Grove of Narberth wins Hotel of the Year – Independent, sponsored by Miele
Neil and Zoe Kedward purchased a remote and derelict country house 14 years ago and set about creating a successful hotel business without reliance on outside shareholders. It's fair to say the Grove of Narberth project has been a triumph, with the property now regarded as one of the UK's leading hotels, delivering revenues likely to exceed £4m for the first time in 2022.
The site, situated in countryside overlooking the Preseli Hills in Pembrokeshire, dates to the 15th century, when it was owned by the bailiff of Tenby. But when Neil and Zoe acquired the property, the house was derelict and trees were growing through the roof. The hotel now has 25 bedrooms and a three-AA-rosette restaurant, and employs almost 60 full-time staff who welcome 25,000 visitors a year.
As one of the leaders in driving sustainability in the sector, the hotel was awarded a Green Tourism Gold Award in 2018, while in November 2021 it was recognised at the UN Climate Change Conference, COP26, as a leader in sustainability within UK hospitality.
Since 2016, the business has been working with acclaimed interior designer Martin Hulbert, who has overseen five projects with Neil and Zoe, who have invested over £2.6m in remodelling and refurbishing the hotel.
During the past 12 months, 14 rooms have been refurbished, including three cottage suites with glass box garden lounges.
For a small, luxury hotel, the Grove of Narberth undoubtedly punches above its weight. General manager Thomas Ferrante, working alongside executive chef Douglas Balish, provide the leadership backbone that has delivered consistently high levels of customer satisfaction and solid financial performance.
Like all great hotels, its people are central to its success and the Grove's defined purpose is to help every member of its team to achieve their full potential. As well as a first-rate training programme, it claims to have among the best pay and conditions in the UK hospitality sector. In 2016, it was among the first to launch a four-day working week for kitchen staff – a scheme extended to the entire team in January 2022.
This focus has driven accommodation revenues to £1.5m last year for the first time in the hotel's history – almost 30% more than the next best year. This was driven by a huge increase in average rate which hit £318 for 2021, almost double the last full year in 2019. Additional occupancy in all months was also achieved with the full year at 84%, with May to September averaging at 94%.
Though the fantastic diversity of applications made it a tricky decision for the judges, they all agreed that the Grove is a truly independent hotel that has taken a steady journey to reach this summit.
What the judges said
"A fantastic example of a genuinely independent hotel that has grown organically on a trajectory of continuous improvement and development to achieve almost iconic status in its market. A property other hoteliers can aspire to." – Andrew McKenzie
"The journey Neil and Zoe have been on has to be admired. The investment and vision, together with their great team, has allowed them to deliver a true world-class hospitality experience." – Dan Rose-Bristow
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- Grove of Narberth, Pembrokeshire
- Swinton Estate, Ripon
- Peter Banks, general manager, Rudding Park
- Laurence Beere, owner, the Queensberry Hotel & Olive Tree Restaurant
- Daniel Rose Bristow, owner and managing director, the Torridon
- Adam Dyke, general manager, the Fife Arms, Aberdeenshire
- Melvin Gold, managing director, Melvin Gold Consulting
- Robin Hutson, chief executive and chairman, Home Grown Hotels and Lime Wood Group
- Andrew McKenzie, managing director, the Vineyard
- David Morgan-Hewitt, managing director, the Goring
- Jonathan Raggett, managing director, Red Carnation Hotels
- Claire Randall, managing director, Bovey Castle