March 4 2015 Latest news:
Wednesday, July 16, 2014
When Marc Mackenzie and his wife Liz bought the Links Country Park Hotel from the receivers it took commendable vision to see its full potential.
The property at West Runton near Cromer had been neglected for years and some of the rooms, Mr Mackenzie admitted, “looked like they belonged in the dark ages”.
Three years on, following an investment of more than £1m, the hotel greeting summer visitors is unrecognisable from that sorry state.
He said: “The old part of the building had probably not been touched for 30 years. We had to completely gut 25 bedrooms and bathrooms straightaway.
“Since then, we have gone on to decorate throughout, upgraded the kitchen, put in a new bar and installed a fire alarm system.
“A lot of local people have said they are pleased about what we have done and the standards we have reached.”
Their attention is currently focused on the hotel golf course, planting 100 mature trees and 200 saplings to better define the fairways and converting it from nine holes to 18 holes with the addition of a 10th fairway and more tee positions.
Major work on the clubhouse, giving it a smart sports bar theme, has already seen membership doubled to 200 and a huge increase in social events.
Next on the list will be redeveloping the pool area, adding new changing rooms and a new gym.
“We will also be carrying on with general maintenance. It is like the Forth Road Bridge, it is never ending,” he said.
The former offshore diver entered the hotel trade in 1996 when he and his wife bought the Sea Marge Hotel, in Overstrand, bringing a derelict and vandalised building back to life.
They embarked on their second project in 2000 when they bought a former residential home in Upper Sheringham and transformed it into the Dales Country House Hotel.
Now employing 130 staff across the three properties with an annual wage bill of £1.3m, Mr Mackenzie is confident about the future of Norfolk tourism.
He said: “The dualling of the A11 has got to help, opening up Norfolk more to north London residents.
“This season is looking good with all our hotels up on last year’s bookings.”
At The Links, occupancy has steadily risen to more than 65pc as customers - both leisure and business - have responded to the improvements by voting with their feet.
“We have succeeded in extending the season and are now busy from Easter right up to Christmas,” he said.
Mr Mackenzie is adamant that to succeed in the hotel trade these days, “it is not just about the rooms”.
As part of that strategy of “trying everything to get people through the door”, he has appointed Sam Lowe as marketing manager to develop their programme of special events.
A Dirty Dancing tribute night at The Links on Friday has already attracted advance bookings from 135 people; Mr Lowe is particularly excited about a Take That tribute night later in the year.
With a reputation as one of the toughest people in business, many stores would shudder at the thought of getting the Mary Portas treatment.