Stephen & JoSÉ Baker, owners, carbis bay hotel & resort
Stephen and Jose Baker, owners of the Carbis Bay Hotel and Estate, tells SPACE editor Can Faik of their pride in watching the properties grow and prosper as it welcomes guests from all over the world…
Set within 125 acres, the Carbis Bay Hotel & Estate sits against the backdrop of their privately owned 25-acre Blue Flag Beach, easily accessible from the hotel. The dramatic waterfront location is internationally recognised as one of the most beautiful bays in the world. Owned and managed by the Baker family, Carbis Bay Hotel exudes a truly indulgent home away from home atmosphere that only an Estate of such familial structure can achieve.
Carbis Bay Estate comprises the luxury Carbis Bay Hotel with 47 individually designed rooms, boasting sea or garden views, as well as a range of self-catering accommodation, serviced apartments and suites. The Estate’s brand new Beach Lodges offer the ultimate luxury stay with complete seclusion, private beach and roof gardens with hot tub, contemporary stylish interiors and floor-to-ceiling windows showcasing extraordinary sea views.
What was your background in hospitality prior to opening Carbis Bay Hotel, Spa & Estate?
Stephen: I have experience of the hospitality industry over most of my life, growing up within hotels in St Ives and when my family acquired Carbis Bay Hotel and Carbis Bay Beach in the 1980s, it quickly became a passion for me and my wife too, to bring what was a small, seasonal, heritage hotel to what it is today – an ever-growing Estate with three hotels, numerous coastal properties, a spa, beach complex and new in 2018/19 lodges and suites on the beach and a waterfront events venue.
What does your current position involve?
Stephen: Anything and everything, all day, every day – encompassing all that is required to run a successful offering to the public on so many levels, whilst overseeing the finances, the fabric of the Estate, the administration, the wellbeing of visitors and staff alike, not to mention a duty of care to our unique coastal environment and all that is entailed with our beach regeneration project which, some 10 years following my initial concept, is finally coming to fruition.
What do you enjoy most about your role?
Stephen: Of particular mention must be pride in achievement of my personally set goals for the business, manifested increasingly by winning county and national awards in the hospitality sector and having our loyal team of staff and a large returning customer base.
I can truly say my work is never, ever boring or repetitive in any way. In such a multi-faceted operation, there is no set pattern, no monotony – every single day brings something different and a new challenge!
What are the personality traits that define a successful and happy hotel proprietor, in your opinion?
Stephen: I would say that a level-headed and calm demeanour is paramount, as well as patience, understanding, friendliness, a sense of humour and, possibly, the greatest attribute for such a role, having a genuine appreciation of what is required from a welcoming host.
What are the most challenging issues you are facing within your current role?
Stephen: The hospitality industry in Cornwall has tended to be seasonal – we used to close over December/January. With the advent of social media and online agencies, there is now a market year-round and we have had to adapt and broaden our offering on all levels. It is now our remit and ambition to maintain exceptional levels of service and standards, further expand our clientele and achieve recognition country-and worldwide, having provided now an additional level of high-class accommodation, being our lodges in an unrivalled location.
What does Carbis Bay Hotel, Spa & Estate have to do to stay one step ahead of its competition?
Stephen: Good service throughout our Estate is paramount and we believe that a ‘personal touch’ and attention to detail in this respect gains loyalty. We are a privately-run business and happy to do whatever we can to ensure the wellbeing and happiness of our guests. Our aim is to please and be flexible; we try not to offer a corporate experience, rather a friendly, approachable and relaxed ambience. Our guests now have greater expectations, they want an experience with memorable moments. We recognise this.
What are Carbis Bay Hotel, Spa & Estate Unique Selling Points?
Stephen: Our greatest unique selling point is our secluded coastal Estate with spectacular sea views across our privately owned Blue Flag beach. We would also include our multi-award-winning C Bay Spa and our range of restaurants.
Special mention must be made of a first for Cornwall – our 8 luxury beachside lodges with private stretch of beach completed in 2018 and in 2019, our ocean venue delivering further beachside apartment suites, restaurant, events, retail and community spaces, all overlooking Carbis Bay Beach.
What is next for the Carbis Bay Hotel, Spa & Estate as in new openings or refurbishments?
Stephen: We are constantly refurbishing throughout the Estate and having ideas for further developments to enhance our offering alongside the usual refurbishing of accommodation and public areas. We have recently re-modelled some hotel bedrooms to enlarge and modernise their space, which is an on-going project.
What kind of equity will be available to finance all of these new builds and acquisitions?
Stephen: The Estate, being so diverse, cross-sustains its various businesses and of course, we have a team of professional advisors in this field.
Have you noticed any particular trends in hotel design?
José: I would say that individuality is now key – rather than providing the colour scheme and furniture expected. For instance, in our new beach lodges, it might be expected that everything within them would be based on a blue coastal theme. We tried not to use a stripe anywhere! The design is modern chic but comfortable and practical – a home from home – with soft, easy-on- the eye light and bright interiors and cosy tartans and woodland colours, not forgetting the focus is always the unrivalled view! Public areas need to be updated constantly and although Carbis Bay Hotel has grand, chandeliered reception rooms, we are constantly bringing these into the current age.
I not only regularly stay myself in many different hotels; I frequently visit Hotel Shows and benefit from close business relationships with our suppliers, in order to keep abreast of current trends.
How important do you feel hotel design has become when launching a new hotel?
José: We have in the past two years totally re-modelled two new hotels – the Gannet Inn and Gannet House – and the re-branding and re-design go hand- in-hand.
The design is always top of the list with individuality and a relaxed environment paramount.
Has any specific centre of expertise in the design field inspired you to follow their advice/recommendations?
José: After following the usual design channels, I visited the Hotel Show and was introduced to GP & J Baker, who immediately made me feel relaxed and I knew we were on the same wavelength.
I visited the Design Centre, Chelsea Harbour and was very impressed by the different showrooms and what there is to see. We don’t have anything like this in Cornwall but it was certainly worth the trek! We use many of the featured suppliers within our Estate and others, naming a few – Vaughan Lighting, Perrin & Rowe, Villeroy & Boch, GP & J Baker, Neptune (Europe), Ben Whistler Ltd, etc.
What do you enjoy most about what you do?
José/Stephen: We enjoy working as a team throughout the business and every day brings a new challenge. After a long day, we open a bottle of wine and the brainstorming begins. There follows a sketch with some research and before you know it, another transformation begins!
Where would you love to open a new property?
José/Stephen: In a city away from seasonality, even Europe maybe.
What would you say are the three best places you’ve ever stayed?
José/Stephen: There are so many. We would have to say firstly The Maldives and then, a total contrast, The Lake District for its unspoilt peace and tranquillity. A third? The welcoming islands of the Caribbean, perhaps.
Where currently ranks highest on your travel wish list?
José/Stephen: Given plenty of time, Australia and New Zealand, without a doubt.
Let’s finish with the issue of work-life balance. How do you aim to achieve a good balance and what do those closest to you think of your attempts? José/Stephen: Our two children, Thomas and Eloise, bring great joy and keep us sane! Now they are older, they understand more how plans can suddenly change or even be cancelled. Although they are keen to help out in summer holidays, we ensure they have good social lives away from the business and that we spend family time together just as often as we can. This can be challenging to achieve, given the constant demands on our time but we are always contactable and have a strong management team. Our new project – the lodges and adjacent ocean venue – have taken a huge amount of effort and commitment over the past few years, but the finish is now very close. We will be cracking the champagne and raising a toast, once this is completed.