Beppo Buchanan-Smith, proprietor of the Isle of Eriska hotel and spa and a Master Innholder, fondly recalls long winter breaks but believes year-round operations are the way forward
Ten years ago an early Easter would have brought sighs of exasperation, as it curtailed our winter hibernation and signalled a longer season for the hotel, because we used to open at Easter and close in October when the clocks changed. However, now that we have moved to a business that operates all year round, Easter is just another public holiday in the calendar and passes with little note.
In truth, if we had remained operating on a seasonal basis, we would never have survived financially or, more importantly, on a consistent quality-of-service basis.
The greatest advantage to operating for 365 days a year is being able to offer permanent secure employment to our team. This allows us to, first, establish a consistent level of service from year to year and second, to develop and evolve our team over a longer period.
Although starting afresh with a new team every spring had its advantages - such as allowing us to reset the standards - it did also place great pressure on the first few months after opening and probably detracted from the level of service. It also meant that by the end of the season, having invested heavily in the team, we often watched our hard work benefit others in the industry when excellent members of staff went off to pastures new.
Initially, when we decided to open in the winter months it was a challenge to attract visitors to our corner of Scotland, as many of the attractions in the area were closed - it was a real "chicken and egg" situation. But now that a number of accommodation providers have invested in the market, and the attractions have taken the plunge, we are starting to develop the market.
While it is never going to be as busy with visitors as the summer months, I am certain that winter opening can generate returns while at the same time allowing us to maintain service levels and offer consistency of employment.
But, most importantly, it gives us the opportunity to develop and invest in our team at a time when we have excess capacity - and energy - which might not always be available when the business is in full operation.
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