Business is boomimng for Bay hotels owner Keith Richardson thanks to the ‘sanctuary’, £15 for a three-course meal and a Bay City Rollers star

With more mini-lockdowns, medium lockdowns or full-on lockdowns either upon us or perhaps about to come our way even the most die-hard of an optimist would struggle to see a glimmer of hope during these terribly challenging times.

Keith Richardson must have felt just like that way back in March when the pandemic reared its ugly head properly for the first time and forced a shutdown which threatened to bring Torbay’s economy to its knees virtually overnight –especially our tourism and hospitality sector.

Keith’s Richardson Hotels empire was closed in the blink of an eye. The government did lend a massive helping hand with its furlough scheme to help pay the wages of the hundreds of staff Keith was forced to lay off. Without that he would have surely gone under.

As it was, he had to turn off the lights at the Grand and Abbey Sands in Torquay, the Falmouth in Falmouth and the Royal Beacon in Exmouth and retreat to his cottage in the South Devon countryside to himself shield from the deadly virus.

I do remember at the time though reflecting in this paper Keith’s determination not to beaten and to make a return. Anybody who knows Keith Richardson will tell you he doesn’t go down without a fight – using a few choice words along the way. A phone call from said gentleman the other day was proof of that. Now it would appear that a menu of four-star dining at a ridiculously low price, his ‘Sanctuary by the Sea’ and a touch of the Bay City Rollers is turning the tide.

The Grand, Falmouth and Beacon have been opened for a few months and business has been booming.

Keith starts the conversation with his total disbelief of how the virus numbers have dramatically shot up in the past few weeks. But then he talks of the comparable low numbers in Devon and West Country – God please let that continue – and he uses the word ‘optimistic’.

Keith says: “I was depressed on the Friday night when I heard the 17,000 cases figure. How can that happen? But we are optimistic.

“The phone keeps ringing and we keep taking bookings for the winter and we keep on perking up.”

Keith reckons that before the industry was allowed to re-open on July 4 his business had lost £500,00. But he adds: “In July we broke even. In August and September, we made a £1million profit. We are doing better than last year. We are taking bookings for Christmas. We are having good times.

“We were empty for three or four months. But of 250 rooms across the hotels, we were three quarters full for August and September, 50 per cent for October and Christmas is starting to wind up.

“We can see us surviving the winter with the current rate of bookings. People are running to this part of the world which is brilliant.

“They are coming to what I call the Sanctuary by the Sea. Their rooms are cleaned before they arrive and nobody is allowed in until they leave so they can’t catch the bug. It is their sanctuary.”

The government has helped. “Everything has helped. Everything has contributed to our success including Cornwall who were telling the tourists to go home,” says Keith.

“We are doing really well. We are working really hard. I came in the Grand on Sunday morning and the customers were falling over themselves to say what a pleasurable time they had and how nice the staff had been.”

Then there were a couple of other things Keith conjured up to help the business. Reducing the depth of the outside pool has saved him £20,000 because he will no longer legally require a lifeguard.

And then there is Scott McGowan from the famous Bay City Rollers pop group of the 70s and his son Jamie who are playing their guitars while the guests enjoy a three-course dinner in the restaurant for just £15 a time.

You can enjoy the music and menu on Friday and Saturday nights and so far they have gone down a storm. Keith has invited me down and do you know what.....