One of the things the corona virus pandemic has taught us is that even when we are forced to work from home, we can be just as productive.
That might have been a revelation to many of us, but it’s nothing new for those that have been working remotely for years.
Some have even based their businesses on the fact that they don’t actually need to be where their business is. Ceri Tinley, and her husband Simon, moved back to Jersey from the French Alps nine years ago; but Ceri still operates a successful business offering luxury chalet breaks at some of the most sought-after properties in the world. And, as Chris Rayner found out, you don’t need to always be on the spot to make it work.
We hear a lot about hospitality in Jersey because we are lucky enough to have some fantastic hotels, restaurants, cafes, pubs and other businesses that provide fantastic service and experiences for their customers and guests. But it is an industry that has felt the effects of covid-19 more than many others. And that story is being repeated around the world.
Although not part of the local hospitality sector, Ceri Tinley’s business that she founded a decade ago was also affected by the sudden lockdown in March. It had already been an unusual season, but with six weeks still to go, all ski resorts in France had to close and all the staff working in them had to come home.
Pictured: Ceri Tinley, Co-founder and Director of Consensio.
Consensio is different from most other ski holiday companies. Ceri and her team run some of the most sought-after ski properties in the world. Staying in one of their exclusive chalets and apartments that sleep between 12 and 15 in Val d’Isere, Courchevel and Meribel can set you back €173,000 in peak season. But for that you get everything, and although a relatively small market, there is demand.
“We will take a chalet exclusively for the whole season and we only sell it to one party (at a time),” Ceri explained. “Whereas a lot of other companies will do that, they will sell it room by room. We will never do that and so we only sell to one person who then brings family and friends to use the property for the whole week. We also do it at a much higher level than most.”
And by that she means the whole stay is tailored to what you and your guests want. There will be a chalet manager, a chef, housekeepers, a chauffeur. The properties are also stunning. They are right on the piste, have their own indoor swimming pools, gyms, saunas. No wonder they regularly win Best Ski Chalet in France and are up there among the best in the world.
Pictured: Ceri and her team run some of the most sought-after ski properties in the world.
But who is it that can afford these? One would have thought they would be A-list celebrities. But in fact, they tend to be high-net-worth individuals who are after a little privacy and want to enjoy themselves.
“They could go to a 5 Star hotel, but if they’ve got family and they don’t ski as well, what are they going to do all day? This way they’ve got the whole chalet and most of them have spa facilities, most have gyms or cinemas. Everyone can do their own thing on holiday, whether it’s skiing in the morning, and then coming back and being with the family. Or granny who’s only going to go cross country walking, or the kids who need to come back for a nap in the afternoon. It’s the privacy for a lot of our guests, and we don’t tend to get famous guests.”
With a degree in human and cellular biology, and then a job as a trust administrator in Jersey’s finance industry, it was never part of the plan to be running a successful luxury chalet business in France’s most exclusive ski resorts.
Ceri had only been on a couple of skiing holidays before meeting Simon at university. He was from Jersey, loved to ski and spoke French and after they had been working in Jersey for three years, they decided it was time to put their careers in law and trust administration on hold, sell their flat and do something different.
Working one season as chalet hosts, there was an opportunity to return the following winter and it was not long before the move to France became permanent.
“It was just supposed to be a year out. We were going to come back and get on the gravy train. We weren't realistically going to get a chance to do this later. But by the time we had come home, we had been offered the next season and so we did two or three years of coming back to Jersey in the summer.”
That was until Simon got one of those rare things in the Alps - a permanent job managing a resort. It meant they were able to settle in France. Ceri carried on working for ski tour companies and it was while she was doing some work for some private chalet owners that she was approached by some high-end chalet owners who were facing a season with no one to run their properties, after another business had gone bankrupt. And in 2009, during the recession, Consensio was born.
“The way we work with our owners, we work on a profit base and it’s actually the owner's business that is running each property independently. So, we won’t suddenly be stuck in a hole with a huge cost base. Doing it this way the risk is now negligible. This year it will cost us more to run the chalets with guests in, but if the guests don’t come there isn’t a whole lot of cost there,” she explained.
And that flexible model is proving to be the right one as we head towards an uncertain winter for many of the operators. It is a business where things are changing rapidly, even without covid. Until the end of the last ski season, Consensio was also in another popular resort. But Les Gets sits at a lower altitude than other resorts, and climate change has meant the ski season there is around a month shorter. Add that to the costs due to Brexit, it was no longer a viable option, even before corona virus came along.
Pictured: Ceri Tinley (green and purple) on the slopes.
As we approach the start of the new season, there have been over a thousand applicants for just 44 jobs at Consensio. Ceri has been looking at all the options and rules that will need to be followed to keep staff and guests safe when it is hoped the chalets will re-open.
“Looking at all the hospitality and what everyone has done around the world in the last six months, none of it worked for the chalet. It’s just too small and too intimate. And I can’t imagine the legal ramifications of the risk of infecting guests. But if the guests infect the staff that’s a huge problem because they all live together. I looked at how I can minimise it and still provide the same level of bespoke service.”
The solution is to provide a non-contact service with no chef in the property and meals set out for guests to help themselves to. Guests normally eat out two nights a week but there will now be no dinner provision. Not a problem because like in Jersey, every single restaurant in the resorts are now doing a takeaway service.
“It’s not what we want to do, and not ideal in any shape or form, but I think it’s the best option for this winter. A lot of our competitors aren’t sure what they are going to do and are pushing payments further out. We just can’t deal like that.”
While Ceri and Simon made the break from Jersey and both set up separate businesses - Simon renovates and manages property - their first child came along and it was soon time to move back to Jersey.
“As a business that was always working remotely, the fact of being here wasn't a big jump. And moving back here with the kids makes you very much appreciate the island and what it has to offer. Everyone else is the same now, but having always worked from home it wasn't such a big change.”
Pictured: The staff at Consensio are used to working from home, even before corona virus.
All the 10 permanent staff work from home in the UK, and Consensio has been using a flexible working model for years.
“We are such a seasonal business that it’s crazy, crazy, crazy in the winter, but when we come to the summer we may be busy selling and busy recruiting, but it’s a lot more flexible and everyone can use that flexibility to get the work done early and get out for the afternoon.”
All bar one of her five siblings have worked, or are working with her in the business, including her youngest sister who has a degree in circus performing. Her sister in-law sells the holidays, while another sister has helped with HR.
She counts herself as lucky having found something she loves doing with people who have a similar motivation to hers.
“I just like what we do, and I’ve got an amazing team that helps me do it. And who doesn’t like making peoples dreams come true? Our guests just love coming on holiday and you are making something amazing and fun for them.”
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