Ty’n Rhos Country House, is a 5-star guest accommodation located just six miles aways from Wales’ Snowdonia National Park. TOM DAVIS caught up with owner Hilary Murphy
Tell us about your career and how you came to own Ty’n Rhos?
My husband and I have been in the trade all of our lives, we initially trained in Switzerland but at different times. My husband has been a chef all of his life. I have cooked for a living at times but I have predominantly been working as front of house. Our daughter who works in the business with us, studied at university then went into the industry starting her career at The Vineyard at Stockcross, before moving the new Angel in Dartmouth and then Abode Hotels working under Michael Caines, where she worked for two years.
We purchased our first hotel 1999. It was in Somerset named the Farthings Country House Hotel. We have owned Ty’n Rhos since September 2011. We actually viewed the property in 2005 but we were beaten to it by someone taking a bridging loan. We also looked at it again in 2009 and we then eventually purchased it in 2011.
What drew you to Ty’n Rhos?
The location, it’s a great trading location. It is so central and easy to get to anywhere within the Snowdonia National Park. We are five minutes from Anglesey and the Menai Bridge, 20 minutes to travel down to the Llŷn Peninsula and we are just 20 minutes the other way to Conwy and the Conwy Valley. It’s completely surrounded by farmland, so it’s very nice and quiet but it’s so close to all the major roads which makes it great for travelling. The trading location was the key reason we wanted this hotel.
Is the location a key factor in attracting guests?
It’s absolutely key, having had a hotel in Somerset we noticed that most customers pass through somerset to get to Devon or Cornwall, it’s not an end-location. When we sold that hotel we wanted a hotel that wasn’t somewhere that people were simply passing through: Ty’n Rhos is definitely an end-location.
Since owning the hotel, what changes have you made?
When we first came here there were 17 bedrooms. We created two additional bedrooms so we now have 19. There was one room originally built as a function room which the previous owners had adapted into one letting bedroom, and it was monumentally large. We have separated that into three good-size rooms and completely redesigned these rooms with new bathrooms and designs. To date we have refurbished 17 of the 19 bedrooms in the hotel. We have also developed raised beds for vegetable growing, we have created a completely new car park and also refurbished the existing one. We have altered the dining room and we’ve put new furniture in the lounges, we have pretty much changed everything in regards to the interiors of the rooms.
The bedrooms are individually designed, what are some of the inspirations behind these designs?
They are all individually designed, and that’s done by me. I choose the design from something, one thing will set the whole design of the room off. It could be a tile that I’ve seen and then I will build the whole room around that, it could be a picture, sometimes it has been a bed throw that I have liked and then I will build the room and its colour scheme from that. Although it’s not just a case of what I like, because we have to consider what is suitable for the guests as well. We take an inspiration and then make it more realistic for the guest and their experience.
You have a successful restaurant, what does this add to the hotel and how much of a revenue driver is it?
I’d say we are probably looking at two-thirds accommodation, one-third restaurant in terms of revenue. We don’t worry too much about outside diners, we do take them but we don’t advertise anywhere for them, we will probably take around two tables a night from outside diners. The restaurant is a huge draw for our guests, if you look at our comment cards, which we have in every room for every guest to fill in, the three things that we see time and time again to the questions ‘what is the highlight of your stay?’ is the room, the food and the friendliness of the service.
We have a team of chefs which produce the goods, our head chef is Mike Church who works alongside my husband [Stephen] in the kitchen as well as the other chefs. They take a great deal of pride in the food that they serve. Although, no one department is more important than the other, if the housekeepers are not doing their bit in the rooms, and we are not doing our bit on the service, and the chefs are not doing their bit on food then the whole thing will collapse. Those three areas all have to be very strong and work together in order for the hotel to be a success.
You grow some of your own vegetables, and also buy in a lot of local produce, do you think sustainability is something guests are increasingly aware of?
I’m not quite sure who it’s most important for, us or guests. I think it is a bit of a fallacy to say that guests just want local produce, I don’t think that guests are overly worried as long as the produce that they get is of high quality. I think that when they ask you where it comes from and you tell them it’s local, then I think that adds a little something extra for them. Everybody that comes to Wales can see the lambs in the field and one of the things they want to know is whether the lamb we use is local, and of course we use local lamb because we would be silly not to. It is the quality of the products that we are interested in. We get local lobsters here on a daily basis providing the weather is OK, we receive local crab and spider crabs a couple of times when they come into the shallow water to mate, and we get plenty of wild and local sea bass.
What type of guests does the hotel attract?
It’s predominantly leisure guests, this week for example we have four gentlemen staying with us from Zurich in Switzerland, and they are here for seven days on a golfing trip. We have had another four rooms this week which have all been seven-nighters, mainly couples on leisure. Although we do also get some business guests. When we first came here there was little in the way of business guests, but in the four years that we have been here we have built up very good links with some of the top-end businesses in the area, and they now use us on a very regular basis. We haven’t really improved the hotel’s business offering but we are very accommodating for business guests and we also introduced free Wi-Fi in all of our bedrooms as soon as we arrived at the hotel, which is extremely important.
What is your favourite aspect of working as front of house?
Getting to know the customers. We have customers who still come to us that first stayed with us 16 years ago in our first hotel and they come here because they want to come to us. It’s important to get to know the customer and build rapport with them, it’s lovely when you see them again.
Do you have a favourite room in the hotel?
I couldn’t choose one but I think I probably have three favourite rooms; room two ‘Cornflower’, room 14 ‘Ladies Slipper’ and room 21 ‘Foxglove’. All of those rooms have outside seating areas, which is something that I love when I go to a hotel, when the weather is nice it’s great to be able to sit outside the room. The rooms are all spacious and decorated in colours and fabrics that I like.
What does the future hold for Ty’n Rhos?
There is the potential to grow the hotel, probably by a further 10 rooms. Whether or not we do that I don’t know but it’s something that we are aware of, and if we feel it’s economically viable to do that at some point in the future then it’s something that we will probably do. You have to be very careful, when the prices went down you have to be mindful that what you build on is not exceeding the limit of the property value.