Jersey's Longueville Manor is one of just a handful of independently owned and managed hotels holding five red AA stars in the British Isles. Launched in 1949 and operated by three generations of the Lewis family, the hotel is still tapping into its potential. Rosalind Mullen paid a visit
Malcolm Lewis's grandparents, Sidney and Edith, wouldn't recognise Longueville Manor today. When they opened the 14th-century manor as a guest house in St Saviour, Jersey, in July 1949, it had 12 bedrooms and just one bathroom. Some 70 years and another two generations later, its 30 luxurious rooms and suites all have en suite bathrooms and, among the delights of the 18-acre estate is a kitchen garden, swimming pool, wine cellar, two treatment rooms, a cocktail bar, a three-AA-rosette restaurant and guests can charter the hotel's 44ft yacht.
To get an idea of how far it has come, Malcolm, who owns and runs the hotel with his wife Patricia, is aiming for £6m turnover this year, off an occupancy hovering around 88%.
Consistent, excellent service and pristine facilities underpin the success of this hotel and earned it recognition as the 2016 Catey for Independent Hotel of the Year. While TripAdvisor scores stand at five, the biggest endorsement comes from the fact 80% of guests are regular, with some even visiting five times a year.
A hotel of the people
Asked what makes their hotel so successful, the couple agree: "It's got to be the staff; they're at the sharp end."
"Local talent is few and far between," says Malcolm. "We have to bring it in from outside, so we have to manage the licences carefully."
In a bid to both encourage those under licence to stay and to attract more locals, the Lewises have overhauled their HR policies, improving salaries and conditions, reducing the hours staff work and creating a good relationship with landlords who provide non-islanders with accommodation.
To drive engagement and create a good working environment, the Lewises have drawn up a code of conduct to which all staff sign up.
"It articulates the basic principles of how to treat others; it helps avoid discrimination or bad behaviour. It's a very important document," says Malcolm.
"It is a simple thing, but it has changed the dynamics. Swearing and aggression
don't happen. Anyone who behaves like that is answerable to Patricia and me."
It's all part of the family atmosphere that the Lewises nurture. An open-door policy encourages staff to share problems with senior managers and if time away is needed, jobs are often kept open. "We support people through their crises. You couldn't do some of the things we do if you had a bigger company," says Patricia.
The strategy is definitely working. Of the 85 staff, some 20 have been with the hotel for 10 to 30 years or more, including senior managers such as housekeeper Tina Freitas, who has notched up 35 years, managing director Pedro Bento with 32 years - who married Patricia's sister - and executive head chef Andrew Baird, with 29 years.
We all get on well," says Baird. "The partnership with Mr and Mrs Lewis works. We are open about issues. I still feel [the business is] moving forward, and the brigade feels like a family."
The rest of the team are young or transient, but they move on armed with the skills that the Lewises pass on to them: "We train, train, train," says Malcolm. "We are a family.
We share our lives together here and have a personal relationship with staff. You can't put a finger on why it works. We do things unscientifically." Patricia agrees: "People either fit in here, or they don't."
This culture has proved particularly successful in attracting local chefs. Baird runs what Malcolm describes as a "calm kitchen" and his 14-strong brigade includes five female chefs, two of whom were on local school placements
at the age of 15 and came back to be apprentice chefs; one who works 20 hours a week on flexitime; and two apprentices; as well as chefs from Spain, France, Poland and Portugal.
The hotel works with several local sustainability projects and Baird recently took on a trainee from Beresford Street Kitchen, a social enterprise on the island that provides training and employment for people with learning disabilities and autism. Baird also works with local schools to showcase cooking as a career.
Onwards and upwards
It may sound rosy, but the Lewises have had to fight to retain the independence of their business.
Malcolm is candid that they struggled after the financial crash of 2008. He knew the hotel needed further investment to compete in the luxury market, but he refused to turn to outside investors.
"It took time to get us out of the doldrums," he says. "At all costs, we wanted to make sure the product was fit for service with no bank loans. We were determined not to have the easy option of an outside investor. We wanted to keep the family legacy. We are proud of it."
Patricia adds: "It is crucial that [the hotel] is pristine, so we wanted to keep investing. We don't answer to a finance director, so we can overspend on something if we believe it is the right decision to keep us at the top of our game. You couldn't explain some of our decisions to an accountant."
The crisis prompted Malcolm to reorganise his priorities and embrace technology. Bento took over as the front man, allowing him to concentrate on sales, marketing and brand integrity. He has also subsequently brought PR in-house for greater control.
"During the economic crisis, most independent hotels hadn't grasped technology.
To climb out of the crisis, you had to harness it," explains Malcolm. "I committed
myself to understanding it and I gathered people around me who could help me. For example, I recruited a yield manager."
Although Longueville's high season is from Easter to October, the hotel is constantly flexing rates: "You can have high rates in February if there is demand," Malcolm says.
"Communications dovetails with sales. We can do a boost on Facebook and see the business come in."
He values online travel agents (OTAs) and TripAdvisor as tools to help with brand
awareness, and makes sure brand description and imagery are the best they can be. "We work with the OTAs; we don't fight them," says Malcolm. "They are hugely important to get visibility. We use them as a brand distributor." In terms of revenue, the OTAs represent 15% of business to the hotel, tour operators 35% and 50% is direct, either through Relais & ChÁ¢teaux - it has been a member since 1972 - or the website.
As chairman of Relais & ChÁ¢teaux UK and Ireland, he has also urged other members to update their technology and the association itself launched yield management and multiposting apps in 2017. Despite membership fees, Malcolm says the benefit of the Relais & ChÁ¢teaux booking engine is that it is commission- free.
"It represents independent properties and allows them to market themselves in a way they couldn't do alone. It is a key driver for us and dovetails with Visit Jersey and our own PR."
To complement Malcolm's responsibilities, Patricia describes her role as "giving a different perspective on the business", mainly overseeing housekeeping, interiors, the spa and HR to "keep the staff sparkly".
It's Patricia, for instance, who refurbishes two or three of the 30 rooms a year on a rolling programme - there are three classic, four superior, 18 deluxe, four junior suites, a suite and a two-bedroom cottage. Although she is not a trained designer, she uses style magazines for inspiration, favouring calm tones and luxurious fabrics.
As with the house, the grounds require constant maintenance to keep them at five-star standard, so there are two full-time maintenance workers and a gardening team.
The kitchen garden, which was opened in 1992, is overseen by Malcolm's eldest son, David. A horticulturalist, he grows much of the kitchen's vegetables and liaises with Baird.
From 1 May until 30 September, lunch menus (at £27.50) are inspired by the garden produce - a trip round the greenhouse reveals trays of young herbs and unusual greens, such as tatsoi.
Food and beverage accounts for 50% of sales and the 60-seat restaurant has three AA rosettes under Baird. "We deserve a Michelin star, but we don't get it," says Malcolm. "But our guests love it here, and we have a busy restaurant."
Baird has just got back from a trip to France where he has been pre-empting the potential changes Brexit might bring. "I'm making sure our suppliers in France are switched on and that we can tap into their market. They are only an hour away," he says.
Two treatment rooms and a mini gym were created in a cottage in the grounds in 2014 and now bring in local business alongside hotel guests. "We deliberated over adding a spa, then a fellow hotelier opened one in a garden shed, so we saw the opportunity of redesigning the cottage," says Malcolm.
But it's the wine cellar that Malcolm describes as the "greatest thing we have ever
done". Not only does it showcase a collection of fine wines, but it is often used for dinners and receptions for up to 40 people. There is also a room in the manor that can accommodate private parties for up to 55, but Malcolm stopped hosting weddings because they were overpowering the experience of other guests.
Thoughts of the future
Longueville Manor might be a family business, but it didn't just land in Malcolm's lap.
In an official transfer in 2013, his parents Neal and Barbara sold three-quarters of the freehold-owning company, NB Holdings, to Malcolm and Patricia. So how do they feel about being custodians for the next generation? As well as Malcolm's son David, the couple have Sophie, 17, and James, 14.
We don't want to put pressure on the next generation," says Patricia. Malcolm adds: "This year [the hotel] turns 70, but who knows if it will live through to another generation. And if they do take it over, it isn't being handed on a silver spoon; they would have to buy us out. But they also know they would have a lot of potential for development and growth."
Malcolm and Patricia, however, are concentrating on consolidation. Malcolm's sister, Sue, had been a 50/50 partner, but she quit two years before the financial crash, and their father passed away in 2018, so there has been some restructuring. "We have one last phase of refinancing - we are consolidating," says Malcolm.
"My father passed away and the dynamics of the family changed. We are still resolving the financial structure and letting the dust settle."
This means plans to convert the stables into a casual restaurant are on the back-burner. Their vision is to create a satellite kitchen to service the pool and terrace from the main house, and to meet the "real demand for casual dining" - especially for families. With the average stay during summer at four nights, guests who don't want fine-dining every night are currently offered a snack menu.
While the couple stay abreast of change, they are not led by trends and don't feel threatened by the wave of country-house casual or shabbychic hotels. "We are what we are and we don't try to copy someone else," says Patricia. "I don't think we are overly formal. We are grand, yet homely and not stuffy. Guests feel comfy here."
In summer, the average age of Longueville guests is 40 to 45, but outside of school breaks, business comes from a more mature brigade.
"Thank goodness for the midweek in September,"says Malcolm. "We want to attract younger people, but we also rely on the bluerinse market, so we make ourselves accessible to all by keeping the hotel well-maintained and offering superlative service with humanity."
Malcolm is optimistic about the fact Jersey, which once suffered from an image of
two-star guest houses, is in the middle of reinventing itself to attract a million visitors spending £500m by 2030.
"We are riding on that wave - they are trying to attract people with a disposable income," says Malcolm, who points out that the 26,000 hotel beds in the 1970s has reduced to 9,500. "Jersey now has an amazing collection of four- and five-star hotels. STR data for five-star properties here show they are improving their rates and occupancy. In addition, Premier Inn has arrived and shaken up standards in the two- and three-star market."
Malcolm describes the hotel's independence as "precious": "We have no shareholders to answer to and we are agile. I do get challenged by the sales department, who say 'you said this last week and now you are changing your mind'. But I think you have to be brave to do a U-turn - and we can do that."
Patricia adds: "We only have 30 bedrooms, but it's a big business."
Longueville Manor, Longueville Road, St Saviour, Jersey JE2 7WF
Total gross revenue £5.8m
Room occupancy 88.54%
Average daily rate £228.52
Revenue per available room £202.34
Lunch covers 15,199 (average spend, £47)
Dinner covers 15,751 (average spend, £96)
Malcolm Lewis' career highlights
Malcolm fine-tuned his homegrown hospitality skills in Switzerland with four years at École Hôtelière de Lausanne, followed by six months as a
barman in Geneva and a year on the Claridge's reception in London. He then spent a year at the Connaught in Michel Bourdin's Michelin-starred
kitchen. It was the early 1980s and the capital was on the brink of its culinary revolution.
"I love cooking; probably one of my regrets in life is that if I had carried on I could have been a chef-patron," he says.
In 1983, having just secured himself a spot at the St Francis hotel in San Francisco, his father called him back to Jersey to give support to Longueville Manor.
"He needed to modernise the food, so I brought a friend [chef] John Dickens and he ran the kitchen and I worked front of house," says Malcolm.
"We brought nouvelle cuisine to Jersey and all the local business evaporated. But the key was that the new menu was relevant for hotel guests. It took several years to settle, we got recognised for it and the rest is history."
1948 The then dilapidated hotel is bought by Sidney and Edith Lewis for £15,000
1949 Opens as a hotel with 12 bedrooms and one bathroom
1964 Becomes first Jersey hotel to have a swimming pool
1965 Son Neal and his wife Barbara take over the reins
1968 Becomes the first Jersey hotel to have all en suite bedrooms
1971 Becomes the first hotel in Jersey to be awarded four stars by the AA
1972 Becomes a member of Relais de Campagne, now known as Relais & ChÁ¢teaux
1986 West Wing built, taking the total to 30 bedrooms
1987 Neal and Barbara step back from the business and Malcolm takes over, having been active in the hotel for five years
1992 Kitchen garden created
1993 Tennis court installed
2002 Restaurant awarded three AA rosettes
2003 Malcolm joins the board of Relais & ChÁ¢teaux and assumes role as delegate for the British and Irish membership
2006 New Leaf, Longueville's sustainability programme, is launched
2006 Launched the St Saviour's school initiative, aimed at reaching out to local children on issues of sustainability, history and business
2008 Awarded five red AA stars - the only hotel tohold the rating in the Channel Islands and one of only 65 hotels throughout the UK and Ireland
2014 Opened the Cottage Garden boutique spa
2015 Launched a luxury yacht charter service for hotel guests
2018 Wine cellar launched
2019 In July, Longueville will celebrate 70 years since opening as a hotel
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