The Caterer

Minute on the clock: Bob Downie, chief executive, Royal Yacht Britannia Trust

17 February 2019 by
Minute on the clock: Bob Downie, chief executive, Royal Yacht Britannia Trust

As chief executive of the Royal Yacht Britannia Trust, Bob Downie, the 2005 winner of the Leisure and Tourism Catey, oversaw the £5m development of sister ship and hotel Fingal, moored in the Port of Leith. He talks to Katherine Price about why attractions go hand in hand with hospitality

Tell us about Fingal.

Fingal is luxury floating hotel with 23 beautiful cabins, a stunning double-height ballroom, and a panoramic dining saloon created by converting a 73m-long, classically designed former lighthouse supply ship, originally built in 1963.

What was the ambition to develop your own hotel?

Britannia has officially been Scotland's best visitor attraction for 12 consecutive years and, as we considered options for organic growth, it became clear that we already had all the departments that you would expect to find in a hotel, be it sales and marketing, hospitality and events, maintenance and housekeeping, HR and finance, and developing an income stream that was independent of visitors to Britannia would create a useful adjunct to our business. Historically, our inability to offer overnight accommodation on Britannia was also seen as a constraint to our evening events business, whereas having our own hotel will help generate increased sales.

Fingal bedroom
Fingal bedroom

What is the expected income stream that will not be reliant of visitors to Britannia?

While Fingal is berthed only a five-minute walk from Britannia, we expect the vast majority of the hotel guests to be staying with us because of the quality of the accommodation and service we provide. That said, if only 1% of Britannia's near 400,000 annual visitors were to stay on Fingal, it would be 50% full every night of the year.

How busy is the events business forecasted to be and is there a strong demand for it?

Each year, Britannia hosts approximately 100 high-end evening events, but as Fingal is a new market for us, we have very modest projections for year one. However, we have already had strong enquiries from businesses that wish to exclusively hire Fingal for three- or four-day conferences, finishing with a gala dinner on Britannia.

Do you feel attractions and tourism can be overlooked by the hospitality industry?

Yes! I have always found it frustrating that attractions are seen as the poor cousins in what I regard to be ‘our industry'. Since winning the Leisure and Tourism Catey in 2005, I have strived to raise quality standards throughout not only the attraction sector, but all hospitality businesses in Scotland.

Should hospitality businesses be working more closely with attractions?

Yes! The more and the higher the quality of the attractions in an area, then the more likely people are to visit, return, and recommend that area to their friends.

How important is developing domestic tourism around the context of Brexit?

Providing you have high-quality accommodation and attractions, and skilled and passionate staff, people from home and abroad will overcome whatever barriers may arise over the next year or two. That said, the fewer difficulties we create for those wishing to visit our great country and spend their hard-earned cash, the better!

Lighthouse ship to be converted into event space to help meet demand for royal yacht >>

Tourism Award: Bob Downie >>

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