Looking back over what has been an enormously challenging year, both personally and professionally, Louis Naudi has nothing but positive comments to make about the Best for Business initiative.
"It has been an invigorating exercise and has made a fundamental difference to the business," he says.
Naudi and his wife, Viorica, run the three- AA-star, 28-bedroom Royal Sportsman hotel in Porthmadog, Gwynedd. Since buying the hotel in 1998, they have transformed it from a dilapidated, run-down property into a thriving, comfortable mid-market operation.
However, despite a background as a university lecturer in economics and a career in business development and marketing, Naudi felt that he needed a fresh pair of eyes to look over the operation of the hotel, particularly with regard to his aim of achieving an AA rosette in 2009.
As a result of signing up to the Best for Business exercise, Naudi was introduced to his mentor, Peter Birnie, an independent hotel consultant and former chief hotel and restaurant inspector for the AA.
"Working as a sole operator of a hotel can be an isolating life," Birnie says. "I believe Louis found it useful to chew over a number of operational and business issues with a critical friend."
The suggestions made by Birnie included improving the quality and range of wines, as well as increasing the number of wines available by the glass, a revamp of menus and food quality, and improvements to the bedrooms.
"At first I though the changes to the wine list were not important as I had so much else to do in managing the hotel," Naudi says. "However, Peter had a quiet but persuasive manner and I decided he was right - our increase in wine sales, which doubled over the first three months, speaks for itself."
Regarding the bedrooms, Birnie says that there were previously two standards of rooms, one of which was cheaper and attracted a less-affluent market. "Louis has now upgraded the smaller rooms so they match better the overall quality of the hotel," he says.
With the changes in place, the AA rosette that Naudi had hoped for was awarded. "It was undoubtedly the highlight of the year for us, along with a major and extremely positive restaurant review in the Daily Post, a newspaper that I had tried to get into for more than six years," he says.
"Our other success has been surviving the recession and the building of a nearby Travelodge. Our turnover in 2009 was down 2%, but profitability was up by 19%, with the changes we made having strengthened the hotel."
Birnie says that Naudi has shown great focus across all aspects of the hotel's operation - including staff motivation, marketing to new and existing customers, and improving the bedrooms and food and beverage operation - during a difficult year, which has been rewarded with steady business at a time when others have suffered.
"The Royal Sportsman is well positioned to cope with the storms of early 2010 and should then benefit once the summer arrives," Birnie says. "Louis works incredibly hard, but also thinks smartly about the business."
Naudi, as well as dealing with maintaining and growing his hotel through the recession, has had to cope with the even bigger challenges of three operations and cancer, as well as a major car crash, in the past two years.
"I feel worn down and have just not had a sufficient time to recover, especially as I turned 60 in July," he says. "I do now feel it is time to retire, although I do love this job and the hotel.
"My hope for 2010 is to spend more time with my wife and family, especially after the near misses in the past two years. We are looking for a second rosette, possibly a four-star grading, but most of all, a fun year.
"My long-term aim is to pass on the hotel to another hotelier who feels about the Royal Sportsman as I do, as it is more than just a hotel."
Despite Christmas parties, lunches and dinners, December was a slow month for the Royal Sportsman. However, the hotel was full over Christmas itself and the restaurant busy for Christmas lunch.
Three days before New Year's Eve, Louis Naudi considered cancelling festivities for the evening as bookings were so poor. But, tables filled up at the last minute, with some customers being turned away. "In the end we were up by about 60% on New Year's Eve in 2008," he said. "Things, though, are very different compared with 11 years ago, when I took over the business. Then it was so busy that you couldn't move in the bar; now more people hold parties at home, drinking cheap supermarket alcohol."
Overall, turnover in December was up 5.8% year on year. Accommodation and drinks income was down, but food income was up 22%.
January started off badly, with the weather keeping people away. The snow resulted in many bookings being cancelled or rebooked for later in the year.
The ongoing bedroom refurbishment continued at the beginning of the new year and, to date, 22 of the 28 bedroom have been decorated, with the rest due to be completed by the end of February.
The big disaster in January was a burst central heating pipe in one of the bedrooms at 6am one Sunday morning, resulting in a collapsed ceiling. Within five days the flooded room had been repaired and redecorated at a cost of £3,000. "Life goes on," Naudi says. "Luckily the room was one of the ones that was waiting to be redecorated."