'Why we are investing millions of pounds in 'fantastic' Torbay'

Torbay Weekly

Brett and Jo Powis want their hotels to be the best in Torbay with a capital 'B'- and that is why they are investing millions of pounds in the 'fantastic' English Riviera.

Proof they are getting there came when their Lincombe Hall Hotel and Spa in Torquay struck gold not once but twice in the recent Devon Tourism Awards.

It now goes forward seeking more glory for the Bay in the South West Tourism Awards after winning the Large Hotel and Best Spa and Wellbeing Experience categories.

The Lincombe Hall is only one part of the Powis Hotels success story which also includes The Babbacombe Hotel on Babbacombe Downs and the Riviera Hotel in Belgrave Road, Torquay.

The Lincombe in Meadfoot Road was their first foray into the Bay and into the world of tourism 11 years ago. Brett had run a private hospital for around 15 years and people thought they were 'crazy'.

He said: "People thought we were mad. I wanted to do something for myself. When I ran the hospital, I had a Hotel Services Manager and a Matron. It is about people in rooms. You look after people."

They first came across the Lincombe during a West Country holiday. Brett says: "It was semi-derelict. Water was pouring through the roof. It was terrible."
But then he adds: "We thought 'we could do something with this'."

Brett comes from Bognor Regis and Jo is from the Midlands. They have three children.

Suddenly they had a new home and a totally new business.

They set about bringing the Lincombe back to life with Jo looking after the interiors and decor of the hotel's rooms and furnishings.

"She has been a massive support for me," Brett is quick to point out.

The hotel was three stars at the time. They spent £1million on refurbishing the hotel in the first two years. Three years later it moved to four stars and then they took the gamble of catering for adults only.

Brett said: "We were trying to find a place in the market that was not catered for. There were a lot of three-star hotels in the Bay. There was no boutique style hotel. We had a few emails asking, 'did we not like children?' We love children. We have three of our own. It went from strength to strength."

They bought the former Sefton Hotel around six years ago and renamed it The Babbacombe Hotel. It is mainly a coaching/group booking hotel with dramatic views of the Bay from The Downs.

The former Rainbow House and now Riviera was acquired four years ago.

"We could see the massive potential the Riviera had of becoming a top budget hotel," said Brett.

"It has some lovely facilities, a show bar and sports bar. Good entertainment. It is for people on a budget.  It delivers great holidays at a good price. Buffets, entertainment, bingo. It is packed solid."

The Lincombe Hall has 44 rooms. Brett and Jo have spent between £1.5 million and £2 million refurbishing the hotel in the last 10 years.

Another £2.5 million has been spent on the five-star spa experience.

Another £250,000 is presently being investing in refurbishing the Brasserie, lounges and creating a new intimate dining area.

The Babbacombe has 82 rooms with £1 million spent on refurbishment.

The plan at the Riviera is to increase the number of rooms from 145 to 180 in a £5 million investment over three years

Brett says: "We want to have the three best hotels in Torbay - the best Spa Hotel, best Coaching Hotel and best Budget Hotel."

That is why the huge investment won't stop there as they plan to spend £1 million a year on further improvements.

Brett says: "We just get on with things, but you have to keep investing to keep ahead of everybody else."

He adds: "We love all the hotels. Lincombe Hall is our baby but the Riviera is the most fun to run.

"Bognor Regis and having fun is my old background. You can take the boy out of Bognor but you can't take Bognor out of the boy."

He welcomes the competition that the Fragrance Group will bring with its four new hotels as well as the coming of the Hampton Hilton as part of the Torwood Street scheme which will attract more visitors. He doesn't have the same belief in the new Premier Inn being built at the Terrace car park.

The only hotel partly 'open' during the current lockdown has been the Babbacombe which includes a Costa for takeaway drinks.

He says: "Last summer we had two or three months to make some money.  That saw us through the winter."

He adds: "I feel sorry for retail. The town centre is sad when it comes to retail."

He can see a brighter future with more continental-style cafes and fewer shops at the top end of the town with more residential.

And he can see the potential value of combining retail with tourism in a bigger Business Improvement District initiative.

He says: "Retail and tourism would work. Now that hospitality is leading the way that will bring the rest of the town with it."

He adds: "I come from Bognor. If you want to see what happens with a lack of investment go to Bognor. I go back there to see my family. It is so sad.
"I would hate Torquay to go like that. I do not think it will. It will keep elevating."

He can remember attending meetings in Torquay and staying at the Osborne Hotel and 'lovely' walks on the harbour.

He says: "It is a very exciting time.  We love the area. We love Torquay. It is just fantastic."