The Scarlet Hotel and Bedruthan, perched off the Cornish coast, have carved incredible reputations in the industry for demonstrating that luxury and a care for the environment can go hand in hand, helping to change the perception of a sustainable hotel forever. We sat down with owner Emma Stratton to discover her secrets to success and how much work is dedicated to staying true to this sustainable ethos.
The term ‘eco-hotel’ no longer conjures up images of outside loos, slow running water or rooms lit my candlelight, thanks to the likes of luxury new wave eco escapes, The Scarlet Hotel in Cornwall, and Bedruthan Hotel, which are helping to make sustainability cool and premium.
Owned by three sisters – Debbie Wakefield, Emma Stratton and Rebecca Whittington – Cornish beauties The Scarlet and Bedruthan Hotel are two hugely-successful boutique hotels on the coast that have an environmentally-friendly ethos at their core.
The sisters refuse to take a casual approach to sustainability and it’s at the heart of every decision they make –a simple process of sourcing is scrutinised down to the finest detail to ensure it stays true to this business model.
“We always ask: how do we make business sustainable and not damage the environment more than we have to and make the business at the heart of the community?” explains Emma Stratton.
Operating as the Red Hotels group as Stratton wants the brand to be known, the 101-bedroom Bedruthan and the 37-bedroom Scarlet Hotel started life almost exactly 50 years apart, but have carved a fantastic reputation built on the same business philosophy.
Stratton says: “It’s about far more than just profit; it’s about putting our business in the heart of the community and minimising impact on the planet by inspiring other people to try new things.
“We like to challenge the norm because we don’t always think the norm is great!”
Bedruthan was opened in 1959 by the sisters’ father, who was a farmer and an engineer and had a passion for sustainability; one of his first projects was designing a heating system for his greenhouses in a bid to grow more exotic vegetables, which back then meant produce such as aubergines.
The sisters came into the business full time in 1986 and they grew the hotel into one of the best in the area, centred on giving the whole family an experience to remember, encouraging kids to have fun while parents can take time to relax.
Bedruthan was already pushing the boundaries of traditional hospitality, becoming the first hotel in Cornwall home to a solar-heated outdoor pool and scooping many sustainability awards along the way.
The Scarlet Hotel came along in 2009, following an eight-year planning process and a total £12.5m investment where Debbie, Emma and Rebecca built a new property from scratch after demolishing the former Tredragon Hotel on the site.
Even then sustainability was top of the agenda; the careful dismantling saw the insulation sent to keep monkeys at the Monkey Sanctuary warm. Alongside this, two lizards, two adders and 120 slow worms who had taken up residence around the former hotel’s site were sensitively re-homed. Water-based eco paints have been used throughout the hotel, and there’s not so much as a twig of timber that hasn’t got a Forest Stewardship Council certificate to its name. There’s a biomass boiler and bedroom temperature regulators that were described by a Daily Mail reviewer as ‘so quiet that you can’t even hear the heating whisper’.
The aim with The Scarlet was clear from the start – luxury, but not posh and simple hospitality that makes service the real star, and while Bedruthan was winning stakes in the family market, The Scarlet wanted to make waves very much in the adults-only sector.
“We decided to position The Scarlet Hotel as the place to go with our husbands as a bit of a retreat and to remember why we got married in the first place!” says Emma. “It was always meant to be very tranquil and informal, none of the stuffy luxury that we dislike in some hotels. The very ostentatious luxury, where you’re given too many towels, too much heating, too many pillows you can barely get into bed – where it’s all just overkill and we just really wanted to strip it back and say well actually hospitality, the best we’ve had has been staying at our grandma’s who gets all those little things that made us feel really loved. So we wanted to do something that was simple luxury and more got to the point of being looked after.”
The sustainability factor
Now The Scarlet operates with 101 sustainable initiatives in place. From induction hobs in the kitchen to locally handmade soap bars in the bedrooms, care has been taken to ensure the business stays in line with this ethos throughout. There isn’t a mini bar or tea or coffee-making facility in sight either, probably the most noticeable nod to the hotel’s efforts to be kinder to the environment.
“A lot of our guests might not even notice our hotels are particularly sustainable – we never preach,” Emma explains. “We take a huge amount of time over the smallest detail – for example when it came to choosing a pair of slippers that we wanted to be sustainable at The Scarlet it took five years!
“Everything is so complicated – you have to do it for the love – but it feels right in the end and it gives the hotels an integrity that the guests recognise,” she adds.
Consumer awareness towards the environment has changed dramatically since The Scarlet opened its doors seven years ago and Stratton explains that guests are engaging with the hotel’s ethos more and more. Every member of staff is trained on all aspects of the business, meaning each one is able to chat to guests freely and confidently about the hotel’s sustainable side.
The hotel operates year round – a factor Stratton says demonstrates the business’s commitment to local sustainability – enabling the properties to give employment to people throughout the whole year and creating an attractive package for potential employees. Probably why, as Stratton explains, both hotels don’t struggle to hire new staff.
“The most important part of our business is our team – if we look after our team they’ll look after our guests,” she says.
This doesn’t mean that the workforce at both Bedruthan and The Scarlet come without their challenges however. It’s a constant process to make sure each and every employee stays motivated and inspired, and not just while they are on the pay roll at the hotel either.
Stratton says: “What we hope to do is to inspire staff so much so that when they do move on – as undoubtedly people do in the industry – they will then inspire and motivate their new employers to do more for the environment too.
“We are constantly trying to improve on what we do and it feels uplifting, it doesn’t feel ‘teachery’. It’s so important that we keep it fresh, keep our sustainable approach right to our hearts but at the same time, not let it become stale.
The local look
The local community is also of huge important to the hotel; so much so that there is a pot set aside especially to fund projects in the community – “a lot of things we do are community focused and that feels right for us” Stratton adds. From toying with the idea of opening an allotment for locals to running special morning to accommodate pensioners or ploughing money into local restoration projects, the business is very focused on giving back.
“I’m really grateful that our guests are all lovely individuals,” says Stratton. “Scarlet has always attracted a great mix of people with different views on life, open-minded and share a lot of our values. The same with Bedruthan – we are lucky and we have really lovely guests so it makes it a lot easier for us.”
Interestingly the Scarlet appeals to a wide range of people – from the more typical creative-minded guest down from London, to the teenage boyfriend and girlfriend taking their first trip away together and the 85-year-old farmer treating his wife for their 60th wedding anniversary, the broad variety of guests coming through the doors is testament to the hotel’s original plan.
“We never wanted to have one of these very narrow-clientele hotels, where it’s just the rich and design-conscious who turn up,” Stratton describes. “Actually one of the tests of us getting it right was that anybody can walk through the door and feel comfortable.”
A greener future
The Scarlet and Bedruthan are evolving on a daily basis, and Stratton says they are both considered ‘ongoing projects’, as new ways of working more efficiently are constantly being explored. “We are never satisfied and there is always more we can do,” Stratton says.
The Scarlet is home to a sustainability specialist, whose role is to train all staff on this side of the business as well as organise inspirational trips out to help widen their minds to the possibilities of how things can be done differently.
Of course, hotels nearby have wised up to the success of The Scarlet – Stratton says the hotel has always been very open about sharing its sustainable practices – but none have quite done it justice when claiming the importance of sustainability.
Stratton says: “There are quite a few hotels who think ‘oh yes we can do this’, but they do it in quite a superficial way. Guests actually do see through it and think it’s just a money-making exercise and that doesn’t really do the brand any good. For us, it has to be from the heart and really carefully though through so it’s difficult to copy.”
For Bedruthan and The Scarlet, the future certainly looks green and both are continuing on their upward climb towards hotel stardom. From just chatting to Stratton you feel there is a lot more to come from the fun-loving sisters; they are inspired by the environment and have committed to a constant evolution process to ensure the business stays true to its ethos. So what’s on the cards for the next year?
“We’ve opened a spa garden at Bedruthan recently – we like the idea of the Roman baths and the social place they were, so we wanted to encourage outdoor bathing in all weathers.
Also at Bedruthan we’ve just opened a new art gallery – Scarlet already has one – and it will have its own website. We want to support local artists so that’s really interesting.
“We are also planning to expand the gardens more and create a vibrant wildlife habitat.
“One of our top priorities is to make Red Hotels the best hotel group to work for in the UK – that’s definitely an ambition for us too.
“We are also open to collaboration – probably out of this area though. So if anybody is interested do get in touch!”