Husband and wife team Rick and Bonnie Baguley run the 12 bedroomed Old School Hotel in Port Isaac, Cornwall. They started using freetobook as their online booking system back in April 2013 and most recently signed up for Google Zero and Messaging.
Was your hotel indeed an old school as per the name?
The building was built in 1875 and overseen by the local award-winning architect Sylvanus Trevail who later became Mayor of Truro. Educating up to 238 local primary-age school children, it was still a busy school until 1977. The building was transformed into a hotel and opened in 1984. There are still many locals in the village who went to school here so there’s a lot of affection for the place.
Running a hotel with 12 rooms is a sizeable enterprise, do you bring in staff to help you both over the busiest seasons?
My wife Bonnie and I purchased the hotel back in 2007 and have run it ever since. At present we have 12 hotel rooms, all en-suite, ranging from Kingsize suites to small double rooms and singles, along with a restaurant and a bar. The kitchen team is headed up by my wife’s two brothers; both accomplished Chefs from an early age. We employ around 20 staff full-time, rising to around 30 in the summer months. We are open seven days a week nearly all year round, only closing for a couple of weeks in January where we continually improve and refurbish the building.
Are you local to the area and have you always worked in the hospitality industry?
My wife has lived in Cornwall since the age of five and in Port Isaac from the age of 10, working in retail and hospitality in Cornwall before a few years in London managing various shops for large retailers. I had no experience in hospitality prior to the Old School, but have a background in IT and finance technology in London.
Tell us more about your hotel’s location and what makes it so special?
Port Isaac has a great community of locals, despite the ever-increasing number of second and holiday homes that now dominate. When the sun is shining and the sea is crystal clear, there really is nowhere else quite like it. The village has always been a busy place in the summer months. Since the filming of various TV and film productions including “Saving Grace”, “Poldark”, “Doc Martin” and “Fisherman’s Friends”, the popularity and notoriety of the village has grown still further. There are now many more people around in the wintertime and many visitors from the USA and Australia (in normal times). With the last Doc Martin series due to be filmed in 2022, we hope to welcome many people to the village next year assuming global travel can restart.
You first starting using freetobook in 2013, how does our software help you to run your business?
Prior to freetobook, the reservations side of the business was a manual, paper-based affair and a full-time job for a receptionist. I trialled several software solutions and decided ftb was the best option, with the best feature set and ease of use. It has added several features over the years, with the new diary being a particular highlight. Whilst there are a few things on the system that don’t quite match the way we work, I don’t believe there is a better solution outside of a bespoke software package, especially considering the minimal cost.
We’ve started to use Google Zero and so far, a steady trickle of bookings has appeared. The lack of commission compared to other channels is welcome - it’s early days but if it replaces OTA bookings, it will be a worthwhile option. We are lucky as most of our bookings are direct, with our use of the channel manager and Booking.com limited to last-minute availability. Messaging has also been a welcome addition to the ftb offer and has made it much easier to correspond with our guests and keep it all in one place. I would wholeheartedly recommend freetobook to any other accommodation business.
How has the last year affected your business?
It was an extremely worrying time when lockdown was first announced in March 2020 and the uncertainty was awful for both us and our staff. The financial support from government was important and allowed us and our loyal staff to just about survive the lockdown period. We continued to operate as a takeaway only service during the lockdowns, delivering to all the loyal locals who supported us all the way through.
Thankfully, the majority of guests chose to defer their bookings to 2021 rather than ask for a refund, which helped with cash flow during the time we were prevented from opening.
The restrictions that were in place when we were allowed to re-open in July 2020 were difficult to navigate and the continuing curbs on numbers is still having an impact. It has been, and continues to be, extremely hard work!
We are extremely lucky to be situated in such a popular location and were able to weather the storm. I know other hospitality businesses have not been so fortunate. We feel for everyone in the industry who is still unable to open or can only financially tread water due to the restrictions. Not wanting to get political, but perhaps if there was anyone in government with experience of working in or running hospitality businesses, there would be a more logical set of regulations and more help available!