As part of this month's Talking Point on Engaging Guests, Rachel Mason from Triodos Bank explains how sustainability generates repeat business and local support for Argyll Hotel.
When Wendy and Rob MacManaway and Katy and Dafydd Russon took over at the Argyll Hotel on Iona two and a half years ago, the hotel already held the Green Tourism Gold Award and was a great example of a small business making big changes. The previous owners had started implementing green and sustainable initiatives back in 1998, which was pioneering at the time, mainly focussing on using Ecover cleaning products, recycling and maintaining an organic fruit, vegetable and herb garden.
Having stayed at the hotel frequently over the years, the two couples were keen to build on the sustainable practices already in place, but knew it wouldn’t be easy. The hotel is a 150-year-old stone building in a conservation area, so they knew they were going to be battling with an old structure as well as with the council to ensure their sustainable initiatives were not in conflict with the restrictive legislation for conservation areas.
“Since the hotel first got the Gold Award, Green Tourism Business Scheme has altered the focus with more emphasis on the energy conservation measures. Although having the award is not why we do what we do, the certification is how we consciously express what we are doing and show that we can live in a better way,” said Wendy.
Wendy and Rob, who live next door to the hotel and oversee the day to day running of the business, started small. Firstly by replacing all the light bulbs with LED bulbs and then ensuring all appliances in the building were a+ rated. Flow restrictors were fitted onto all taps and showers which, in three months, led to an average saving of around 4 cubic metres of water a month.
They then set to replacing all the windows with double glazing, a process started by the previous owners, and one by one, they are slowly insulating each of the hotel’s 16 rooms.
In terms of future plans, the back of the hotel will be rebuilt over the next five years using all the latest sustainable materials and techniques, the couples also plan to replace the flat roofs with an a-frame so that the hotel will be able to have solar panels. They are also looking to invest in a heat exchange system to heat the whole building but allow each room to be controlled separately so no energy is wasted.
Already recycling everything they could, composting waste and growing their own fruit, vegetables and herbs, the main focus became to minimise waste both from food preparation and restaurant plate waste. This reduction is an ongoing process and is achieved by portion control, monitoring waste and asking guests to let us know when an item is unwanted, for example no baked beans on their cooked breakfast plate.
“We already use local suppliers for as much of our food and drink as possible, which is very important to us, not only because it tastes better, but because it supports the local community, the local economy and minimises food miles,” said Wendy. The hotel has its own fisherman and serves fresh fish and seafood everyday. He is also their baker making all their organic bread, pastries and cakes. “We also have what we call a slow food policy: everything is hand prepared and cooked to order. The time from ordering to food arriving may be a little longer but we feel that the result is worth the wait.”
The way the business is funded is also sustainable – the hotel has no mortgage, just a loan from sustainable bank Triodos.
“Triodos are very supportive of people who want to take businesses down a sustainable route, plus, all their own investments are ethical, and it is good to know that their money is being used to help other businesses like ours. We are also looking into green loans – we may be able to get an interest free loan from Resource Efficient Scotland to help fund further energy saving initiatives,” said Wendy.
“Remaining a progressive and sustainable small business is paramount but, in order to reap the reward, the cost of initial investment in green options doesn’t come cheap. Other costs are rising too but we are determined to continue on our ethical pathway. We’d rather do the right thing and be a valued part of the community than sell out for pure profit.”
Wendy says they try (without preaching) to educate guests by encouraging them to use fewer towels, recycle waste and turn off appliances. In the restaurant they have a food source sheet with the menu highlighting the importance to us of local provenance and food accountability and a menu board to show where the ingredients for the day’s meals were sourced.
Our guests are very supportive of what we are doing - we have a 40% return rate - and I think it is something bigger hotels can learn from.
The hotel is open from March to October, but in order to maintain a link with the Iona community, Wendy and Rob open up to locals during the winter for curry nights, pizza nights, quizzes and hope to offer music nights this winter.
When asked why they do what they do, Wendy answers simply, “For us there isn’t any other way. If communities like ours are going to survive, we need to work together, to support each other socially and economically. The business is there to serve not only the guests but also the community. This is truly green practise. It is not always easy, and there are lots of obstacles in the way, but you can’t give up on something just because it is tough.”