The Arundel Arms hotel has been owned and run since 1961 by the Fox-Edwards family. Whilst the hotel prides itself on strong traditional values and service, even during the recession years, the owners have worked hard to maintain a steady stream of improvements. We caught up with ADAM FOX-EDWARDS, who now runs the hotel.
The hotel has been in the family for over 50 years. Was it inevitable that you would take over the management of the property?
Although I was brought up with my sister in and around the hotel, it was not inevitable that I would take it over. My first career was as a Tornado fighter pilot and flying instructor in the RAF which I loved. When I left the RAF I moved to London and joined PriceWaterhouseCoopers as a management consultant. This and subsequent roles in industry gave me a great business background. I took over the hotel in 2008 when my mother retired, but my timing was awful as it was just in time for the recession! Hotel keeping can be great fun but it is also jolly hard work and just like flying, requires a really skilled and dedicated team to make the whole thing work.
What condition was the property in when your mother Anne took it over?
In 1961, the hotel was very basic. It had 17 rooms but only 3 bathrooms between them. It had a coke-fired boiler that used to smoke out the dining room if the wind came from the east. However even then, it had 15 miles of the best fishing rivers and my father, being a passionate fisherman, was keen to take it on. Since then it has had 50 years of family ownership and continual investment to turn it into the leading country sports hotel which it is today.
What prompted her to take on the hotel?
My father suffered from a respiratory disease which the smog of London in those times (prior to the Clean Air Act) exacerbated. So he and my mother took a break from London’s dirt and moved to the wonderful freshness of Devon. The hotel was pretty run down then and it was all that they could afford, but I am very glad that they did. My father died when I was 11 but my mother continued on and ran the hotel herself for the next 35 years. She built a great hotel from very humble beginnings.
Do you share her passion for fishing?
I do. Having been brought up here it would be surprising if I did not. I enjoy fishing on our rivers which remain an oasis of peace and beauty but running a busy hotel leaves little time for fishing. Often I envy our guests as they set out for a day on the river bank.
Would you say the hotel is still known as one of the country’s best fishing hotels?
Yes it is. The Field magazine recently listed its top 10 fishing schools in the UK, and put us in the No 1 spot. We have two full time fishing instructors on our staff and they have a wealth of experience which they enjoy imparting to our guests. We are the oldest fishing school in the UK having been teaching for 75 years continuously. We teach complete beginners and provide lessons to experienced anglers. But it does not matter the experience of our guests, all are made to feel very welcome.
What other type of guest does the hotel attract?
Perhaps surprisingly, fishing is not the largest part of our market. Because of our central location on the Devon/Cornwall border, we attract a wide range of leisure guests who come here to enjoy walking on Dartmoor, visits to the North Cornish coast, the Eden Project and so on.
We have a strong reputation for good food, which of course ensures we have a ready stream of diners who call in regularly to our restaurant and also our brasserie. We have a buoyant function and wedding business, and we cater for events with over 100 guests frequently. We have held two AA Rosettes for over 20 years but our guests’ feedback is as good now as ever.
We have a pub on site which is a centre of our village community and along with its own food service, also has music from local bands. We also have a significant corporate business. We are just one mile from the main A30 dual carriageway which carries the bulk of Cornwall’s road traffic. This, along with four conference rooms (which can take up to 100 delegates each) and on-site parking for 60 cars means that we usually host at least one corporate event every day. I actively target this market and it has grown throughout the recession. Amongst other awards, we have won the Southwest Tourism Gold award for Business Tourism for the last three years and are once again finalists in the Visit England awards.
What are the major changes you have made to the property and how has this influenced the operation?
Over the last five years I have refurbished the public rooms, most of the initial 21 bedrooms and added five new ones. Some things were small but essential – one example was putting in four broadband lines and 12 routers in the building, so that every guest has really strong WiFi despite being in a 300 year old building with thick stone walls.
Perhaps longer-lasting though will be the £200,000 investment we have made into ‘green’ measures. We installed a biomass boiler to replace our four old oil ones and now get 100% of our hot water and heating from it. I put in a borehole for all of our water supplies and replaced nearly all of our kitchen equipment. We also did the usual things such as replacing our bulbs with LED ones, and also put in solar panels. The combination of all of these measures has meant that we now consume very little fossil fuel and reduced our utility bills by 75%. This has undoubtedly made us more sustainable for the long term. I also now enjoy advising other hoteliers and businesses how to do this and save money.
What has been the biggest challenge you have faced?
Surviving and then growing the business through the recession. Like most in our industry, the last few years have been very tough. I shared our situation with our staff team throughout and they knew that we all had to pull together to get through it. However I have continued to invest in both internal and guest-facing aspects and I am very pleased that I did. I have also continued with staff training and advertising. It would have been easy to hunker down and hope for better times but that would have been the wrong; our bank has been very supportive throughout and I have been able to do nearly all of the things that I wanted to do.
What would you say sets your hotel apart from others in the region?
The variety of our offering. On just one site, we have a 2-rosette restaurant, casual brasserie and village pub, which all serve local food every day. We offer the fishing, plus other country sports including riding on Dartmoor. We can be elegant with our high ceilinged restaurant but also somewhere a guest can feel comfortable walking in wet riding or fishing gear and wellies with their dog, before relaxing in front of one of our log fires. What we consistently hear from satisfied guests is that they feel welcomed into what is still clearly a family-owned and operated business.
If you could chose to stay in any hotel where would that be and why?
I have always loved the Bath Priory. It’s a fabulous hotel in a marvellous location with great food and service.
What are your plans for the future?
I would like to add another six rooms to the hotel. The public rooms have sufficient capacity to do this and I look forward to getting this underway within the next 18 months. I will also grow our associated business, Devon Hampers, which I started last year. This is based at the hotel and sources 100% of its contents from the county. We offer a next day delivery service for anything from a Devon Clotted Cream Tea for £11 up to a hamper filled with everything for £150+. We also offer a select your own hamper service. This new business is growing very fast and I am very excited by it. I already provide hotel performance improvement consulting and training through HBIM and I look forward to continuing that side of my business life too.
Would you agree that hoteliers in the UK can look forward to a more prosperous year this year?
Certainly. The last five years have been really tough for all of us outside London. There are clear signs of recovery now however and provided there are no upsets, we can all be more confident. However, if the government were to lower the VAT rate on rooms to the European average of 5% as has been done everywhere through the EU, then that would really give us cause to cheer. I am very keen on this campaign being led by the BHA but that’s another story!