May 192017

With thanks to Gemma Setter, PR Account Executive, Frasermedia.

Lisa Thomson, owner of Hardy’s Chocolates

A new Aberdeen-based independent chocolate shop has invested a five-figure sum into the start up and renovation of a city centre premises.

Recently opened in the Rosemount area of the city, Hardy’s Chocolates was established by former IT operations director, Lisa Thomson, and specialises in bespoke and ‘free-from’ chocolates.

To coincide with its launch, Hardy’s has also agreed to become an exclusive stockist of chocolate from a Shetland-based chocolatier.

Hardy’s Chocolates is the only shop in the North-east to stock Mirrie Dancers chocolates from artisan chocolatier, Dave Williams. It also sells high-quality chocolates from Belgium, as well as bars, truffles, speciality chocolates and sweets from across the UK and Europe.

The deal between Mirrie Dancers and Hardy’s Chocolates resulted after Mrs Thomson, 44, noted the high demand for Scottish-made confectionery from her customers. After reaching out to the Lerwick-based company, it was agreed the shop would start exclusively stocking a variety of the brand’s luxury chocolate selection.

Launched in 2016 by former military chef, Mr Williams, Mirrie Dancers specialises in unique flavour combinations, including port and stilton and lime and prosecco, and has distributed its chocolate to countries as far as South Africa, Switzerland and Australia.

To celebrate the collaboration between the brand and Hardy’s Chocolates, a selection of Mirrie Dancers chocolates will be available for the public to sample from Friday, 19 to Saturday, 20 May.

Lisa Thomson, owner of Hardy’s Chocolates, said:

“After a very exciting first few months for Hardy’s Chocolates, I am thrilled that we are continuing to increase the shop’s selection of high-quality confectionery by stocking Mirrie Dancers chocolates.

“Dave is a master in his craft and we both share the same values when it comes to chocolate and how it is made. We believe that to truly appreciate the taste, chocolate needs to be of the highest quality.

“Working with Mirrie Dancers will also help us grow the business and what we can provide for our customers, as we are now able to offer an even wider made-to-order service for corporate gifts and events.”

Dave Williams, owner of Mirrie Dancers, said:

“Mirrie Dancers has come a long way since it first launched at the beginning of last year. I am absolutely thrilled that Hardy’s Chocolates will now be the sole stockist of our products in the North-east and I am looking forward to hearing the feedback from people within the region.

“I founded Mirrie Dancers with the support of local businesses and friends, since then it has grown to employ three others, so I am extremely supportive of small, independent businesses like Hardy’s Chocolates.”

For more information about Hardy’s Chocolates, visit:

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Jul 142016

With thanks to Eoin Smith, Senior Account Executive, Tricker PR.

Wallace VisitAberdeenshireAberdeen and Aberdeenshire are leading Scotland with more tourism professionals achieving WorldHost accreditation that any other area in the country.
Over 1,300 people working in the tourism industry – from taxi drivers to visitor attraction managers – have now completed the training, which promotes world-class customer service.

In addition, 73 businesses of all sizes in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire have attained WorldHost Recognised Business status, including Aberdeen Taxis, Braemar Highland Safaris, the Aberdeen Marriott Hotel and The Spotty Bag Shop.

This means over 50% of staff have undertaken WorldHost training, and owners have signed a commitment to delivering excellent customer service.

While traditionally this kind of training has been aimed squarely at accommodation providers, WorldHost – a renowned customer service training scheme popularised by the London Olympics and Glasgow Commonwealth Games – brings together all those working in the tourism industry. From transport providers to restauranteurs, the course aims to focus operators’ attention on the entire customer journey and experience.

With the support of Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire Councils, all libraries and visitor attractions are now working on gaining accreditation, alongside VisitScotland Information Centres, the National Trust for Scotland and Historic Scotland.

Elaine Booth, business engagement manager at VisitAberdeenshire, says,

“While business travel levels have been lower in the last 12 months, the leisure market has remained constant. Historically leisure travellers saw Aberdeen as a weekend destination, with high midweek room rates pricing them out of the market. The last year, however, has seen this shift somewhat, and now is the perfect time for tourism operators to ensure that all their staff are providing excellent service to all visitors.

“WorldHost allows tourism businesses the chance to really focus in on the customer journey, and ensure that they are thinking of their guests at every stage of the process. Trainees will learn valuable skills including how to build a rapport with guests, how to empathise with and listen to customers’ concerns, and how to go the extra mile.

“It is so important that everyone working in the tourism industry – from taxi drivers to hotel managers – is well-versed in providing exceptional customer service, and is thinking about every step of a customer’s visit to the region.”

Those business that have gained WorldHost Recognised Business accreditation are already reaping the benefits, with an increase in solid customer satisfaction feedback. Two such businesses are the Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Centre, who achieved the status in March this year, and the Station Hotel in Portsoy which has been accredited for a number of months.

Anna MacKenzie, senior sales manager at the Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Centre (AECC), says that although she feels the venue has always offered good quality service, taking part in WorldHost training has ensured that everyone is working together.

She explains,

“There is now a high level of understanding across all departments of where the customer comes in the whole process – we’re all singing from the same hymn sheet. Everyone has a role to play in service delivery, from the person greeting them on arrival at the front desk to the event planning team, and this joined up thinking allows us to present an even better service to our customers.

“We as an organisation often have to sell Aberdeen and the north east as a destination before we can sell the AECC as a venue. It’s in the best interests of everyone working in the tourism and hospitality industries across the region to provide the best customer service possible – we are all ambassadors for Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire and contribute to a visitor’s enjoyment of their time here.”

Susan Cameron, owner of the Station Hotel in Portsoy, agrees that widespread WorldHost accreditation is the route to a boost in the tourism industry in the north east of Scotland.

She says,

“Through programmes like WorldHost, customer care in the north east of Scotland – and across the country – has really improved. The more businesses across the region that complete the training, the better. If everyone is operating at the same level and to the same high standards, there is more likelihood for visitors to return in the future or extend their stay.

“Whether a guest is visiting from Canada or down the road in Elgin, it’s important for everyone to remember the customer journey and ensure that they have the best experience possible.

“Prior to the WorldHost training, some of our staff had been through external training courses and some had been trained in-house. By putting everyone through the same training, it allowed us to ensure that we were delivering a consistent level of service across the business. It also allows a rare opportunity for the whole team to get together and really think about the service they deliver, and refresh their core customer care skills.”

Those completing their WorldHost training in the north east of Scotland are also entitled to an added bonus: access to Discover Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire, a dedicated training course that educates tourism operators in the intricacies of the north east tourism industry.

Complementing the joined-up thinking promoted by WorldHost, the online course will allow tourism organisations a greater understanding of their place in the local industry and how they can work to improve the service they provide.

For more information about WorldHost, and Discover Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire, visit and

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Oct 292015

Pumpkin2With thanks to Eoin Smith, Senior Account Executive, Tricker PR.

Calling all wannabe Ghostbusters: are you brave enough to spend Halloween in a haunted hotel?
Guests at The Caledonian Hotel in Aberdeen are amongst the bravest of the brave, as the building is thought to be the home of a ghostly presence that walks the corridors.

Legend has it that the ghost of Mary Littlejohn, a much-revered restaurant manager from the hotel’s dim and distant past, has been spotted in the hallways of the hotel, which opened on Union Terrace Gardens in the Granite City in 1892.

Hotel staff are more than willing to share their stories of ghostly goings on – and can even point guests intrigued by the paranormal to the spots where they are most likely to encounter some paranormal activity.

Babs Dawson, a member of the housekeeping staff for over 19 years, is the hotel’s unofficial ghost expert.

She says,

“I am one of the longest serving members of staff at The Caledonian, and as long as I have been here there have been whispers of a ghost.

“Everyone who works in the basement office has experienced a supernatural presence. When people are working alone down there, they often hear footsteps in the corridor but when they go to check who it is… no-one is ever there.

“Some members of staff have also mentioned that there is a cool spot on the right hand side of the fourth floor corridor – we think this might have been where Mary lived while working in the hotel.

“The hotel has been open for over 100 years, and I really do believe that there could be an otherworldly presence here. I think even after all these years, Mary is still checking in on us to make sure the hotel is running smoothly!

“Some guests are intrigued and actually want to see the spirit, but I can assure those who have no desire to come face to face with her that she has never been mischievous. She seems to want to ensure our guests have a restful and relaxing stay, just like the rest of us.”

The Caledonian isn’t the only haunted location in Aberdeen city centre, and there are dozens of other spectres that will delight – and terrify – fans of TV shows like Most Haunted.

His Majesty’s Theatre – just a few hundred yards from the hotel – is said to be haunted by not one but two spooks. The most famous is Jake, the spirit of a stagehand who died in a tragic rigging accident during a circus performance at the time of World War II.

Many actors and crew have reported unusual goings-on during performances, with disembodied footsteps heard backstage and props and tools mysteriously vanishing without a trace. There are also rumours of a Grey Lady, who has been spotted gliding through the foyer.

There are other paranormal hotspots close to the hotel too. Halloween ghost hunters might spot the ghost of Friar Charles Gordon – affectionately known as Priest Gordon – near the Castlegate. After 50 years’ service at St Peter’s Chapel, Gordon died in 1855 and was so loved by the city that the citizens lined the streets for his funeral.

They might also catch a glimpse of the ghoulish monks that haunt the historic Green marketplace, or the pale apparition of a dark haired woman dressed in white that hovers in St Nicholas Kirkyard.

And The Caledonian Hotel is not the only member of The Hotel Collection in Aberdeen to house a ghostly presence. Anne McIntosh, duty manager at The Aberdeen Skyway Hotel, has come face to face with one spectre in the dead of night.

Anne says,

“When you’re working the nightshift, you often feel like there’s a presence there with you – but I think that’s part and parcel of working alone at night. There was one time, though, about five years ago that I saw something I really can’t explain.

“I was working on my own at the reception. I left for a second to look at the security monitors and noticed that there was a woman sitting on a seat next to the reception. I went through to speak to her, but she had disappeared. When I went back through to look at the monitors again, she was still sitting there.

“As far as I know, no-one before or since has seen the ghost – but it was pretty terrifying at the time!”

For those looking to jump into their Mystery Machine and head to Aberdeen for a spooky break, rooms at The Caledonian Hotel are available on Halloween from £67.15 per room (based on double occupancy, bed & breakfast). Rooms at The Aberdeen Skyway Hotel are available from £58.65 (based on double occupancy, bed & breakfast).

The Caledonian Hotel and The Aberdeen Skyway Hotel are part of The Hotel Collection, which has one other venue in the city – The Aberdeen Altens Hotel. There are 446 bedrooms across the three venues, and each has conferencing and banqueting facilities. The Aberdeen Altens Hotel also has a health and leisure club. Further information is available at

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[Aberdeen Voice accepts and welcomes contributions from all sides/angles pertaining to any issue. Views and opinions expressed in any article are entirely those of the writer/contributor, and inclusion in our publication does not constitute support or endorsement of these by Aberdeen Voice as an organisation or any of its team members.]

Sep 102015

With thanks to Eoin Smith, Senior Account Executive, Tricker PR.

Aberdeen, Tuesday 10th March 2015 Thistle Altens Hotel Aberdeen (Picture by Michal Wachucik/Newsline Media Ltd)

Gabor Petia (33), reception manager at The Aberdeen Skyways Hotel.

A reception manager at one of Aberdeen’s top hotels has recently returned from a prestigious scholarship in Switzerland.

Gabor Petia (33), reception manager at The Aberdeen Skyways Hotel, attended a week-long course on leadership in the workplace as part of the Hospitality Industry Training (HIT) Scotland Scholarship at the École Hotelière Lausanne in Switzerland.

Originally from Hungary, Gabor was one of just 14 scholars selected for the week long programme that focused on leadership and management in the hospitality sector.

Gabor explains,

“The whole HIT Scotland experience was incredible and I was honoured to be a part of it.

“I met a number of inspiring individuals and there was a great sense of camaraderie throughout the week. In the evenings we were able to relax and enjoy each other’s company, like a sort of working holiday.”

Throughout the scholarship, Gabor learned a number of skills that will help him become a more effective manager in his post at The Aberdeen Skyways Hotel, including how to motivate his team to perform to the best of their abilities.

He says,

“The most important thing I learned on the scholarship was that being a manager and being a leader are two very different things. A manager is focusing on tasks and schedules, but a leader’s main focus is people.

“I often meet with individuals in the industry who work in hospitality just to pay the bills and have absolutely no passion. I believe that the hospitality industry has no place for this attitude as it has an immediate impact on the level of service.

“The experience reaffirmed my belief that it’s not a mistake to aim for perfection. Striving towards a 100% success rate can bring out the best in a team and encourage teamwork.

“Luckily, our reception team already performs very well, but there’s always room for improvement. I’m looking forward to sharing my experiences so that we continue to focus on the guests, their individual needs, and ways in which to give them a unique experience.”

Gabor also realised that sometimes the biggest hindrance in any professional’s work is their own outlook, and that it can be important to step back and re-evaluate one’s priorities in the workplace.

He says,

“The daily pressure at work can mean we sometimes forget the bigger picture. We can focus so much on resolving the issues directly in front of us that it can hold us back from delivering the level of service we are capable of.

“Getting away from daily routines and receiving professional tutoring in how to excel in hospitality is a fantastic experience, and a real motivator to perform well. It reminded me why I entered into the hospitality industry in the first place.”

Gabor, who has worked at The Aberdeen Skyways Hotel since 2011, has long been a valued member of the team. General manager, Alison Christie says,

“Since Gabor returned from his HIT Scotland Scholarship he has been re-energised and really focused on improving the customer experience, putting into place his learnings as soon as he stepped back through the door.

“Being awarded a scholarship is a really fantastic achievement, and we were thrilled that Gabor was selected earlier this year. He is a credit to the hotel, and we look forward to working with him for many more years to come.”

The Aberdeen Skyway Hotel is part of The Hotel Collection, which has two other venues in the city – The Aberdeen Altens Hotel and The Caledonian Hotel. There are 446 bedrooms across the three venues, and each has conferencing and banqueting facilities. The Aberdeen Altens Hotel also has a health and leisure club. Further information is available at

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Jul 242015
Thistle Aberdeen Altens Hotel. (Picture by Michal Wachucik/Newsline Media)

Thistle Aberdeen Altens Hotel.
(Picture by Michal Wachucik/Newsline Media)

With thanks to Jennifer Kelly, Tricker PR.

Thistle Aberdeen Altens hotel has been inducted into the TripAdvisor Hall of Fame after securing the review site’s Certificate of Excellence for five years in a row.

And there have also been celebrations at the chain’s two other hotels in the Granite City – Thistle Aberdeen Airport and Caledonian by Thistle – after they were also awarded the Certificate of Excellence status after receiving consistently high reviews from guests.

The Certificate of Excellence is awarded by TripAdvisor – the world’s most renowned peer review website – and has been running for the past five years.

Recipients are identified by a TripAdvisor algorithm that factors in a variety of user generated content.

This content includes review ratings, overall rating and the quantity and frequency of reviews. Hotels must maintain a rating of at least four out of five, have a minimum number of views and have been listed on Trip Advisor for at least 12 months.

The Hall of Fame Award is a new initiative to mark the fifth anniversary of the Certificate of Excellence scheme, and is being presented to those hotels that have made the grade for five years running.

Thistle Aberdeen Altens manager Kris Manship says:

“This award shows that we are consistently providing an excellent experience for guests. It is testament to the hard work of the team in the hotel, who are very committed to ensuring that we not only provide great service but that the experience is the same for each and every guest.”

General manager at Thistle Aberdeen Airport Alison Christie says staff at the three hotels are delighted with the hat-trick. She adds,

“TripAdvisor is the world’s most influential review site. It puts the power into the hands of the consumer.

“Positive TripAdvisor ratings are hugely important and they recognise and promote the great service and experience which guests have at our three Aberdeen hotels. A Market Metris survey showed recently than 93% of global travellers say their decisions are influenced by online reviews. It’s ‘word of mouth’ via the keyboard or touch screen and reviews benchmark us against all our peers.

“All three of our hotels have received Certificates of Excellence for several years running and they are another element of our strong credentials to mark us out in a highly competitive market.”

President of TripAdvisor for Business, Marc Charron has previously said of the Certificate of Excellence scheme,

“By putting a spotlight on businesses that are focussed on delivering great service to customers, TripAdvisor not only helps drive an improvement to hospitality standards around the world but also gives businesses both large and small the ability to shine and stand out from the competition.”

Recent TripAdvisor comments about Thistle’s three Aberdeen hotels include:

  •  “Staff very helpful and polite, choice at breakfast was 1st class. Pool was great.”
  • “This is an excellent hotel with first class service, friendly staff, great facilities.”
  • “The bar /restaurant staff were very polite and efficient. Nothing appeared to be too much trouble and they were certainly hard working.”
  • “I stay at this hotel once a month the experience begins when you walk through the door staff are friendly and helpful the decor is very good rooms are tasteful and quite large.”
  • “I stay in many hotels throughout the country and I can honestly say that this place is as good as it gets for what is a city centre location. The rooms are well appointed with everything you could want, parking is free (a rarity for a city) and breakfast is very good. The outstanding feature of the hotel for me is the staff.”

Thistle has three hotels in Aberdeen – The Caledonian, Aberdeen Airport and Aberdeen Altens. There are 446 bedrooms across the three venues, and each has conferencing and banqueting facilities. Aberdeen Altens also has an on-site leisure club and spa. Further information is available at

Jan 272012

In these bleak and pessimistic economic times, it’s always heartening to hear of a thriving business looking to expand. All the better when its success is built on an alternative business model which genuinely appreciates its staff, rewards and motivates them appropriately,and involves them at the core of decision-making. Surely this can’t work in the cut-throat commercial world? Jeremy Miles, MD of the Edinburgh Bicycle Co-operative has proved it can. David Innes cruised alongside him in high gear (definitely NO Lycra though) to ask him how it works.

Expanding? In the current economic climate? 

What looks like a sudden announcement of expansion is really a plan we have been quietly executing for just over ten years. For 25 years we only operated in Edinburgh where we built up a £3m store. We decided to expand in 2001 and acquired Cycling World in Aberdeen’s George Street.

By 2011, turnover increased to £12m, with stores operating in Newcastle, Leeds, Manchester and Sheffield. We were developing our online presence at the same time. Our aim was to double in size in each of the two five-year periods – every self-respecting socialist-minded business has to have a five-year plan!  These are among the most challenging times traders have ever faced. Our business is no different. Customer spending on discretionary items is down, on bicycles as much as sofas and flat screen TVs. We’re seeing growth, but its hard work to keep that going, although it’s very positive in current conditions.

Our optimism and our ambitions are based of a number of factors. Cycling is enjoying a very positive momentum at present with concerns over health, transport costs, congestion and the environment all helping the industry to grow. We also feel that our co-operative structure presents an alternative to discerning customers who want to spend with a company with real values as well as a genuine focus on high levels of service delivered by owners of the business.

  we work within our general vision of doubling turnover every five years.

Look how the Co-op has positioned itself against the corporate strength of the major supermarkets. The Co-op has heavily engaged with its local communities to help fund projects. It projects an image of being off the beaten track in terms of their offer.

Since we face similar challenges as our competitors become more organised and supported financially by private equity, we must also target a particular market where the growth in cycling is focused – in family leisure cycling and commuting.

Our previous expansion plans were about big stores in big cities with the right demographic spread; a fairly rigid plan which worked well for us in good times. The bike market is changing, however, with the development of some huge internet players in Wiggle and Chain Reaction Cycles. Significant retail chains like Evans and Cyclesurgery are expanding rapidly and bicycle retail is very different from even five years ago. We’re also seeing more established brands such as Specialized and Giant opening branded stores, whilst the government-driven Cycle to Work initiative has also helped change the landscape.

Expansion opportunities are broader and more flexible as the customer base widens. Business-to-business relationships develop through government-funded initiatives and the internet offers new ways to market and support the bricks and mortar business. We look to capitalise on these opportunities when they emerge. We don’t have plans for x stores in y years, but we work within our general vision of doubling turnover every five years.

This co-operative structure – how does that work?

Within the spectrum of employee-owned businesses we are a traditional workers’ co-operative, so as hardline as it gets!

We have around 180 employees, full-time and part-time, of whom 135 are co-operative members. Members are invited to join after 12 months service by purchasing a single £2.75 business share. Around 75% of our workforce are owners of the business.

Having secured membership, they’re entitled to receive a share of profits, free shares awarded annually, a single vote on issues put to the membership and the opportunity to be elected to the Board. They have access to communication mechanisms allowing information to move freely from top to bottom and vice versa, ensuring that opinions and ideas are fully utilised. It’s an open and consultative approach to management and operations.

Aside from the ownership model, our business structure is fairly traditional with a board of directors, including an executive management team where I am MD, a group of elected employee directors to represent the membership, and an external non-executive director to provide guidance and expertise. I manage the staff in a conventional manner via Divisional and Department Managers.

This obviously works – tell me why

We’ve always been structured this way. We started out in 1977; seven hippies fixing bikes in a small repair centre in Edinburgh. Two of these hippies are still with us today!

The central philosophy was always to have an alternative view of how a business was structured, but I don’t suppose your readership is all that interested in very deep philosophical musings about the prevailing mood of the 1970s and detailed Marxist rhetoric!

We are very much a business which values its people. We see them as the key asset of the business, so it makes sense that they control the business.

We spend 10% of our targeted profit every year on supporting grass-roots cycling projects

A prime retail challenge is delivering an all-round quality customer experience. To be effective at this, you must ensure that customer-facing staff are heavily engaged with your business. Many retailers struggle, paying minimum wage rates and providing a fairly uninteresting working environment.  They turn staff over very regularly.

As a co-operative, we put owners in front of customers in most instances. This makes it much more likely that customers are speaking to someone with a deeply-vested interest in making sure the experience is positive. The fact they are almost always very passionate about the product they are selling helps too!

We see ourselves as much more than just a shop selling bikes and bits. We’re all about added value and the wider customer experience. Promoting cycling as a leisure activity and a genuine alternative mode of transport is at the heart of our vision and mission. We spend 10% of our targeted profit every year on supporting grass-roots cycling projects, from school fairs to individual charity rides through Vietnam. We support key charity-focused cycling events which also promote cycling, for example the Edinburgh to St Andrews Ride and the Great North Ride in Newcastle.

We don’t just write a cheque. We’re hands-on involved, with starting line presence, repair services en route, food stops, and finish line presentation. We’ve run a range of hugely-successful maintenance and training skills classes for customers for years, and have a real commitment to providing repairs services to a high level. Our workshops are prominent in our stores rather than tucked away in a back room.

We see our engagement with customers as a vital part of the character of our business and put huge effort into getting feedback from them. Customers contribute to the content of our catalogues with family photos, and will soon be helping with blogs and social media content.

We have a very loyal base who are genuinely interested in our values and want to be part of our success as a genuine community co-operative.

Sep 222011

On Monday the 26th September at Aberdeen harbour, the UAL Africa will be open to shippers and forwarders alike to tour on board and have a look at the newest vessel to be added to the current 16 multi-purpose geared vessels of Universal Africa Lines (UAL). With thanks to Rhonda Reekie.

The vessel was actually built in The Netherlands and is special because of the application of the Groot Cross-Bow (registered trademark), an innovative bow shape with wave piercing abilities.

This means the vessel will have less slamming and will be easier to maintain its speed compared to conventional bow shapes with bow flare.

Because of this shape, energy is saved – therefore  less fuel oil will be burned resulting in a reduction of CO2 output.

The vessel will be christened in Delfzijl, The Netherlands on the Friday 23rd September and then sails to Aberdeen, where she will set off on her maiden voyage via Antwerp to various destinations in West Africa like Takoradi, Lobito and Soyo. In the future she will also be used from the port of Houston.

UAL have been sailing from Aberdeen port now for 14 years, and Kestrel Liner Agencies Aberdeen  – finalists in the 2011 National Business Awards (for Customer Focus and Entrepreneur of the Year)  – are their liner agents . Last year they had over 30 vessels in Aberdeen for various West African destinations serving the oil and gas industry.

Kestrel will be hosting the event on Monday.