Ashworth took over The Nare, located near Carne Beach in Cornwall, from his grandmother Bettye Gray in 2000. “She planned the succession very carefully, gradually introducing me to guests at The Nare’s weekly cocktail parties,” explains the 42-year-old. By 2004, he had completed a management buyout of the family stakeholders.
At the tail end of 2008 – just as the recession was biting – Ashworth re-arranged his loan facility with his bank to reduce capital payments, using the extra cash to breathe new life into The Nare. “We closed down the entire hotel in January and February last year and completely refurbished eight of the rooms, replaced the dining-room windows and upgraded the swimming pool,” he explains.
The project cost Ashworth more than £500k, plus £250k a month in lost bookings. “We employ 83 people here. Obviously we continued to pay rates and salaries over the two months – although I did encourage staff to take mini sabbaticals during that time,” he adds.
Ashworth reckons a recession is the best time to “mend” your business: “It’s no good waiting for the economy to pick up again,” he explains. “In a recession, luxury brands shouldn’t be discounting products and services – they should be adding more value to them. Give your customers something better than they expect.”
The Nare now attracts roughly 2,000 guests a month, with a 65 per cent repeat occupancy rate, and turns over £3.6m.
Ashworth is keen to promote The Nare not just nationally but worldwide. “The outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in 2001 made me realise that we were too dependent on local tourism – we had too many eggs in one basket,” he says.
The Nare has become part of the Pride of Britain consortium, a group of 36 independently owned luxury hotels in Britain (chosen through a system of inspection and voting), and Ashworth is using that status to fly the flag for Cornwall, attending an event at the British Embassy in Brussels at the end of last year and meeting with travel agents in the States.
“While this region is attracting more American visitors, with an increase in flights from the US into Bristol Airport and now Newquay, not enough is being done by UK tourism boards to put Cornwall on the map. Compared to London, the Cotswolds, York and Edinburgh, we’ve been overlooked. I’m going to be working with Visit Britain and Visit Cornwall to change that."