Sue and Andrew Page left Britain behind for their first hotel venture in France. They bring Boutique Hotelier readers a real and humorous insight into being in the hotel business with your beloved abroad, all the way from their second successful hotel on a beautiful Zanzibar beach
How did the two of you meet?
Sue: Andrew moved to the village I was living in.
Whose idea was it to open the first hotel abroad and why?
Sue: We had visited France for a week and found a water mill for sale in an estate agent’s window. When we got back to England I found a French-speaking lawyer and we bought it. We renovated it and went there for holidays. When the company we worked for folded we thought why not go to France and start charging for what we had been doing for nothing for the past five years. We put a sign on the road, joined Gites de France, contacted Alastair Sawday, Charming Small Hotels and Guide du Routard , the rest is history. We still have our mill and try to get to France at least once or twice a year.
Andrew: We moved to France in 1985. People kept coming to stay with us for free at our gite in France so we decided to turn it into a hotel.
What were you doing before you opened this hotel in the Loire Valley?
Sue: I was working as a director of a building company
Andrew: I had a village pub in England.
How did you come up with the concept for Echo Beach Hotel?
Sue: Andrew liked the song Echo Beach [by the Canadian group Martha and the Muffins] — it was his generation’s music. We were looking for a small but good-quality hotel where every room had a large terrace with direct access to the beach.
Andrew: Yes, the name came about from listening to the radio and hearing the Echo Beach song. The concept seemed like a good way to make money.
Why did you choose Zanzibar for the second property?
Sue: It was my idea as my daughter Lucy was working there and I fell in love with the turquoise sea and white sand and 25kms of beach. We bought two hectares of beach front and I designed the hotel and we then built the hotel.
Andrew: This was my wife’s idea.
Who wears the trousers?
Sue: Andrew says I do and he is probably right, he would have preferred to stay in France.
Andrew: Sue. I’ve always been in shorts because of the age difference between us.
How many hours a day do you see your other half for?
Sue: We see each other quite a bit in passing — we share the trips to Stone Town [old part of Zanzibar City] as neither of us likes going there. I go to England at least two or three times a year as I have two daughters and a three-year-old grandson so I do have more time away than Andrew, although we both go to France in April and May when the weather is nice there and wet here.
Andrew: Around 10 or 12 hours a day on average.
How do you divide the duties?
Sue: He is a very good chef and the food is a major part of a holiday. I do the interiors and furnishings for the rooms and hang the wallpaper. I do the garden, the laundry and so on, and greet the guests. He is pretty good at DIY having renovated about four houses over the years. I would say we make a pretty good team.
Andrew: She tells me what to do and I do it.
AT A GLANCE
Echo Beach Hotel, Zanzibar
Built, owned and managed by: Husband and wife team The Pages: Sue (65) and Andrew (49)
No. of rooms: 12, including nine villas
Facilities: Restaurant, Dhow Beach Bar, spa, gift shop
No. of employees: 26
Previous business: The couple ran a hotel in the Loire Valley, France for around 14 years. Andrew utilises his skills as a French-trained chef and former building-company director Sue focuses on interior design.
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Who works the hardest?
Sue: I would say it is pretty even. Andrew usually leaves the awkward situations to me — he is not always very diplomatic. He has a very good sense of humour and is funny, but sometimes our guests are not sure whether he is joking or not.
Andrew: It’s 50:50.
Is it difficult trying to juggle other aspects of your life and the business?
Andrew: My family never approved of my relationship with Sue so I haven’t seen them in years. It is also difficult working in a hotel over holiday periods like Christmas.
What would you say you most often argue about?
Sue: We don’t really — maybe Jeremy Clarkson on TV, wall-to-wall football, cricket and rugby sometimes. My excess baggage when I have been to John Lewis on visits to the UK.
Andrew: Her eldest daughter.
What do you think is your most annoying habit?
Sue: Wittering and being unable to just sit and relax
Andrew: Smoking and being right.
What is your partner’s most annoying habit?
Sue: Watching Top Gear.
Andrew: Believing her eldest daughter.
What do you love most about being in the hotel business with your other half?
Sue: I’m not sure that love is the right word. It is a business, but we do live on a paradise beach. We are very fortunate with our guests — 99% of whom are delightful and very diverse, this year we have had so many nationalities here and it is very interesting, they are people we would never have met or made friends with if we had stayed in the UK.
Andrew: Believe it or not, it’s being together. Also, we used to have a New Year’s Eve party when we’d invite the guests we liked from over the years to come and join us.
What do you like least about being in the hotel business with your beloved?
Andrew: Not being able to come home from work and talk about something other than the hotel.
If you weren’t running a hotel, what would you ideally be doing for a living?
Sue: I would be retired.
Andrew: I would open an orphanage.
When you’re not working, what are you doing?
Sue: I love reading and walking the dogs — two Basset Hounds and a Great Dane. I also like making wind chimes from drift wood and shells that I collect from the beach on our walks.
What has been your favourite hotel stay?
Sue: The first time we went to France and down to the West coast
Andrew: We stayed together on a Greek island and we were the only guests there.
Has running a hotel together strengthened your relationship?
Sue: Yes I think it has, but it can also put a strain on things as well.
Andrew: It has tested it but it has also definitely strengthened it.
Would you recommend going into the hotel business with your spouse to others?
Sue: Yes, but the problem is that if you have separate careers you have something to talk about in the evening, if you work together you’ve already heard it all.
Andrew: Yes, but it is important to have a sense of humour.
What pearl of wisdom would you give to others wanting to establish a successful hotel business with their spouse?
Sue: Patience, have separate interests, and for me — regular shopping trips to John Lewis.
Andrew: Have a few different wives to run different areas of the hotel.