Celtic Manor Resort: Interview with Ian Edwards MI FIH
Ian Edwards, Chief Executive of the Celtic Manor Resort, on appealing to the staycation market with a strong family offering, opening the Coldra Court Hotel to support the NHS and key workers as well as the Welsh Blood Service throughout the pandemic, and adopting contactless app technology to protect guests whilst streamlining their experience.
With many of your existing people returning from furlough how are you supporting their return to work in terms of engagement and re-training?
As with the reopening last summer following the original lockdown, all our team members are being given full training on new procedures and protocols when they return to work. They also receive a staff safety pack with face coverings, hand sanitiser, hygiene key and a welfare booklet. It’s important that our staff are as confident in returning to the resort as our guests are. We have remained engaged with our team throughout the past 14 months via online platforms and we have given them as much notice as possible to prepare for their return to work and raise any concerns they may have.
How are you dealing with the huge challenge of getting newly recruited teams trained and ready for opening?
We don’t have many new starters as we have retained the majority of our staff thanks to the support provided by furlough and, as we are not yet operating at full capacity, we are not really in a position where we need to recruit additional staff at the moment. Where we have needed to fill the odd position, we have a thorough induction process and the experienced teams and managers we have in place have been able to assist the assimilation of new team members.
Are you concerned that newly recruited people from outside the Industry are likely to leave you once other sectors recover? Have you adapted your employee retention strategy to reduce this risk?
Again, we don’t really have a large number of new starters and not many of these will have come from other sectors as hospitality has been one of the industries hit hardest by the pandemic. If anything, we’ve seen people leave our industry during the uncertainty caused by COVID to look for employment which has been more stable during the lockdowns. Ongoing training and career development has always been an important priority for us as a way to retain our team members and we had just established a new talent and development team to bolster this activity before the pandemic hit. Recruiting and retaining talent will be vital to our recovery.
What marketing campaigns are you putting in place to attract the staycation market and what impact are you seeing on forward bookings for the summer?
We have developed a strong family offering over the last 10 years with the creation of our adventure activities, the construction of our self-catering Hunter Lodges, the addition of playgrounds and picnic areas, and improvements to our children’s menus in the restaurants. This puts us in a great position to offer a varied proposition to the staycation market and our marketing campaigns have reflected the abundance of facilities, activities and accommodation options we can offer.
What we also have here is a lot of green space for social distancing and al fresco dining, and also for the wellbeing and mindfulness which have become more important to people during lockdown. We expected strong demand as people seek to escape after being stuck at home for so long and the early signs are good in terms of forward bookings for the summer. I think we will see even more demand as things fully reopen and people grow in confidence as the vaccine rollout continues.
At the heart of your local community, you offer a lifeline to small local businesses. Without the international traveller the impact will surely be felt amongst them. How will you encourage the domestic staycation market to engage in what the local community has to offer?
We support an extensive network of local suppliers and the events we stage at Celtic Manor and ICC Wales bring well in excess of £100m to the local economy in visitor spend at other hospitality providers and visitor attractions, and with taxi drivers and travel companies.
We support an extensive network of local suppliers and the events we stage at Celtic Manor and ICC Wales bring well in excess of £100m to the local economy.
The vast majority of our leisure visitors are traditionally from the UK and the small proportion of international visitors we may lose will be more than counter-balanced by UK staycationers who book to stay longer with us and will therefore be more inclined to explore the local community. We work closely with Welsh Government, Visit Wales and local authorities to make sure we champion all that this region and Wales as a whole has to offer.
Many businesses have been forced to pivot their offering over the past 12 months; what changes and innovations have you introduced that you are most proud of?
We have kept our Coldra Court Hotel open to support the NHS and key workers throughout the pandemic, offering contact-free room service, and I am enormously proud of how well the team there have adapted to this challenge and provided this essential service in trying circumstances. We have also used the function space there to assist the Welsh Blood Service and ensure the blood donations needed by local hospitals have been able to continue. We’ve had some amazing feedback, thanking us for the lengths our team have gone to assist these efforts and the warm welcome we have been able to provide.
We have kept our Coldra Court Hotel open to support the NHS and key workers throughout the pandemic, offering contact-free room service, and I am enormously proud of how well the team there have adapted to this challenge and provided this essential service in trying circumstances.
Across the business, we have had to be agile and all our team members have been incredible in their response to things like flexible furlough, their willingness to go above and beyond their job descriptions to help install new canopies for outdoor dining, for example, and to adapt to the ever-changing situation, in and out of lockdown. We have introduced a takeaway service for the first time – Celtic at Home – to offer our local guests a taste of Celtic Manor while they have been unable to visit us, and the chefs and food and beverage teams have provided a lot of the inspiration to make this a success.
Some of the changes brought about by the pandemic will probably remain with us such as the app technology we have adopted to allow guests to check in, access their rooms and book activities and services all over their mobile phones. These will streamline the guest journey and the contact-free benefits in mitigating risk have probably just accelerated an innovation that would have been industry-standard in time anyway.
For you personally what has been the biggest learning curve over the past 12 months?
I think it’s that agility and adaptability – the pandemic has shown us that you never know what is around the corner, so you need to act quickly when things change. This means you need to take every opportunity to keep the business moving. We have staged international golf and snooker events behind closed doors while the rest of our events business has been locked down. As well as playing our part in the return of elite sport, this has also helped us demonstrate what is possible with the right COVID-secure protocols in place as we lobby for the return of the events sector more generally.
While we have been unable to pursue our normal business, we have pressed on with expanding The Celtic Collection with construction being allowed to continue for us to open the new Parkgate Hotel in Cardiff this autumn in collaboration with the Welsh Rugby Union, and the new Ty Hotel Milford Waterfront in partnership with the Port of Milford Haven next spring.
The devastating impact of the pandemic means that it’s even more important that we press ahead with growing the business.
Ian Edwards MI FIH
Chief Executive, ICC Wales and The Celtic Collection
Ian Edwards took over as Chief Executive of the Celtic Manor Resort in 2014, having returned to the five-star golf, leisure and business resort as Chief Operating Officer in 2008.
In 2017 he also assumed the dual role of Chief Executive of International Convention Centre Wales, an £83.7m events venue in the grounds of Celtic Manor which opened in 2019 and is capable of hosting more than 5,000 delegates at a time. In 2019, Ian also oversaw the acquisition of a fifth hotel within the Celtic Collection and the launch of a new Tŷ Hotel brand.
Ian headed up the resort’s delivery of two major global events – the 2010 Ryder Cup and the 2014 NATO Summit – and was named Hotelier of the Year at the 2015 European Hospitality Awards.
Since his return, the Celtic Manor Resort has achieved numerous prestigious awards and enjoyed a sustained period of record growth. He is now driving considerable expansion as the resort has evolved into the Celtic Collection of five hotels with another, Tŷ Hotel Newport, opening in 2020.
Ian is the Welsh Government representative on the Visit Britain Board and he is Chairman of the Board of St Joseph’s Hospital in Newport. He also sits on the Welsh Government Tourism and Marketing Board and Newport Economic Network, and is a Visiting Professor at the University of South Wales. Ian has been made a Master Innholder and a Fellow of the Institute of Hospitality.