Ann Chambers, founder and Managing Director of iStay Liverpool, has already built a formidable presence in the hotel and leisure industry in the city. With a portfolio of party apartments in key locations including Temple Court, Water Street, Duke Street, Bold Street, The Merchant, Maison Townhouse and the recently launched Harrisons Aparthotel, Ann has spearheaded a business which has placed its own unique stamp on the local hotel and leisure landscape.
Ann was also recently named Newcomer of the Year 2022 in a highly competitive category packed with some of the area’s most talented female achievers, at the The Downtown in Business Women in Business Awards 2022. The awards acknowledge the finest female-led businesses, the established and up-and-coming entrepreneurs, and the women who make the most valuable contributions to the growth of the Liverpool City Region economy.
She is also very vocal and passionate when it comes to providing support to self-starters, and has a fearless approach when it comes to innovation and ambitious investment.
How is the current state of the hotel/apart hotel/SA compared to this time last year?
I think the market here is pretty buoyant, with excellent recovery statistics – in terms of weekends, iStay is up by 30% compared to this time last year. Our mid-week occupancy figures need more traction, though, but our prediction is that once high summer beckons, these will increase so there is parity across our week-to-weekend figures.
Do you see this year recovering to pre-Covid levels or even surpassing them?
Before the pandemic, the value of tourism to the city had reached £5 billion which is a really significant figure. However, the effects of consecutive lockdowns and restrictions hit our industry very hard. Within the iStay group, I used the time constructively by pushing through our expansion plans so that by the time restrictions lifted, we were good to go with our prime locations around the city centre.
The industry has always been a significant employer, with over 55,000 jobs provided across Merseyside, in a city which has become the fifth most visited in the UK.
Obviously, in the first instance there were job losses and closures in the industry, but if you look around the city as it stands right now, there are a whole host of leisure and tourism related businesses opening and thriving.
For us as a business, because we really consolidated and launched as lockdown ended, for iStay Liverpool we only really see individual growth for us as a going concern, and that has meant considerable expansion since the economy started to move again.
The situation with foreign travel from the UK, which has been haphazard at least, has benefitted us as many people have decided to plan trips within the UK. Obviously, as a city we don’t have quite the influx of foreign visitors that we are used to seeing, but the figures are growing steadily and we hope that by the end of the year that international travellers, some of whom are only just being allowed more freedom to travel, will pay us a visit.
Our weekend occupancies have always been very busy and we are hoping that the increase in drive of visitors from within and outside of the UK will boost our midweek bookings, too.
As an industry, we have never known a time like the past three years, and as we did our best to kickstart ourselves, like all other businesses we were hit with the same economic shocks that industries and individuals were experiencing, whether it be inflation, supply chain issues, staff shortages and wider issues such as political instability.
However, just speaking on behalf of iStay, we do our absolute best to take care of the details, to present the very best apart hotels to attract our key demographics, to offer them great value for money and quality accommodation, in an area which has its own attitude to overcoming adversity. It is a city, and a culture, which we are very proud to be a part of.
Where are you seeing visitors coming from to the city?
We have a very buoyant client base locally, as people love to come into the city to have a great time, treating it as a mini-break. Around the UK we have a steady stream of visitors from every region, from Essex, to Newcastle and North Wales. The vibe is that Liverpool is a really glamorous destination, with something to offer any group, whether they are into trends, something more cool, or they are real culture vultures. Over the last few months we have enjoyed hosting football fans who have been over here to visit Anfield for European games. Obviously, having the M&S Bank Arena so nearby means we get groups who are off to see the very best acts that the venue attracts. Of course, we do get a lot of hen and stag parties, but we do enjoy welcoming guests from all walks of life. We are lucky that within the iStay portfolio we can offer party pads for those in search of the ultimate night out, to more intimate venues for visitors who really want to take in all that the city has to offer.
How can Liverpool increase its appeal to local, regional, national and foreign travellers?
I am really proud of all we have achieved at iStay so far, but I do really see a gap in the market for really high end hotels, as there is certainly the clientele for them. I know that London is a huge market, but we can really learn a lesson from both the traditional and more contemporary premium hotels there. Logistically for any developer within the industry to flourish and expand, it would really be a great help if the red tape involved in development within the city was reduced and operated more efficiently, with greater transparency. We need to do everything we can as a region to support incoming investment without so many hurdles to overcome, which are costly in terms of time and resources.
I think as a city we are already doing a great job and we will continue to flourish. Of course, as larger cultural and sporting projects come nearer to completion, that will be a bonus. Infrastructure is something we desperately rely on, and it’s absolutely vital that rail and airport links run smoothly and are simply able to transport travellers to us.
Finally, though, Liverpool holds a really unique position as a travel destination that cannot be defined by any label or award. Its warm, friendly people, cosmopolitan atmosphere, iconic cultural and sporting heritage, and simply love of a great time, is something that cannot be bought, trademarked or imitated. It was what we are building the future of iStay upon, and I am leading my team with confidence, vivacity and a genuine intuition that the future of our industry is leaning into success and prosperity.