As the Atlantic hotel in Jersey celebrates its 40th anniversary, Janet Harmer reports on how the property – along with the rest of the island – has reinvented itself as a luxury destination in an exercise that could be the model for other seaside resorts seeking to shed the bucket-and-spade image.
The development of the Atlantic hotel reflects the changing nature of Jersey as a tourist destination in recent years. In 1970 when the hotel welcomed its first guests, the island was in the middle of a tourism boom, which reflected the emergence of mass travel throughout Europe.
Guests in those days would typically stay at the 42-bedroom hotel for their main two-week annual holiday, on a full-board basis. Today, the Atlantic, which has grown to 50 bedrooms and now boasts a Michelin-starred restaurant, is more likely to be frequented by professional couples for short breaks of two to three nights, on a bed and breakfast basis.
“The challenges of running the hotel at the start were very different compared with today,” explains Patrick Burke, managing director of the Atlantic and son of the hotel’s founder, Henry Burke. “Then it was all about operating and maintaining the property. Now, with so much more competition around, the business challenges are greater and our priority is marketing and financing.”
While the Atlantic concentrates a major element of its marketing initiatives through Small Luxury Hotels of the World (SLH), it is now hoping to boost its sales figures by joining forces with other leading properties on the island in a new small consortium called Luxury Jersey.
“The idea is to put the spotlight on the luxury sector in Jersey, which has grown from about four hotels in the old days to the 14 hotels that have four or five stars today,” says Burke.
“We hope to show that the perception of Jersey as a rather dated holiday location of the 1980s, when Bergerac was in his prime, has changed. Today the island is a cool place to visit, with wonderful hotels and sophisticated restaurants.”
Director of tourism and marketing for Jersey, David de Carteret, confirms that as a result of increased demand from discerning travellers, combined with backing from the island’s strong financial sector, Jersey is now primarily an upmarket destination.
“Our two key markets are couples over 50 who enjoy a variety of the activities that the island offers, including good walking, gardens and quality restaurants; and young, professional city dwellers who want to escape to a relaxing destination just a quick flight away,” he says.
“So much has changed with regards to the accommodation in Jersey over the past 20 years. Back in the 1980s there were around 25,000 bedrooms on the island, spread across a mix of hotels, guesthouses and self-catering, but that was unsustainable.
“Now, most of the poorer quality properties have been converted into residential accommodation and the rest has been refurbished, at a cost of tens of millions of pounds, alongside the opening of new, smarter properties. There are now around 12,000 bedrooms in Jersey, 30% of which are in the four-star-plus category.”
The opening by Rezidor of the £50m Radisson Blu in 2007 in the capital, St Helier, was the first interest on the island from an international hotel operator. Facilitated by the States of Jersey’s redevelopment of the town’s waterfront and marina, the launch of the hotel went hand-in-hand with a number of projects to upgrade and expand the island’s privately owned hotels.
The 143-bedroom Pomme d’Or, owned by the Jersey-based and family-run Seymour Hotel Group, achieved four stars after completing a £5m refurbishment in 2006, while at the same time the largest hotel on the island, the four-star, 284-bedroom Hotel de France, opened a new wing, spa, swimming pool and fitness centre at a cost of £14m.
Established in the 1820s, Jersey’s oldest hotel, the Royal Yacht, reopened in 2007 with 110 bedrooms, two restaurants and a spa, following a £22m makeover. And in 2008 Longueville Manor, which has passed through three generations of the Lewis family since opening 60 years ago, became the first hotel in the Channel Islands to achieve five-AA-red-star status.
The ongoing improvement programme among the island’s hotels has, no doubt, helped encourage companies from the mainland to move to Jersey. Property investor Delancey, for instance, bought the 123-bedroom Grand Jersey hotel in 2006 for £15.5m from the De Vere Group and has since spent a further £15m on upgrading the property to a four-star deluxe standard.
Managing director of the Grand Jersey, Anna-Marie Dowling, says the hotel has shrugged off its tired decor from the days when the island had “a bucket-and-spade image” and is now very much part of a more sophisticated offering widely available throughout Jersey.
“We are working towards becoming only the second Jersey hotel to be awarded a five-star rating and are liaising with the AA on how we can achieve it by upgrading our service,” she adds.
Meanwhile, the four-star, 90-bedroom St Brelade’s Bay hotel is currently halfway through a £7m refurbishment following the purchase of the property for £10.3m by the multi-millionaire owner of Wigan football club and founder of JJB Sports, Dave Whelan.
Other operators now firmly established on the island include Hand Picked Hotels, which took over the running of the four-star, 106-bedroom, L’Horizon in 1999, and has since spent £8m on upgrading the property.
It is not just the hotels, though, that have seen such dramatic improvements. As well as the two-Michelin-starred restaurants on Jersey – Bohemia within the four-star Club Hotel & Spa and the Ocean restaurant at the Atlantic hotel – there is a host of mid-market restaurants that provide visitors to the island with a selection of stylish eateries offering top-notch food based on high-quality produce from the island and surrounding waters.
Jersey Pottery, for example, has grown into a collection of two restaurants – the Oyster Box and the Crab Shack, overlooking St Brelade’s Bay – a gastropub and three cafés, with the abundance of fresh local produce being a key element of the business. Run by brothers Robert, Matthew and Jonathan Jones, the outlets serve a total of more than 2,500 people during the peak summer season.
“We enjoy 40ft tides around the coast of Jersey, which means we have lovely clean waters and the most fantastic seafood,” says Robert Jones, who is also president of the Jersey Hospitality Association.
“The quality of our restaurants is such that it is not unusual for customers to fly over from the UK for lunch and fly back the same day.”
The opening of three new restaurants from Marco Pierre White within the next 12 months will further boost the island’s vibrant eating-out scene. Set on the ground floor of luxury departments overlooking the marina at Castle Quay in St Helier, the eateries are expected to be a Marco’s Rib Room & Oyster Bar, La Marée and the Harbour Bar.
For the Atlantic hotel, joining SLH in 1993 was a key moment in repositioning itself as a luxury property. “It helped us establish the hotel as a niche product within Jersey and convinced us of the importance to continually improve our offer, says Burke.
Over the past 10 years the improvements have included a £3m refurbishment when the hotel closed for six months in 2000 and reopened with an additional eight bedrooms, and a relaunch of the old hotel dining room as the Ocean restaurant with chef Mark Jordan at the helm. Today the restaurant has a Michelin star and is well known in its own right.
The launch of Luxury Jersey next month will further raise the Atlantic’s profile as a discerning property alongside the eight other founding members of the consortium – Longueville Manor, Grand Jersey, L’Horizon, Club Hotel & Spa, the Royal Yacht, Hotel de France, Pomme d’Or and the Somerville.
With a budget of £75,000 – made up of £5,000 from each member hotel and £30,000 from Jersey Tourism – Luxury Jersey will market itself via its own website, which is in the process of being developed, and social networking sites Facebook and Twitter.
Like hotels throughout the rest of the UK, those on Jersey have experienced a downturn in occupancies and room rates as a result of the recession. The Atlantic’s occupancy over the past year has averaged at around 50%.
“We believe that Luxury Jersey will go some way towards improving these figures, and hope to see occupancy levels rising by 5% and room rates by 10%,” says Burke.
JERSEY FACT FILE
Location Measuring nine miles east to west and five miles north to south, Jersey lies 100 miles south of mainland Britain and 14 miles from the Normandy coast of France
Population 90,800, made up approximately of 50% Jersey nationals, 30% British, 6% Portuguese, 10% Eastern European and 4% other residents
Tourism In 2007 more than 739,300 people visited the island, spending approximately £234m. Of these, 80% came from the UK, 10% from Germany and France, 4% from the other Channel Islands and the balance from the rest of the world
Accommodation There are currently 12,000 bedrooms across 113 registered hotels, guesthouses and 23 self-catering premises, down from around 25,000 bedrooms in the mid-1980s. Fourteen hotels, accounting for around 30% of bedrooms, have four or five stars
Tourism investment A total of £300m has been ploughed into upgrading the infrastructure of Jersey’s hotels in recent years and as a result, Jersey Tourism believes that the island enjoys the best quality range of accommodation in the UK – and maybe Europe – for its size
HOW JERSEY MOVED UPMARKET
● As the accommodation base of the island has shrunk from 25,000 to 12,000 bedrooms over the past 20 years, the hotels that have remained have refocused by becoming leaner and fitter
● The development of the waterfront site, on reclaimed land, in the capital of St Helier included the opening of Jersey’s first international major brand, Radisson Blu (above) in 2007. The hotel has encouraged other Jersey operators to raise their game
● The high cost base of Jersey has encouraged the luxury hotel sector to flourish. Jersey has a minimum hourly wage of £6.20, compared with the mainland’s rate of £4.83 for 18 to 20-year-olds and £5.80 for over-21s, as well as having building and refurbishment costs comparable with central London
● The development of Jersey as a world class finance centre has supported the growth of luxury hotels, with investments forthcoming from wealthy local residents, as well as encouraging an injection of finance from the mainland
● The growth of the short-break market in Europe – driven by the expansion of low cost airlines – has helped drive up the average spend per night of visitors to Jersey
● The willingness of nine of Jersey’s four- and five-star hotels to each contribute £5,000 to the launch of a new marketing consortium, Luxury Jersey, will further promote the island as a luxury destination