In conversation with Mike and Diane about sustainability in hospitality in Wales…
At the edge of Snowdonia National Park and in the heart of Llandudno, North Wales, lies Adcote House. This guesthouse opened in 2012 and is a treasure in this famous seaside destination. Owners Mike and Diane are known for their hard work ensuring their accommodation is homely, hospitable and sustainable.
Adcote House is a lovely place to stay and champions sustainable tourism in Wales.
Llandudno is known as the “Queen of Welsh Resorts”. Why has the resort been so successful whereas others have declined?
Llandudno was a purpose-built seaside resort. Its inception had a clear vision of what it would be as a resort and that vision has broadly been maintained right up to the present day. Significantly, the value of tourism and visitors have always been recognised within the town and the local area, and consequently, there has always been strong support for tourism – within both public and private sectors – ensuring the town addresses the needs of its visitors and the businesses that support tourism. Equally, the town has for the most part understood its market and where it sits in that market – including recognising the attractions and resources on its doorstep. This has meant that the town has often presented itself as an outward facing gateway rather than inward looking resort. So Llandudno has done what has been necessary to maintain a vibrant visitor base. This has included policies that have avoided losing the core accommodation supply (particularly avoiding the loss to poor quality multiple occupier residential accommodation) and thus avoiding a downward economic spiral into decline. By maintaining this understanding and vision, Llandudno has continued to develop as a popular resort, enjoyed by visitors from across the globe, as they discover the cultural, heritage, historical and adventure delights of North Wales.
Adcote Hotel was the first tourism business in North Wales to obtain Green Key accreditation in 2016. Why did you think this was important?
As green issues have become more visible to people, and become an element in people’s choices of destination and accommodation, plenty of businesses have paid lip service to these issues and claimed to be green or sustainable. Our view has always been that we are committed to being as sustainable as possible but also being able to demonstrate that to our guests. By participating in Green Key, we are audited independently. Being able to show that a third party recognises and verifies what we are doing gives guests peace of mind that what we are saying is valid. In addition, the pro-active discussions and support with the Green Key team provide us with new targets and ideas, as well as endorsing the paths we are following. Green Key also recognises that sustainability is bigger than recycling or energy conservation, but extends to wider social aspects and challenges.
Much emphasis in sustainability is placed on green aspects such as environmental management. What social aspects do you think are important to make tourism accessible and socially inclusive?
The awareness of sustainability has grown significantly in the past 25 years or so. I can remember being closely involved in “cutting-edge” changes such as ensuring brochures and mailings were printed on recyclable paper with minimum environmental impact – things that are second nature now. Equally, the impact of tourism on a destination has become more important – both to the industry and to visitors. As this awareness has grown, the understanding of wider sustainability has increased – extending into the social arena. This has increasingly meant looking at ways for local people and businesses to benefit the most from tourists in a destination.
In some respects, this has become more challenging as fewer tour operators remain privately owned and more tour operators run purely on a financial return basis – with short-term financial gains being drivers rather than longer-term business development. Proper sustainable tourism delivers benefits in both directions – it can allow visitors to get a real experience of the destination they are visiting through local people and businesses, and this, in turn, provides local people with employment and business opportunities as well as retaining much of the tourism pound within the local economy. This can provide much better engagement in a destination between the visitor and local and can demonstrate that tourism is a force for good in less developed destinations, supporting a wide range of people at all levels.
Why aren’t more tourism and hospitality businesses adopting sustainable practices? Is there a lack of knowledge and skills in this area?
An element of this argument is indeed a lack of skills, but also a lack of commitment and less so a lack of knowledge. It is not unrealistic to say that in most developed countries there is a good awareness of green issues and the impact of matters such as plastic, climate change, and large scale agricultural practices. Sustainability is currently something businesses do by choice, rather than as a requirement. Too many businesses who may be operating on tight margins, or who are solely focussed on profit margins, have the perception that a sustainable practice has an immediate cost implication meaning it is ignored, rather than examining and seeing the potential benefits that might accrue in the longer term. For example, sourcing food from a single bulk supplier may be easier and cheaper at first view; but using high-quality local producers can mean visitors enjoy their meals more, there is less waste, and more repeat business resulting in better cost-effectiveness and increased profit. It might only be a 1 or 2 percent difference in each area, but several percent soon add up to a significant amount.
Skills in making sustainability work are lacking – particularly in supply chains, and this is certainly an area that requires support and development. There is certainly a need for better education in explaining and demonstrating the benefits that accrue from taking sustainability issues seriously.
Hospitality and tourism have been transformed by digital development. To what extent have businesses adopted digital marketing in Llandudno?
There are two key factors at play in this respect. Firstly, the availability of superfast broadband (and, indeed, fibre to property) has been an issue in much of North Wales, especially in rural areas. Even higher speed mobile broadband is erratic, let alone ordinary mobile signals. Encouraging businesses to engage with digital is difficult when the infrastructure can be lacking.
Secondly, there is a challenge with the extent to which businesses are actually business orientated – that is to say how much they want a successful business against having a particular lifestyle. There is a distinction (and not just in Llandudno) where an insignificant number of small and micro businesses (and indeed one or two larger ones) are not engaged with digital opportunities and development. However, this is increasingly leading to businesses that stagnate. Too often people see digital as a threat, rather than an opportunity. At the heart of this is a failure to fully understand their own operation and where business comes from. Digital platforms and social media have transformed how people search for information, book their holidays, choose a restaurant or their take-away meal.
Failing to understand how to use these platforms and methods does not do a business any good. Not liking, for example, booking.com, trivago or just-eat, because you dislike their methods or commission charges is sticking your head in the sand – those platforms are where most people now go. Achieving their marketing reach is beyond most individual businesses, so you have to play them at their game. The skill is using digital and your customer service skills to ensure that, whilst a guest might be sourced originally from somewhere that costs commission, the guest has such a great visit that they will book again and again in the future direct with you.
Businesses must use digital marketing strategically and intelligently to maximise benefits, not just for the sake of it. Who really has enough time to go on twitter all day? This is no different from the classic marketing mantra of identifying what a customer needs and then providing that to them.
You have had a varied career in the tourism industry that has taken you around the globe and to the far-flung destination of St Helena in the South Atlantic Ocean. Tell us about your roles and career journey.
Diane and Mike wish they had started doing what they are doing now much sooner than they did. Their path to get here has been interesting and a learning experience every inch of the way. Diane trained as a teacher and taught music for much of her career, whilst at the same time bringing up their daughters. This has given a keen understanding of customer service and delivery. Mike studied French and fell into tourism by accident after taking a summer job as a resort representative. The company offered him a full-time job after graduating and this was followed by increasingly senior roles including Director at leading companies including Hoseasons, Haven, Thomson Travel Group and Wyndham Worldwide. Mike then spent time as a consultant focusing on building up travel and rural businesses. This in turn led to a role on St Helena helping to develop their destination and tourism product, as well as writing the national tourism strategy.
On returning to the UK, both Mike and Diane wanted to run their own accommodation business, which after a long search led them to their present business in Llandudno. Whilst committed to their business, both have continued to follow wider interests with Diane supporting local dramatic groups as musical director and Mike being closely involved in local and regional tourism organisations.
Their wider life experiences, particularly living in small communities in the Yorkshire Dales and on St Helena, drives a keen interest in sustainability and the importance of supporting local businesses and the local economy. The fact that they love it so much means they are keen to continue this business and support other businesses and individuals in understanding the benefits that come from operating both sustainably and profitably.