such a dynamic environment and with such a lovely, enthusiastic team as well. Even though I am a Sales Administrator intern, I swear I am not trying a selling plug here!

Till next time,

Alex

Travel Apps: Your New Travel BFFs

Whether you are travelling alone or in groups, for business or leisure, travelling will always be an experience that you simultaneously get excited for, and immensely stress over. However, gone are the days of manically remembering to pack paperback travels guides & maps and writing packing lists, nowadays all the information we need can be found in our handheld technological miracle sidekicks: mobile phones and tablets. Arguably, they are making us somewhat less self-reliant but if they can help reduce the stress of finding our ways in new destinations, it means we can have ultimately more efficient and productive business journeys or can enable us to fully bask in the glory of our holidays. These travel apps will become your favourite companions whether you are travelling for business or leisure and can help you from every stage of your journey; from planning to packing to even finding the best pizza in town when you arrive!

  • WiFi Finder

When I am travelling, one of my initial concerns is always how fast I can get to a WiFi spot; which probably speaks volumes about my priorities. However, I am sure I am not the only one. The WiFi Finder App spots includes over 500,000 free and paid WiFi areas in over 144 countries and means you will never be at a loss for spotting your nearest WiFi location on your travels. The App will help you to filter the locations so you can find the perfect place to go and it will even provide directions so you do not have to use a separate navigation app to track down your newly found WiFi supply. Available for IOS and Android

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  • WorldMate

Some people enjoy the challenge of planning their business trip or holiday, most of us loathe it. However WorldMate takes the suffering out of it and has aided over 10, 000 million users in organizing and planning their jaunts away for free. All you need to do is forward confirmations for your booked travel arrangements, such as flights or car rentals, to the email address provided and it will manage and hold all details: even compose an itinerary which you can share with family and friends. Extra functions it offers are in relation to Flight Alerts and real-time Flight Status so you know what is happening with your flights and can prepare for the unexpected. TripIt is a similar popular app to consider. Available for IOS and Android

  • PackPoint

Keeping on board with the planning stages, is Packpoint: a free app that acts as your personal packing organizer. All you need to do is submit your location and your duration of your stay and the app will help you determine what items you need to pack based on your level of stay; your purposes for travelling; the activities you will be getting up to and even the forecasted weather. PackPoint will help to erase the many hours of deliberation and debate spent over deciding what items to pack and potentially to avoid the charges associated with over-packing. Available for Ios and Android

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  • Around Me

Once you have found yourself on the move and at the inevitable loss for your surroundings, use Around Me to compensate for your lack of local geographical knowledge. Selecting from a range of defined categories, you can use this helpful app to locate how far away you from the nearest *insert your option here e.g. ATM, bank, supermarket* Available for Ios and Android

  • Waze

A particular useful free app for when you are commuting to a business meeting or even just trying to reach a popular tourist attraction, Waze is the world’s largest community based navigation expert. Using real-time advice and information from fellow drivers on the road, you can keep up-to-date with the best routes to take to dodge the traffic and accidents and arrive at your destination with plenty of time. It provides another gift in that you can find the cheapest gas stations based on the prices posted by fellow drivers. It is a team effort out on those roads! Available for Ios and Android

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  • Get Taxi

Alternatively, if you are on holiday and do not have a car to hand to travel by, make use of the free Get Taxi where you can order a licensed Black taxi/cab to beat waiting in queue or having to flag one down. This app, which is rumoured to be number one globally for corporate rides, can be used to pre-book taxis or book one on the spur of the moment if the weather takes a disagreeable turn! Available for Ios and Android

  • Feeling Hungry?

No, this is not an app in itself but as we all know, sampling the local delicacies is the best bit of travelling and these apps will help you in your mission to unearth the best food your destination has to offer. Use Urbanspoon; a free app which compiles rating and reviews for over a million restaurants and cafes so you can see where fellow travellers recommend. Foodspotting takes a differing angle to the “eating like a local” by recommending dishes, not restaurants. If you are in a very specific mind or want to try particular local dishes, you can use this app to view images and see what people recommend. Finally, there is the incredibly popular Hungry House app which can be used when you do not want to face the world and do not have the energy to cook. It enables access to over 10,000 takeaways and over 60 cuisine types so you cannot complain it does meet your every hunger need!

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  • Expensify

This is one for all you business travellers who do not like managing their expenses! Expensify is a free app which is reputably backed as being the best app for expense reporting which allows you to simply take a photo of a receipt and then select which report you want the expense to go on. Easy peasy! Available for Ios and Android

  • Welcome to Scotland

If you are happening to be staying at our Scottish apartments, the Welcome to Scotland and VisitScotland Explore apps are the perfect way to introduce you the tartan land. The VisitScotland app helps you to discover attractions, events and activities as well as provides itineraries so you will never be bored! The Welcome to Scotland App offers similar functions as well as exclusive offers and deals. Definite essentials for a first-time visit to Scotland. Available for Ios and Android

Facebook: A Workplace Friend or Foe?

When we think Facebook, we think of it as an online tool that keeps us connected with our social circle: we follow people who are friends; we post photos to show where we have been, and we write statuses to detail what is going on in our worlds. Up till now, any connection Facebook has had with people’s professional lives has probably tended to be in relation to being berated for inappropriate use of it at work or posting things that do not align with company values i.e. those infamous dodgy work nights out photos! Effectively, Facebook is where we live our out-of-office lives: no work allowed. However, in January, a new Facebook initiative was piloted which has the potential turn this on its head: “Facebook at Work”.

As was reported by Buying Business Travel in their March/April 2015 edition, not a lot has been released on “FB@ Work” due to it only being piloted with a few select organisations. However, as can be inferred from the name, the concept is very much to integrate corporate life into Facebook so that it is almost a rival to existing “enterprise social network” platforms such as Yammer and Slack. These existing networks enable business teams to collaborate and communicate online so as to improve productivity; and this is effectively the aim of FB@Work. As detailed by Tech Crunch, it will enable corporate customers to create their own business social networks, where only company members can view information shared, under the familiar interface of Facebook’s existing website.

The reason why the travel sector has been brought up in particular relation with “FB@Work”, is that as it is highlighted by Buyer Business Travel, it could be a potentially interesting development to see Travel Management Companies (TMCs) form joint social networks with their clients for travel consultation purposes. This would be particularly striking if the TMCs created specific accounts for each client to fully personalise the experience. In particular regards to the knowledge sharing and collaboration aspect of “FB@Work”, it could enable there to be more communication in relation to critical corporate travel aspects such as travel policies. This links to how it would really help to bridge the gap between employees working in large multinational companies with similar roles as they can share advice and expertise regarding all issues, including travel. It has the potential to even allow employees to be welcomed into the homes of their colleagues located in other countries!

“FB@Work”s creation has generated considerable debate. As was highlighted by Buying Business Travel, one of the greatest advantages of “FB@Work” is that it is a social network that is familiar to so many; enabling a quick adoption which can only benefit productivity as well as lower training and switch-over costs. This argument I do understand because dependent on how similar the interface is in reality, as an employee I personally would feel quite comfortable using it and I would not be daunted by its introduction. However, it is its familiarity which also works against it, because of its well-established reputation as a personal social network. It is hard to deny that many of us will succumb to temptation and use it to also access our personal Facebooks; or even just go off-topic.

Personally, having used Facebook and its ‘group’ function as a means of carrying out team work at university,  I understand how the product would be beneficial in the dissemination of information in real time; particularly when members are located in all parts of the world. Therefore, I can see the value in it. However, if I was to look at it from a company perspective, I am not too sure how professional it would look when there are alternative enterprise social networks available out there; particularly considering how Facebook’s initial purpose was to connect college students in their social lives. Its association as a personal social network tool is probably too strong for it to make a transition into the corporate arena. Similarly, I am not too sure how stakeholders such as customers would feel if they knew the company was sharing information over Facebook with its notoriously sketchy privacy policy. Above all, data privacy will be one of the biggest obstacles to widespread use as there will be concern about confidential data being able to be accessed by third parties, as will the management and control of such corporate social networks by management.

At the moment, “FB@Work” is a project still in the testing stage with many barriers to overcome, but it will be interesting to see if it will revolutionise the workplace and the corporate travel sector in quite the same way that it has shaped our personal social networking lives.  Being a part-time social media intern and a full-time Facebook enthusiast, I am very intrigued to see the outcome…

Make sure to comment to give your opinion regarding the feasibility of “FB@Work”; we would love to hear them!

(Image: www.society30.com)

An Education in Email Marketing

email symbol on row of colourful envelopes

This week I was in a weird post-phone call limbo, but thankfully email marketing helped to fill the void and keep me occupied; particularly due to the unexpected nature of some old email addresses (a personal favourite being one that expressed a love for blue tartan trousers!). I am starting to become one with the lingo of email marketing and feel quite proud to understand what things like bounces are. I spent most of my week trying to go through all our email contacts and filter them so that those who had never opened our emails were taken off the list. Unfortunately I am one of those people who like to hoard under the belief that you never know what might happen, and therefore I was at times hesitant to delete contacts just on the off chance someone might change their ways and open their mail. Similarly, I have a tendency to over-analyse and needlessly worry meaning I was scared I may unknowingly delete an ultra important contact that all The Spires’ future revenue may rely on. Ok, maybe I exaggerate a little but there was a slight reluctance to use that scary ‘delete’ button as once you delete, there is no going back. However, as that slightly well-known song from Frozen goes, I just had to let it go and ended up on a deleting spree.

I also played a part in helping with the design of the The Spires March E-Letter (I shall subtlety leave a link here…http://dmtrk.com/160B-38WBJ-4/sv.aspx. Once again this was a task that I really enjoyed as it was a chance to use my creativity as well as to learn how to use email marketing software from a design aspect. It also gave me a new-found appreciation for just how long it must take people to design all those emails we get bombarded with on a daily basis. Similarly, it provided a really beneficial insight into the tough world of marketing and how I have a lot to learn in terms of design & innovation. I have a tendency to end up on cheesy tangents and rely on alliteration, puns and rhymes but now I am realising that sometimes there is nothing wrong with a bit of simplicity and stating things as they are. I feel I may have to start watching Mad Men to enlighten myself further, who says television cannot be educational?

I had a slight scare at the end of the week when I went to check Facebook ‘Likes’ and there had been a significant decrease from 716 followers to 699 followers and numerous refreshes were not changing that. Thinking that my efforts to help The Spires online presence were actually sabotaging it, I was quite relieved to discover that it had happened to all companies and that Facebook had erased ‘likes’ from any inactive pages. With the heart-attack over, it did make me realise that maybe there is still reason to change up my social media strategy and so that is something I am focusing on currently.

Hope all the mothers out there have an enjoyable Mother’s Day where they are thoroughly spoilt with pampering and hand-made cards and that everyone parties hard in green to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day!

Till next time,

Alex

(Image: netamatix.co.uk)

Let’s Get Blogging

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I feel I am somewhat falling into the dark world of addiction with an obsession for measuring how many clicks, likes, shares and retweets I am able to generate from my posts, tweets and pins. The worst and best inventions have been all the analysis tools that have been invented to enable you to monitor your social media footprint. Good, because they help you to determine whether you are succeeding or not; bad, because they are what enable you to cultivate an addiction towards monitoring your progress and checking them at any spare minute. My new found addiction can probably be reflected in the fact that at any given time if you ask me to report on how many followers or responses we have for a particular site, I can probably recite the exact figures. The fact that my personal Facebook links to The Spires’ corporate one does mean it can permeate to me when I am home, but thankfully, I have found I have some resilience and boundaries. Therefore, I have not reached a level where I reach for my phone at midnight to check if that post has reached a further 100 people (yet).

I am definitely enjoying being responsible for the company’s corporate presence and it is really rewarding when I see a big response to something I posted (#TheDress was amazing, and by the way, it was most definitely black and blue). Similarly, sometimes it can be a bit disheartening when a post is not received as well I thought it could, but then that always helps you to determine what is working and what is not and how to progress. It can be a bit tricky social networking from a corporate perspective as I have to be wary that what I post fits with the value and ethos of the firm. This particularly relates to blogging where you always want to post something that blends in with the business’s interests but at the same time want to take a unique stance to the topic so that it is interesting. Consequently, not only are my social networking skills being improved but so are my researching skills as it takes so much time and detective work to find topics worth pursuing and elaborating on. However, it is a challenge that I embrace and am ultimately thoroughly enjoying. Not many people can say they get paid to be on social media after all!

In other news, I have successfully finished all my phone calls although I am sure that there will be a few more hiding around the corner…For an activity that demands essentially no movement, it is surprisingly energy zapping at times. However, I really feel it has gone to improve my phone etiquette as well as my data reporting skills. It is somewhat disconcerting however how many people misinterpreted my pronunciation of The Spires as “The Squires”, “The Fire Department”, “Serviced Department” and my personal favourite; “The Sewars”. Something to watch for the future I think. Similarly, it would be prefarable if I could avoid accidentally phoning police stations about accommodation….

Moving forward, my aim is to start positing more original content on The Spires’ social media in order to aid with search engine optimization so make sure to watch this space (and to like, share, comment and retweet anything I happen to share 😉 ). Thank you to anyone who is taking the time to read this blog or follow The Spires on any social networking site, it means a lot and I am more than eager to hear what you think.

Till next time,

Alex

Photo: http://scienceofblogging.com/why-scientists-should-blog-a-case-study/