‘Island needs to be bolder for tourism to thrive again’
‘It’s a long-term investment, not a cosmetic makeover,’ says MD Andy Coleman of the recent investment in La Barbarie Hotel that he oversaw.
Gone are the old carpets and furnishings, in is sleek flooring and decor. The investment programme has also seen the hotel transformed from a three star to a four star location.
Its position in the leafy lanes of St Martin’s attracts holiday-makers keen on walking, as well as those who just come over to the island to relax and recharge their batteries.
With 70% of its business from repeat guests and direct bookings, Andy added: ‘The four star rating should also attract new clients to the hotel, as many people will only search for four star-plus properties. I think we’ll have a broader appeal.’
He also said: ‘Tourism has a future. This island is wonderful. It gives people the ability to recharge their batteries. But there’s always barriers and challenges. Currently, it’s a mix of licensing, the price and reliability of travel to the islands, and things like Brexit and the exchange rate.’
Some of those employed in the industry have consequently left Guernsey for places such as Ireland, where they are paid in euros. He has a strong core team at the hotel, but is already video-calling potential employees for the 2020 season.
‘There’s also a fear that people will come and never go home and that’s why licences are needed. But the ones who stay often invest and create business. If there’s some good people out there, you want them, the ones who’ll invest.
‘They’re not a drain on Guernsey housing as we, the hoteliers, house them. Hopefully they’ll qualify and stay. We only want to keep the very best.
‘We’re in a very fortunate location and we try to make the most of that with walking holidays. Guernsey – the island, the product – is great.
‘Yes, we could have better attractions, a more up-to-date Occupation Museum for example. Imagine one with touchscreens – the younger generation would love that. The problem is, entrepreneurs who might come and invest look at connectivity.
‘There’s also the reciprocal health agreement with the UK – or rather, the lack of it – that is a concern for visitors.
‘Are we (Guernsey) open for business?’
The hospitality and finance industries are interlinked, according to the hotelier. Those in finance want decent restaurants to eat in and good quality hotels for visiting colleagues to stay at.
His concerns regarding air and sea links echo those of others in the hospitality industry and other business sectors. Mr Coleman suggested that a minister of tourism could make a positive difference.
‘Jersey seems to have stolen a march on us with regard to tourism,’ he said. ‘They’ve been braver, they’ve been bolder.’
Mr Coleman applauded VisitGuernsey’s spring and autumn walking holiday promotions, saying Guernsey’s beauty was its biggest attraction.
‘There’s been a good deal of effort put into that, and so it should be – it’s one of our natural resources. Within an hour of leaving the UK by air you can be relaxing. Guernsey is a wonderful place to recharge your batteries.
‘Some clients have loved the hotel, and loved Guernsey, but haven’t had the best travel experience. A fair price and reliable connectivity – whether by air or sea – is vital for the island.’
He’s a supporter for extending the runway to 1,700m and is interested to see how the open skies policy will turn out.
‘I’d love to see a minister for tourism,’ he said. ‘You could add other things on to it: heritage, culture. We need to have somebody within government who is championing this industry.
‘Don’t forget this industry. It’s vital. It’s financing the Holy Grail. Those people who come and work in finance want good restaurants and hotels, we’re part of that cog. Let’s have somebody we can relate to in government.
‘I’d love to be able to pick up the phone to somebody in government and say, ‘let’s have a chat’.