International Women’s Day: Louise Bolton

Q: Can you tell us a bit about your background?

A: Born in the heart of the Ribble Valley, I grew up on the family farm in Sawley and was educated at Bowland High School. At 17-years old, I started my career as a ‘Trainee Receptionist’ at The Coniston Hotel in September 1998 prior to the hotel officially opening in December 1998.

Q: How did you come about entering the hospitality industry?

A: After leaving college, I decided I wanted to pursue a career in ‘Travel & Tourism’. My grandma saw an advert in a local paper which stated that The Coniston was undergoing a major development of a “40-bedroom lodge style hotel” and were on a major recruitment drive for apprentices. A few of our family friends had worked for the Bannister Family back in the early Farm Shop and Tearoom years and felt it would be a great opportunity for me to join this family run business.

Q: Tell us about when you first joined The Coniston and your progression to director?

A: As a hands-on Director which was made official in August 2013, I feel so proud to have been a part of the hotel since the very beginning, seeing all the monumental developments which have taken place over the last 23-years.
The Coniston has gone from strength-to-strength, and our 1,400 acre private estate now boasts 71 bedrooms, two luxury cottages, The View Restaurant, Macleod’s Bar & Lounge, an award-winning spa, an array of activities such as 4×4 Driving Experiences and Clay Pigeon Shooting, as well as weddings and events. I consider myself extremely lucky to have been involved in this incredible journey.
Despite our growth, The Coniston remains a very special place, with the cornerstones of the Bannister family values remaining. The family led influence really does support and enhance the overall growth and innovation of the business.
Personally, my passion is delivering great customer service by leading a friendly and dedicated team that always go above and beyond – this is the core of our business philosophy.
I’m also a keen advocate of corporate social responsibility, and lead the hotel in its sponsorship and support of various local and regional causes such as Manorlands Hospice, hosting fundraising event such as The Coniston’s Annual Yorkshire Three Peaks walk, raising over £1.2 million over 11-years.

Q: The Coniston has received some fantastic awards, tell us more about your achievements to date?

A: I strongly believe that each employee contributes to us winning awards, it is their passion and dedication for The Coniston which has led us to win an array of accreditations over the years, including Welcome to Yorkshire’s White Rose Awards ‘Best Large Hotel’ and ‘Business in Tourism’, The Catey’s ‘Newcomer of the Year’, Good Spa Guide 5 Bubble Rating for our spa and the 2AA Rosette accolade for one of our restaurants.

Q: The hospitality industry is renowned for being tough one with long hours, how do you find it?

A: Whilst I might seem to be present at The Coniston 24/7 and am a familiar face to literally thousands of locals and regular guests, I actually encourage the need for a work/life balance for both myself and the entire team.

Q: In a stressful role how do you relax when you’re not working?

A: I will often be found exploring the spectacular surroundings of the Ribble Valley and Yorkshire Dales during my time off – I consider myself incredibly lucky to live in such a beautiful part of the world. As my family has a farming background, I also regularly help out on the family farm whether it be tending to the sheep or baking for all the family! In addition, I really enjoy short breaks in the UK often staying at hotels and enjoying their dining, spa and activities offering, this is a great way to relax and keeps me inspired with new ideas.

Q: The Coniston is forging a reputation for its great food offering? Are you heavily involved in that side of things when working – and on a personal note, are you a ‘foodie’ and a good cook?

A: We are really proud of our dining offering and the reputation that our new restaurant, The View, has built up over the past nine months. We are always looking at creating new menus that showcase the fantastic local produce and producers that we have on our doorstep in the Yorkshire Dales to ensure our guests keep coming back time and time again. On a personal note, at home I am often the one that is found in the kitchen cooking up a storm, of course with a nice glass of wine!

Q: What’s a typical working day for you?

A: 07:30: Luckily, I’m an early riser, so like to get to the hotel early to check e-mails, review the daily Duty Manager reports and see how the evening/late shift went. I’m usually on the floor during the busier check out times to greet guests and check in with the team. I also like to touch base during our breakfast service to offer support and to ensure all is well with our guests.
10:45: At 10:45am every day we have a meeting with our management team. This is where the team gets together to touch base and share what’s happening that day, the challenges that different departments face and understand who may need additional support before everyone gets on with their day.
12:00 – 14:00: At lunch time it’s back on the floor to meet guests and touch base with the team.
14:00 – 16:00 Once a week we conduct a strategy meeting with direct reports: Marketing & Sales, Guest Services, Spa, Food & Beverage, Kitchen, Weddings & Corporate and Events. These meetings are focused on big picture issues, such as industry trends and KPIs, as well as guest satisfaction and the overall ‘feel’ of the Hotel. We also host a weekly meeting which covers more of the tactical, day-to-day details such as staffing issues, upcoming functions/events and any new policies/health and safety updates.
16:00 – 18:00 It’s back out on the floor, where I call myself a “lobby lizard”. We all take it in turns to provide extra cover for the front desk, mingling with guests, making sure arrivals are running smoothly and the guests are getting a fabulous first impression of the hotel and team.

As you might imagine, there really are no “typical” days. For example, when there’s a big breakfast rush, it’s all hands-on deck and everyone steps in to help clear tables and greet our guests – it’s all about team work.

I like to think I wear a lot of hats. I really do enjoy taking responsibility for the overall “feel” of the hotel and guest satisfaction. As you can tell by now, I am passionate about the role I play which requires a variety of skills with people, critical thinking, communication, organisation, computer and financial competence all playing a part.

My one word of advice for anyone looking to join the industry, it’s really easy to get sucked into all the administrative reporting, paperwork and day-to-day details of running hotel. So, I schedule some ‘guest time’ and ‘staff care’ into my day. It makes me happy and reminds me why I got into this role in the first place.

Q: Finally, how has the hotel managed during the pandemic and when will it reopen?

A: Although it is heart breaking that we are currently closed again due to COVID, we are proud of what we have achieved so far.

We hope that all of the work we did during the first lockdown, e.g. alfresco dining, new walking routes, enhanced fishing offering, e-bikes and of course our refurbished restaurant –The View- will hold us in good stead for when we reopen in just a few weeks’ time.

Here at The Coniston, we are always looking at ways we can improve, and are using our down-time wisely by working on some exciting projects. Our spa is undergoing major redevelopment and will open from 12 April 2021 with a new name and an incredible new offering including more thermal experiences, enhanced outdoor spa terrace and private spa areas and experiences. We will also launch a new lounge area in the hotel when we reopen, it will be the perfect place for guests to relax!

All of our attention is now focused on the engagement of our team, keeping them motivated for when we come back, continuing to implement our COVID procedures and health and safety protocols and making sure our ever-loyal guests feel looked after, reassured and ready to re-book for when we reopen.

We very much look forward to welcoming back our customers, colleagues and community!