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CONNECT PROFILE: Still hungry after decades in hospitality

CONNECT PROFILE: Still hungry after decades in hospitality

Tuesday 07 June 2022

CONNECT PROFILE: Still hungry after decades in hospitality

Tuesday 07 June 2022


Guernsey’s tourism and hospitality industry has changed a great deal since Andy Coleman became Managing Director at La Barbarie Hotel around 30 years ago.

Potential visitors have more choice of accessible destinations. Transport links to the island are not what they were. It is believed the number of hotel beds in Guernsey has fallen by about 20%.

But there has also been a flight to quality. The island has a greater number of higher quality establishments than ever before. La Barbarie is undoubtedly among them.

In the latest edition of CONNECT - Express' sister publication - Editor Matt Fallaize asked Mr Coleman about his and his team’s recipe for success in hospitality. Express reproduces their interview here.

Credit for pictures of Andy Coleman at La Barbarie Hotel: Paul Mariess.

MF: What are forward bookings like for the season and how do they compare with the equivalent time last year?

AC: To compare forward bookings to last year would not be helpful due to the restrictions to travel that were still in place. To get a more accurate picture of recovery, we need to compare to 2019, and at present we are a little behind the numbers of that year.

Andy_Coleman_-_MD_at_La_Barbarie_-_4_-_credit_Paul_Mariess.jpg

Pictured: Andy Coleman checks the latest bookings for this year as La Barbarie Hotel looks to bounce back from the disruption of the covid-19 pandemic in 2020 and 2021. 

MF: Can you share with us what you offer at La Barbarie and what customers in Guernsey will find if they eat or stay with you?

AC: What we strive to offer our guests is friendly and professional hospitality – nothing too stuffy but paying attention to detail and, most importantly, caring.

I think review sites such as TripAdvisor give potential customers an overview of what to expect and so I quote our latest review from Patricia H:

'We loved this hotel from the minute we arrived. Our room was on the first floor – very quiet, spacious, overlooking the pool, extremely comfortable beds and wonderful shower. The staff were very friendly and helpful (especially Sally; thank you). The food surpassed our expectations. As someone else has said, it was more than very good. You definitely need to book as one night we had to eat out as they were very busy, but we would have been very happy eating there every night of our five nights. Although at a distance from the town, there were plenty of walks. To the town about 40 minutes. To the beach – close but uphill on the way back, though lovely crab sandwiches at the bottom. Fabulous cliff top views and walks in both directions and the bus service was also excellent into town or, as we did, to the west coast and beyond. We would definitely recommend and would love to return.'

Saints_Bay.jpg

Pictured: La Barbarie Hotel is near Saints Bay, one of the gems of the island's south coast.

MF: I believe you have been Managing Director for more than 30 years. What has kept you in your role so long and what continues to motivate you to be in the business?

AC: 47 years in the industry with 31 years and counting at La Barbarie, but as I say to anyone who will listen ‘I am still looking for a proper job’!

I started at the age of 15 as an apprentice chef at a local hotel and the motivation to progress and climb the proverbial ladder has always been a challenge I have embraced. I have been lucky to work with and be taught by some wonderful people along the way, working in London, Switzerland, and Australia. The motivation and challenge in work is always the same – keep trying to improve yourself and those around you and if you can achieve that then, with a fair wind, success will follow.

MF: Are there days when you regret having made your working life in this industry or, if you had the chance, would you do it again?

AC: No regrets, but I’m not sure I would do it again.

Andy_Coleman_-_MD_at_La_Barbarie_-_5_-_credit_Paul_Mariess.jpg

Pictured: Andy Coleman has been in the industry for 47 years.

MF: What developments have you overseen since you first walked into La Barbarie?

AC: We have continually re-invested in the fabric and structure of La Barbarie during the past 30 years. Some of the bigger projects have been: the installation of a swimming pool; conversion of apartments to both standard hotel rooms and poolside deluxe rooms; the addition of new purpose-built staff accommodation; the total refurbishment of the ground floor, pool area and gardens; and building an in-house laundry.

MF: What achievements are you most proud of in business?

AC: Working with many teams of staff over the years in taking a Two Crown 13-bedroom hotel with 10 self-catering units to our current status of a 38-bedroom hotel with Visit Guernsey and the AA Four Star grading and an AA Rosette Restaurant.

Guernsey_Airport.jpg

Pictured: Guernsey invested many millions of pounds to replace its original 1939 airport terminal building but many in the industry believe that air links to and from the island are less impressive than they were years ago. Picture credit Visit Guernsey.

MF: How has tourism and hospitality – in the international and domestic markets – changed in your long years in the industry?

AC: The UK has always been our predominant market and will continue to be so.

Sadly, due to the loss of European Air routes over the past decade, the once healthy German and Swiss markets have declined, and the Dutch market is very much concentrated on the few peak months of the season using Charter flights.

This of course links into the runway debate. Jersey's runway capability allows them to benefit from an increase in passenger numbers. I hear it said often that we shouldn’t compare ourselves to Jersey, but the undeniable fact is that from a tourism point of view we are competing for the same customers.

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Pictured: Andy Coleman says that Guernsey needs to realise it is competing with Jersey for customers.

MF: Which business decisions did you make which you now look back on as particularly successful and which were mistakes from which you learned?

AC: The success would be committing to re-invest each year. Some years greater amounts than others, but we have constantly assessed and viewed where the business was heading and what investments were needed at that time to stay on course.

Early on in my time here, I had to employ a new chef and had the notion that we should embrace the new cuisine trends of the time. New menus were done and launched with great excitement, but we soon realised that perhaps it was a step too far, too soon. Lesson learned – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, and do a little more research.

MF: How would you describe the state of Guernsey’s tourist industry and is it growing stronger or weaker?

AC: Undoubtedly, during my time in this industry, tourism has weakened due to many factors. That said, there are pockets of the sector that have grown and got stronger. Investment in quality has been key to enhancing the product on offer in Guernsey. Whilst bed numbers have declined significantly in the past 20 years, those that remain are generally of a high standard and that of course is what the market demands. The quality of local restaurants also plays an important role in the visitor experience.

One thing that hasn’t changed is the ability of Guernsey, its people, and this industry to work its magic on our visitors, a fact proven by the many repeat customers who return to Guernsey year on year. Attracting new visitors, making the journey to Guernsey easier and more cost effective will present the opportunity for the accommodation sector to continue to cultivate new repeat customers in the future.

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Pictured: Andy Coleman foresees the automation of more and more services in the tourist industry but he worries about the loss of traditional hospitality values. 

MF: How do you think our tourist industry is likely to change again over the next, say, 10-20 years?

AC: Oh for a Crystal Ball! It’s so hard to say, but with recruitment being such an issue it may well be that more and more traditional hotel establishments look for ways to operate in a more automated manner, possibly with more self-check in receptions and buffet self-service food and beverage operations. It would be a shame as I believe that traditional or old-fashioned hospitality values would still be a significant draw for visitors to Guernsey. Also in Guernsey’s favour will be the trend to take more short breaks, sampling lots of experiences rather than one main holiday.

With the marketing power of social media, destinations will need to become increasingly ‘fashionable’. Visit Guernsey, or whoever is charged with promoting the islands of Guernsey, and individual operators themselves will need to be selling to and offering the consumer something they can associate with, for example wellness, adventure, self-enrichment, sustainable tourism, etc.

Andy_Coleman_-_MD_at_La_Barbarie_-_1_-_credit_Paul_Mariess.jpg

Pictured: During his period as Managing Director, Andy Coleman has led La Barbarie Hotel from a two-crown 13-bed hotel with 10 self-catering units to its current status as a 38-bed hotel with Visit Guernsey and the AA Four Star grading and an AA Rosette Restaurant.

MF: Which three decisions or changes could the States make which in your view would have the most beneficial effects on our tourist industry?

AC: Transport. Decisions on all aspect of travel are needed. Aurigny, the runway extension, the lack of air links and the high cost of travel. Of course, we don’t have all the answers, but the questions being asked need to be addressed with more urgency. Delay and doing nothing are not smart options. Condor has left Guernsey with appalling time slots and frequency this season, to the detriment of the visitor economy. Can Government, in consultation with Condor, ensure that for season 2023 we will be able to offer better, customer-friendly sailing slots?

Population Management. To make the law more inclusive. We need to secure longer-term permits for staff. For instance, room attendants and kitchen porters. The current law views these jobs as non-essential, but the simple truth is that all personnel play a vital part in the success of any business and in the hotelier’s world we certainly couldn’t operate without these positions being filled. Recruitment, whilst never easy, has become increasingly challenging following Brexit and any removal of unnecessary red tape will be welcomed by all industries.

Cooperation and Collaboration. It is vital that the industry and Government engage in meaningful dialogue. As a board member of the Guernsey Hospitality Association, I can assure you that this is proving challenging. Government will ask and consult with stakeholders but, whilst they listen, I sometimes wonder if they really hear. To have a dedicated Minister – a go-to politician for Tourism, Culture and Heritage – would be a good decision.

MF: What are the most important challenges facing our tourist industry at present and do you feel they are on their way to being resolved?

AC: I believe the three-decision question nicely sums up the current challenges: Government-industry relationship, travel and all that encompasses, and recruitment.

READ MORE...

June/July edition of CONNECT Guernsey

June edition of CONNECT Jersey

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