ALTHOUGH better known for its provision of education, the Royal Agricultural University (RAU) has been offering conferences, weddings and bed and breakfast for many years. “We have been active in the conference market since 1985,” said corporate services director Teresa North. “We are better known for what we do for students but our conference business has grown a lot.”
Teresa was delighted then when this side of the business was recently recognised at the Cirencester Chamber of Commerce business awards when it was named as the Hospitality and Business Tourism Provider of the Year.
“We were absolutely thrilled and over the moon with the award,” she said. “It was recognition for everyone who puts in all the hard work.”
On the day of my visit to the RAU, Teresa is sharing her office with her mini dachshund.
It is not ‘bring your dog to work day’ and this is not an everyday occurrence. “One of our conference clients had to bring her pug with her,” Teresa explained. “So I thought her dog would be more at ease if it had a companion for the day.”
This thoughtfulness perfectly illustrates one of the reasons the Chamber of Commerce judges singled out the RAU for its award. “The winner has demonstrated how they have gone the extra mile to provide great hospitality to our many visitors,” judges said.
“We do offer flexibility to our clients. If you ask for something out of the ordinary we will try to offer it, as long as it is legal,” Teresa joked.
This “customer first” ethos filters down from management to housekeeping staff and the catering team. “One woman recently asked for boiled potatoes for breakfast every day and our catering team was happy to oblige,” she said.
And everyone who books a conference or wedding with the RAU will be assigned a dedicated member of staff who they will deal with from start to finish. “The client has one contact throughout which is hugely important for them.”
The team is made up around 50 staff split between conference, catering and housekeeping and Teresa is adamant that this award is for them all. “It goes to everyone. What we do can’t happen without everyone being involved.”
The busiest time for residential conferences is from July to September, when students are away for the summer. At this time the RAU can offer 330 rooms, with 25 available all-year round.
One-day courses or evening bookings account for much of the business at the rest of the year and the university is the venue of choice for many local businesses and charities including the Soroptomists and Saville’s.
And of course one-off events such as the recent Antiques Roadshow help to open up the university up to the local community.
Repeat business says a lot about the award-winning service offered by the hospitality team. The Italian language school has used the University for the last 24 summers and the Buddhist Society has been coming here for 26 years. “About 60 percent of our business is repeat,” said Teresa.
Even weddings can bring in extra business, with couples who married at the University opting to have hold their christenings there.
Chamber of Commerce judges commented on the investment in customer services at the university and the RAU is constantly training and re-training its staff, including housekeeping. "They all feel they are qualified,” said Teresa. “We put as much back into our staff as they give us.”
The events team is keen for the local town to understand a bit more about its role as a provider of hospitality services and Teresa believes that this award could help with that. “We are important to the Cirencester economy as people who visit and stay with us will visit the town and spend money,” she said. “We are a hidden treasure.”
* The Royal Agricultural University events team can be contacted on 01285 652531 or go to www.rau.ac.uk