Hoteliers are often told to invest in the latest in-room technology for guests, but you’ve taken the decision to only have radios in rooms, why is that?:
No guest has ever returned from a hotel stay wishing they’d watched more television. Holidays or short breaks are about engagement with other people (including the one you’re with) and with the landscape and community you visit. The days you’re away fill only a small percentage of the year and they are the ones when it’s OK to leave the iPad behind and isolate yourself from the day-to-day humdrum.
We promise it works and feel that the greatest gift we can give to our guests is time. Television sucks up time.
We do have broadband in Cornwall (not yet in Wales. I know, ask Openreach), but each inn is pretty much at the end of the line and the service can occasionally drop. Broadband should be the minimum technological boundary, we do get that. But beyond that, the requirements for a guest on a two-day escape to Cornwall will be very different from those staying at a business hotel in Leeds so I think we can afford to make a virtue out of being low tech.
Do you think hoteliers sometimes lose touch with what guests want from a hotel stay as pressure to ‘innovate’ and modernise the business is applied?:
I don’t know really what goes through hotel designers’ minds some time. I fear some of them lose sight of what’s important and end up proposing designs that suit their client rather than the guest. Maybe technological advances are just much easier to tick than the basics of good hospitality. We’d prefer to take our time over writing notes we put in the rooms than working out a way of enabling our guests to check their bills online.
Another good example is online booking. We’re constantly told that guests must be able to check availability and book online. We’re told that we lose potential guests because of it. We’d turn that round. We want to be talking to guests when they book. We want to engage with them and our teams understand that, even when we have to tell guests we’re full, it’s a marketing opportunity.
With businesses in Cornwall and Wales where people typically holiday in the summer months, what do you do to boost trade in the winter?
There is demand for off-peak travel. We see more and more of it, as we’re visited in quieter months by the time-rich older generation and a younger generation whose work life balance makes them more flexible. What we had to do is make sure they were coming to us rather than anyone else. From about 2008 onwards we did three things: We avoided explicit last minute discounting but put in place year round half board pricing which we then adapted into branded offers in quieter months; we focused on service and great food to make sure word of mouth and repeat traffic was strong and we built the database and ensured that we were engaging with our guests, not repetitively but by building a narrative and a relationship that would make us their first port of call.
This seems to have worked well. We don't use online travel agents and took out about £20k of annual booking commission when we took over The Old Coastguard in Mousehole while at the same time pushing occupancy from 64 per cent to 87 per cent. Occupancy since July at The Felin Fach Griffin has been 93 per cent with more than 90 per cent of guests on dinner-inclusive packages
What are your business's priorities for the coming year?:
Hospitality is inevitably about the here and now but our job as leaders is to have our head up and to take a view on what we need to do to improve. Too many operators in this industry inevitably get stuck in the daily detail and that’s a mistake. On the other hand, we never get too far ahead of ourselves and make sure our planning is realistic.
Our main priority for 2016 is to continue our drive to look after and develop our people. We’ve now appointed from within our team someone to look after all our people stuff across Eatdrinksleep - training, development, recruitment, benefits. It’s a truism that people lie at the heart of this industry and we’re nothing without our teams.
The industry in the UK lacks a career structure such as you see on the continent. It’s getting better and the rewards are improving at the higher levels, but hospitality is still not see as a sufficiently viable career option. By putting in place our own structure, we are doing what little we can to change that view.
Do you have any plans to expand further?:
We don’t aspire to grow for the sake of growing. Too often a roll out programme becomes a virtue by itself and a financial necessity and that’s not our game. We like taking on new sites because we love a building or a particular location and we think our guests will love it too.
What we will do is move quickly if we find an inn which we think suits our way of doing things, as it gives great opportunities to the people we work with and removes what might become be glass ceilings in a single site business. I’d be surprised if we weren’t keeping our eyes open for something as 2016 turns into 2017.