Reflections on Rural Hospitality

Posted on 28/07/2020

Post lockdown, we've all been desperate for a short break away from the confines of our work-from-home spaces. Cabin fever had certainly set in chez Wolffe, and during the depths of lockdown, I took the risky initiative to book a short 'staycation' break at the end of July. Risky, because at that point (early June), we weren't sure if lockdown would be eased or not.

But where to go? Our daughter had a hand in this as she'd been reading the Katie Morag Stories which are set on the fictitious Isle of Struay. Turns out Struay is based on the Island of Coll and our daughter made sure I knew she was very keen to go. As an end of term 'prize' for doing so well at home-schooling we announced we were going to Coll. Happiness all round.

The Coll Hotel has been run by the Oliphant family since 1964 and is the only hotel on this sparsely populated Hebridean island. Online it looked just right. Having booked in advance and during depths of lockdown, the hotel had a policy of not taking cancellation fees (nice touch #1). Next challenge was booking the ferry, we were going to leave our car in Oban and travel on foot, but we heard that there were restrictions on who could travel on CALMAC ferries. The new timetable was published though, and thankfully no issues there; only thing we subsequently discovered was no food or drink being served on the ferry, and obligatory face masks to be worn.

We had a first class welcome, amazingly freshly landed seafood, bikes we could borrow (nice touch #2) and generally a fantastic stay on Coll. I cannot recommend the hotel highly enough. But think about the challenges they've faced; their market disappeared overnight with lockdown, and on top of that once lockdown eased, travel restrictions meant people couldn't even get to the Island. The hotel has clearly invested heavily in bedrooms, a new wing with kitchen, bar and dining room, above all, they've invested in staff. If rural hospitality businesses want to research how to look after your guests, take a look at the Coll Hotel, not only do they look after guests, they look after their staff, and most importantly they look after locals. Imagine mid-winter on Coll; every pint of beer, birthday lunch or mums meeting in the hotel supports their income off season. On sunny days, and even rainy evenings, there was a good amount of local business in the beer garden and around the property.

Above all, the sanitisation and social distancing in place wasn't imposing nor did it feel like staff were under any social distancing pressure. Additional service tables were set out and food and drink placed on them for us (nice touch #3). One use menus on thin paper were given out, or QR codes available if tech-heads wanted. Hand sanitisers were there but not obtrusive. There was a general happy, relaxed vibe about the place, some residents wore face masks, some didn't, we were all relaxed and felt welcome to this delightful place.

If you haven't been, book a staycation on Coll, go!