High Time to Put the ‘Grand’ Back in Grand Hotel

I saw news this week of the sale — yes, yet another undisclosed price — for the 76-room Grand Atlantic Hotel in Weston-super-Mare, Somerset.

Forgiveness is automatically given if you have not heard of this seaside town in England’s West Country. It is a perfectly pleasant place to go to — on the Atlantic Ocean, well, on the Bristol Channel at a point where the ocean’s saltwater starts to combine with the River Severn.

The “super mare” bit of its name is pure Latin, meaning “above the sea.” I remember a harmless song from the late 1970s called “Some Girls,” performed by a band from this town named Racey, who had a later song called “Kitty” that became an international sensation when it was reworked into the song “Mickey” By Toni Basil.

The town also has a very popular helicopter museum and an annual sandcastle sculpture competition.

“Oh, Mickey, you’re so fine, you’re so fine …”

But grand hotels largely are not fine any more.

Most “grand” hotels could do with some love and care, including the recently sold Grand Atlantic Hotel in Weston-super-Mare, Somerset. (CoStar)

The one in Weston-super-Mare that has just been acquired by Singapore investment firm Fragrance Group from the hotel division of Specialist Leisure Group, appears not so grand.

That might just be a reflection of the weather on the day the photo was taken, but I really feel now, if refinancing can be obtained at reasonable rates, is the time to have these grand hotels made fully grand again.

There are thousands of them around the United Kingdom and Europe.

Most come from the Edwardian and Victorian eras when the British seaside ruled the tourism stakes and hundreds of thousands of people would travel from not so very far away to spend a week per year strolling the sands, chipping their teeth on bars of rock, riding donkeys along the shoreline and watching Punch & Judy shows and Max Bygraves performances at the Winter Gardens.

Others were situated in or beside the grand rail stations.

If these hotels have a chance of a new lease on life, the time to freshen them up might be now.

Average daily rates are high and if capital expenditure can be rustled up, there will be a first-mover advantage given what we hear about the exorbitant costs of renovation, refinancing and operations.

Fragrance Group has hotel assets in only three places — Singapore, Australia and the U.K.
In the U.K., its properties include three in Blackpool, two in Torquay — the supposed site of TV comedy’s mythical hotel Fawlty Towers — and two in Paignton, all classic British seaside resorts.

Monty Python’s John Cleese was born in Weston-super-Mare.

One of those Blackpool hotels, the 180-room Imperial is a Victorian jewel that, according to the Singapore firm’s website, has welcomed Charles Dickens, Winston Churchill and The Beatles.

Amid the rise of pandemic-era staycations, which to some degree is still with us, guests are discovering anew such wonderful destinations, which in turn breathes new life into these places with coffee shops, restaurants, retail and boutique hotels.

The secret is to banish flock wallpaper, maroon with gold-pattern carpeting and paintings of hunting scenes painted in that era when artists had not yet truly seen the way in which horses’ legs move.

Maybe it is even time to banish the top-hatted doorman or woman and have less reliance on bus groups, but maybe now I am just imposing my personal wish list.

I do feel these hotels have a huge part to play in the revitalization of seaside towns in the U.K., which for the past 50 years often have been high up the list in unemployment figures and other statistics city councils would prefer not to have.

If seaside towns want to reassert themselves, and some have, then they can do worse than to make sure their grand hotels are fully deserving of such an exaggerated name.

Then it is just a matter of good management and underwriting.

The opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Hotel News Now or CoStar Group and its affiliated companies. Bloggers published on this site are given the freedom to express views that may be controversial, but our goal is to provoke thought and constructive discussion within our reader community. Please feel free to contact an editor with any questions or concern.

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