By Scott Bernard, Director – The Mount Hotel Country Manor
Aspen Leisure Acquired The Mount Hotel from the receivers in May 2011, and the uphill battle started there. Due to lack of investment in both the team and the building the hotel had a poor reputation, we delivered circa £150,000 worth of wedding that had no money attached to the due to the receivership, this was the beginning of our rebuilding process.
We refurbished and redeveloped every inch of our facility’s multiple time over the next decade and in 2019 won no less than 23 regional and national hospitality and Business Awards some of which against multinational brands, we were about to break ground on building a luxury spa facilities in the grounds and due to start the work April 2020 little did we know that everything we knew was about to come crashing to a halt.
On the 23rd March 2020 we closed our doors, I held a management meeting where we attempted to get our head around the term Furlough and how we could implement this system legally and ensure our teams jobs were safe. The Phones and emails were going wild with people wanting and demanding answers about their upcoming functions and events and we knew no more than anyone else, we certainly did not know we would still be shut on our 10-year anniversary and 15 months later.
The Next few Months were extremely tough mentally for me as it would have been for all operators at this time, my father and the CEO of our companies and brother who run a Healthcare business operating over 30 sites nationally had battles getting PPE so being in hospitality and Healthcare during the pandemic was extremely challenging indeed.
We watched the news daily and new the death toll religiously we also had some very close friends who had been on life support and relatives that lost their battle to Covid, I think like many this is the point where it became real. I sat on many zoom calls for the next few weeks and I soon realised a crucial part of our recover journey, things were not going to return to Normal! So we needed to find and develop the “New Normal”.
This was an important moment as I shifted from when will we open to how will we open and we started extensive refurbishment on the Hotel implementing a new reception area with Thermal CCTV detection took market leading steps by having all touch points in public areas and bedrooms wrapped in antiviral wrap , had safety screens manufactured and started push online our safety measures, where most hospitality businesses as gone quiet online we were shouting about what we were doing in order to create another key element of Covid recovery Customer Confidence.
We were fortunate to look after some professional sports clubs during Covid who were except from Covid restrictions but however had their own list of requirements, inspections were carried out by leading governing bodies and although they had seen our measure before no venue had implemented them all which was significant financial investment but has paid for itself over the last few weeks.
When weddings for 30 were announced we knocked down a wall in a suite and refurbished it to make it the perfect sized room for a wedding of 30 and wanted to promote a fresh product that had been newly put together and developed.
The Mount had been my life for 10 years and my families and the over-reads of a listed Manor House don’t go away so we decided to remain open for essential travel but still do it as best we could within the rules, all the rooms we were selling were refurbished and we enhanced the dining spaces to suit the in room dining only during Covid with and we gained many corporate contracts through this which will go on long past Covid as they felt safe at The Mount, many refused to stay elsewhere when in the city.
We also developed a heated al fresco dining space which was booked every night when we could reopen this brought us another new wave of customer who may not have seen what we offer before and have just started working on a development of Lodges that will have outdoor Hot Tubs and Private dining suites to commence in 2022, We have had a constant journey of investment at the hotel but we are confident Hospitality will return with bang and that customer confidence is key.
We have a great team at The Mount and without them we couldn’t have got the hotel through the pandemic and ready for reopening, the pandemic has been hard for many people for many different reasons and the unity of a good team that has worked together throughout will put us in good stead moving forward. Since opening our phones and inboxes haven’t stopped and we have had many bookings.
We can only take day by day at the moment as restrictions are lifted and hope that there are no further lockdowns or local closures. It’s more important than ever that we use local bars and restaurants as much as possible to help them recover from the implications of Covid-19.