The future of a Fife hotel has been secured by hundreds of wedding bookings – including one every single day in July.
Some couples have postponed their weddings at Balbirnie House Hotel in Markinch four times as a result of Covid-19.
But all but a dozen bookings – mostly from overseas couples – have rescheduled at the venue.
It means there are now an extraordinary 287 weddings planned at the Grade A listed building.
Balbirnie has won the title of Scotland’s best wedding venue 14 times.
Bookings bring hope in tough times
The diary bulging with bookings has been a source of comfort and optimism throughout the challenges of Covid-19 for managing director Nicholas Russell.
Last year he estimated the financial cost of the pandemic at around £1 million.
The managing director said the determination of couples to marry there had helped to secure the future of the business.
He said: “Summer 2021 is at unprecedented capacity. We literally have a wedding booked every single day in July. Most bookings are compressed in the next 24 months.
“It’s a massive sense of comfort.
“We cannot wait to resume normal unrestricted trading, and we can’t even begin to imagine the future joy we will see at Balbirnie House.
“On behalf of our entire brigade, our heartfelt thanks to every single client who has postponed bookings, and continued to hold dates.
“This has in itself, helped to secure the future of Balbirnie House.”
Balbirnie keeps adapting to guidelines
With fixed and ongoing costs running to several thousand pounds a day, the company has been quick to adapt to the changing rules.
As well as integrating social distancing measures to its wedding ceremonies, Covid has led to other changes at the property.
The business accelerated its plans to become Scotland’s first cashless hotel, achieving this last summer.
It introduced a “bistro al fresco” in its gardens during the summer, serving up to 300 customers a day.
In September this moved into the hotel’s ballroom, until further restrictions were imposed.
“We have very significant fixed and ongoing costs, so we had to completely re-invent many new aspects of what we do, in order to deliver cash flow to pave the way ahead,” Mr Russell said.
“This has been an ongoing evolution which has been the making of many individuals within our brigade.
“We’re so very fortunate to have so many employed here, who are so absolutely dedicated to working in hospitality.
“December was the apex of the challenge to that point, with all costs being incurred under massively restricted conditions.
“And then it got worse, with enforced closure again from Boxing Day onwards.”
Takeaway success gives work to area
But the hotel adapted again, introducing a click and collect service.
This has been extremely popular, with 1,000 orders in the first week, and sustained 18 jobs at the hotel.
“But we have not been able to deliver any working hours for most of our brigade who are on flexi-hours contracts,” the managing director added.
“These are heartbreaking circumstances, when the only other available source of income for hospitality workers who would prefer to be working, is to seek Universal Credit.”
Investment continues at famous venue
Since March, Balbirnie has brought in revenue at around a third of its normal levels.
But despite the ongoing business challenges, work to upgrade Balbirnie House Hotel has not stopped.
The Balbirnie wedding bookings helped the business to access a coronavirus Business Interruption Loan of £300,000 and a new £200,000 overdraft facility.
This helped to allow the business to continue an investment programme.
Around £300,000 is being spent on kitchen upgrades, new equipment as well as bedroom and bathroom refurbishments.
Mr Russell said the property was now “presented to its best level in history”.
The impact of the lockdown last spring is highlighted in newly filed company accounts.
For the year ending April 30, sales at Balbirnie House Hotel Ltd fell to £2.8 million from £3m in 2019.
A pre-tax loss of £179,000 was recorded against a pre-tax profit of £124,000 in 2019.