Jonathan Owen, the General Manager of Hydro Hotel in Eastbourne, was previously the GM at one of the county’s most popular wedding venues. With the stunning views of the English Channel and a new outdoors area licensed for wedding ceremonies, he now has plans to put the Hydro at top of any bride’s wish-list. Interview by Ian Trevett

ACES Magazine: You’ve come from a background of hotels with reputations for holding very successful weddings. What makes a good wedding venue? What do you need to make it special?

Jonathan Owen: The relationship that you build with the coordinator, whether it is the planner or the bride, is key. We know how the venue works best but we have to understand what the bride wants, because every wedding is different. What makes running hotels so special is that we can create individually bespoke days.

It helps that we have a well-groomed function suite, great facilities and grounds, and stunning views of the sea. We want the bride to fall in love with the property and being able to bring her expectations to life is paramount.

Is the location the selling point?

The Hydro has a great long-standing reputation within the town and it’s well known. We’re building the market for weddings with the investment that has gone into the garden suite, the drawing room, the Wedgwood room and our new ceremony outdoor ceremony venue. Fundamentally, people come here because there’s an amazing view and there’s an outdoor space. We are elevated out of the town and slightly up on the cliff, which gives us views over the Channel and unlike most hotels in Eastbourne we have an acre of land. The money shot for wedding photographers is a shot on the Wedgwood balcony overlooking the sea in the background.

How many can you cater for?

We’re creating an outdoor wedding venue that will be ready for May this year, which will also mean that we can have 100 people sitting outside, with the sea in the background. The Garden Suite can also cater for up to 100 comfortably. We’re very honest, we don’t over promise. A downfall of many venues is that you get carried away in the excitement of planning a wedding and you say yes to a lot of things and then fundamentally you can’t deliver. We always exceed our expectations because we explain exactly how things can work.

How many weddings do you plan to have here in a year?

I’m greedy, I’d want three a week! That’s what I’m aiming for within the height of season. Our brochure has tiered pricing by day of the week and by time of year, so I very much would like to be towards the 50, 60 weddings again and then pushing on to 70 in 2019, because I feel the offering is unique.

How would so many weddings impact on the rest of the hotel?

When I joined the Hydro my main focus was to make sure this was a hotel for the next 120 years – I say that because in 2015 they celebrated their 120th birthday and I see myself very much as a guardian. I want to make sure this hotel is set up to be a hotel for the next 120 years and not a block of flats. In order to do that, the hotel itself needs to have a very clear strategy on markets that it will be a major player in. Weddings from the point of view of profitability, from introducing new clients to the hotel, are paramount to the success. Many people have enjoyed a wedding where the bar is thriving at 1 o’clock in the morning – that sort of environment is what a hotel of this size needs to have two or three times in a week.

However, the hotel is large enough so that we can keep our wedding guests away from our leisure guests, and away from our corporate guests. We have the Crystal Restaurant which looks after our leisure guests which is some distance away from the Garden Suite which is self-contained with a disco area and its own bar. There’s no reason for the wedding guests to stray into any other areas.

We have a great reputation for food and service – we need to carry that forward into providing the very best wedding service.

Also, weddings are an ideal showcase for a hotel…

At a wedding, you never know who will be in the room. With 100 guests, you have enormous potential of another five or ten weddings amongst the guests. Word of mouth and recommendation is so powerful in our industry. As much as the website and the wedding fairs help, people choose us largely because they have had a good time here in the past. Making sure that the facility and all the rooms look to the best of their ability is so critical to our success.

How is the wedding industry in fairing at the moment?

The average wedding is probably anything between £7,000 and £11,000. But the interesting thing is, when people are planning their wedding, they are not necessarily looking to create savings, they’re looking for value-added. With the two packages that we have, we offer additional chair covers which we will pay for, additional drinks and a sorbet course. People look for little extras to make their day that extra bit special. The market is very strong for weddings but clearly people are still looking for that uniqueness and I believe having an outdoor wedding venue in Eastbourne is unique.

How do you tackle competition from the wide range of licensed venues out there?

There are many other venues now in the county offering the facility to get married. I think the beauty of a hotel is that everything is catered under the one roof. Once the guests have parked here, they’re here for the day. It’s all unrestricted car parking - no paying to park as you have to in town. The beauty of us is that our package includes everything – from the ceremony to the hire of the room, from the meal to the evening buffet, from reception drinks to the table wine. It’s all taken care of. If you get married in a barn, then your guests have to find somewhere to stay.

What other events are popular at the hotel?

We have a very full programme, a calendar of events that we plan every year. We feature murder mystery events and tribute evenings are being trialled for the first time. We do a ladies’ luncheon club that meets quarterly with guest speakers. We have an art deco tea starting in March, the first Wednesday and then thereafter it will be every Wednesday, and that will be served with original 1920s and 1930s crockery and leaf tea. Then we have private hires such as hen parties, baby showers and corporate events.

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