East Beach (5/7)

Five’s documentary series examining failing British hotels takes another look at one of the establishments that featured in an earlier episode.

Following on from Ruth Watson’s first visit, this week’s show sees the cameras return to Mark and Heidi’s large Victorian hotel in Eastbourne. When Ruth first met Mark and Heidi Cowderoy, they had owned the Weyanoke – a beautiful, 33- bedroom Victorian hotel situated on the Eastbourne seafront – for three years, having bought it after a short stint running a small B&B. In the past, the hotel had catered mainly for coach parties of pensioners paying as little as £20 for a room, but this business was quickly dying out.

Heidi and Mark decided to refurbish the hotel to take it upmarket, but their spending meant that they had failed to make any profit since the beginning of their venture. Since buying the hotel, the couple had spent in excess of £1million on what Mark called a “Victorian money pit”.

Upon arrival at the Weyanoke, the first thing that struck Ruth was the beauty of the building: “Architecturally, this is just sublime,” she remarked. However, she also noticed the hotel’s outdated image and its confusing, North Americansounding name. Once inside, she was shown to one of the refurbished rooms: “Blow me down,” she said. “It’s a delight!” But the pristine interior of this room was in stark contrast to everything Ruth encountered downstairs, prompting her to conclude that the hotel had a split personality.

The next morning, Ruth sampled the hotel’s breakfast – an essential part of the stay. “This is a slightly pitiful-looking breakfast,” she observed, but added that it would be satisfactory for a guest paying just £20 for a room. She then headed to the bar to speak to Mark about the business. Here, she discovered what may be the hotel’s main problem: while Mark knew how much money was coming in, only Heidi had control of the money spent on the refurbishment – and she was spending income that the hotel simply did not have.

After 24 hours of observation, Ruth sat Mark and Heidi down to reveal her findings. Firstly, she tackled the hotel’s dual identity, suggesting that the business could not continue to run in two different directions, with contrasting tariffs for clients at opposite ends of the spectrum. She then stressed the need for rebranding, starting with a new name for the hotel. Finally, Ruth addressed Heidi’s wanton spending and recommended that the couple communicate properly about financial matters.

Mark and Heidi took Ruth’s advice on board and got to work, though Heidi seemed dubious about her mentor’s methods: “It was a little like being back at home,” she remarked. Mark was keen to develop a coherent business plan, but it seemed that Heidi was unable to take the financial situation seriously. Still eager to take the hotel upmarket, she pushed ahead with the refurbishment, and her spending again went over budget.

On Ruth’s return to the hotel, she brought with her two business proposals. The first projected that the hotel would make an annual loss of £1,000 if the couple were to stick to the coach parties; the second dealt solely with a higher-paying clientele and foresaw a net annual profit of £60,000. With such a stark illustration of their financial future, Mark and Heidi chose the second plan and began a complete rebranding of the hotel.

After canvassing local opinion, ‘East Beach’ was chosen as the new name for the hotel, but this was only the beginning of the transformation. Now, the Hotel Inspector returns to Eastbourne to catch up with Mark and Heidi. In the months that have passed since Ruth’s visit, have the owners gained the business nous they needed to make a success of their establishment? Has the hotel been successfully redesigned? And has Heidi managed to curb her spending?

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