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December update: The Royal Sportsman – design

17 December 2009
December update: The Royal Sportsman – design

The Royal Sportsman has changed beyond all recognition since Louis Naudi bought the 28-bedroom hotel in 1998.

Originally built as a coaching hotel in 1862, the property was owned by Trusthouse Forte and then Forte Hotels throughout the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, before being taken over by a succession of owners who allowed it to fall into disrepair.

Naudi recalls the dilapidated state of the hotel upon moving in. "Beds were held up by books or bricks, headboards were screwed to the wall as they were not part of the beds, shower heads were broken and held together by Sellotape and remote TVs had no remote controls," he explains.

"I walked into the kitchen one morning to find the head chef cooking breakfast holding an umbrella above him. It transpired that if anyone in the room above took a shower, the water poured though the ceiling into the kitchen over the gas ring. It turned out that the bottom of the shower wall had disappeared and the handyman had stuffed the gap with cloth and newspapers!"

Naudi was not in a financial position to close the hotel for refurbishment, so took the decision to systematically and gradually work on the restoration of the hotel while it remained open.

In 1999, Naudi was awarded two grants totalling £70,000 from the then Welsh Tourist Board to help get the restoration under way. All other spending on the refurbishment - a total of £750,000 to date - has been paid for out of cash-flow with no additional borrowings.

Initially, the white exterior of the hotel was changed to burgundy and white, with new signage put in place to ensure that the building was clearly recognised as a hotel. Inside every room has been gradually stripped back to basics, redecorated and the furniture replaced. All work has been undertaken during the quieter trading months between November and February.

"The key design aim throughout has been to restore where possible and blend the original coaching inn features with comfort and modernisation," Naudi says. "For example, the original fireplaces in the bar and lounge were both restored and are now key features in the winter. I did not want the hotel to be a soulless place - it is a family hotel with warmth and I wanted customers to regard it as a home from home."

In the past year, the bar and dining room have been redecorated and by February 2010 all 28 bedrooms will have been redecorated.

Naudi strongly believes continual investment in the fabric of the hotel will give him a competitive advantage in the current recession. "Many hotels look tired through lack of investment, but the Royal Sportsman looks fresh and as a result will encourage guests to stay with us rather than another hotel."

Mentor, Peter Birnie, an independent consultant and chief hotel and restaurant inspector for the AA, agrees with Naudi's sentiments. "It is not easy when you are balancing budgets with the operational needs of the hotel, but Louis has got it right," he says.

"Repeat business is the lifeblood of hotels like the Royal Sportsman and in order to keep guests coming back, the hotel needs to be kept looking good and inviting. Louis constantly makes sure everything is up to scratch and does not allow any element of the hotel to look shabby. Even the car park - which so often can be a tatty and neglected area, is clean and tidy, which creates a good first impression."


DECEMBER UPDATE

Constant rain and gales in November kept tourists away from Porthmadog - and the Royal Sportsman - in November. Corporate trade was also down, resulting in turnover falling by 11% for the month. Turnover for the year overall is up on 2008, but business has been inconsistent over the past 12 months.

Investments in the hotel's refurbishment and additional staff are currently ongoing to ensure the hotel is in the best possible position to welcome guests in 2010.

Beyond the Royal Sportsman, the Naudis are heavily involved in charity work for the local community and have sponsored a Christmas fair for Freshfields Animal Rescue Centre by donating £2,000. Louis is also working on a plan to save and turn around the fortunes of the local cinemas. "I find challenges outside of work to be invigorating," he says.

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