Burnley

Business

Lifestyle

Who’s behind this Five Star Luxury Boutique Hotel Boat, which consistently tops the holiday ratings?

Nick and Gina Mead both had high profile, demanding jobs in the South where they originate from. Nick managed 150 staff in 13 countries selling and maintaining automatic equipment which counts the footfall in shopping centres, Gina was a trouble-shooter for a large dental group.

They both wanted to escape the pace and pressure of their then business lives and make a fresh start. So they made a list of ways in which they could combine three things: their love of the outdoors and of food, plus they wanted a dog.

For Gina’s 54th birthday they went to Bath and hired a narrowboat for 10 people and had a great time. Their house guests praised the couple for their hospitality and culinary prowess, commenting that they should do it professionally. So Gina and Nick did some research and learned that hotel boats have been around since the 40s. They peaked in the 1960s but never on a big scale. “They were more like 1 star B&B,” says Nick.

Fifteen months and £250k later they were the proud owners of the Lady Teal, a luxury boutique hotel houseboat, the first narrow boat in Britain to be awarded 5 stars by Visit England. The couple have sunk their life savings into the business and live on the boat. They designed the boat themselves and it was built from new. It is 60ft long and 13ft wide and weighs 42 tons.

…we don’t want to rejoin the rat race

The boat’s official home is Reedley Marina, Burnley, a truly picturesque oasis on the edge of the Leeds & Liverpool Canal. It is from here that the couple run short breaks and longer holidays for couples and individuals, accommodating visitors in en suite luxury that is truly outstanding.

How do they manage to provide such luxurious accommodation and star dining in such a unique way?

All three rooms (two twin and one single) have en suite bathrooms, finest quality Egyptian bed linen and towels. The boat also has satellite TV and WiFi. Gina is an accomplished cook, while Nick plays host, offering guests fine wine and plenty of bonhomie.

Nick and Gina chose the Leeds & Liverpool canal because it is stunning and under-utilised, which means it’s suitable for a wide-beamed boat. Their season is April-October and they go as far as York, Manchester and Liverpool.

Occupancy in 2014 was 99% and 60% of 2015 is already booked. “We could easily add another boat but we don’t want to rejoin the rat race.”

They now part-own the Kingfisher restaurant/cafe at Reedley Marina. Their 5 star rating is from Quality in Tourism, and up until this year, the only 5 star hotel boat in the UK. The criteria for the Quality award include customer service, food, rooms, hospitality and ease of booking.

They called the boat Lady Teal after the teal duck and because Gina’s son bought her a title for her 50th birthday.

They are a lovely couple, incredibly animated and enthusiastic about their venture. It has taken everything they own and hasn’t been easy as Gina is recovering from a serious illness. But their optimism and energy for their new lifestyle is infectious. As Nick explains: “Yes it was a real punt giving up high status, high salary jobs and leaving a beautiful 17th century property in a picture book village to pour everything we had into starting a hotel boat business. Our sons, I have two and Gina has one and our friends, thought it was a fabulous idea but that we were stark raving mad and it would never work. It was a gamble. We were pushing the price point up to the luxury all inclusive end. Then two years ago Gina was diagnosed with breast cancer. We carried on with the cruises and had the most amazing support from the canal enthusiasts fraternity.”

This is about lifestyle and being together

Now with the Lady Teal firmly established as the jewel in Reedley Marina’s crown, the couple, Nick is 56, Gina is 57, are happily looking at an almost full bookings calendar well into 2015. People clearly enjoy the luxury, leisurely lifestyle of cruising. “The whole thing has been incredibly successful and the entrepreneurial side of me says let’s have a fleet of boats. But that would change everything. This is about lifestyle and being together,” adds Nick.

“All our guests are given a chauffeur driven limousine service as we don’t sail A-A but A-B. There’s over 200 miles of the Leeds Liverpool canal from Goole through the Yorkshire Dales and Lancashire onto Manchester and Liverpool. A wonderful journey and guests are astonished at just how beautiful the Lancashire countryside is,” says Gina.

Find out more at www.ladyteal.co.uk