A STRUGGLING hotel in a rural Dorset village was transformed on a Channel 5 TV series.

The Coach and Horses Hotel, based in South Perrott near Beaminster, recently featured on Hotel Inspector, where Alex Polizzi tries to improve struggling hotels and suggests how to revamp them.

In the series opener, Alex was quick to see why room bookings at the rural venue had veered off track and immediately found herself in an awkward situation.

The rooms were described by Alex as ‘boring and bland’ and said the owners had ‘no idea how to decorate’ – she added she ‘hated every bit of furniture in it’ including the lamps. The car park was also described as a ‘builders yard’ due to the scrap and materials left lying around.

Also described as the only pub in the village, locals claimed that the owners’ appearance and lack of a friendly welcome turned people away from the Coach and Horses Inn.

But following a several week transformation in 2019, the pub was overhauled and eventually won over the village’s residents and wedding venue owners in what could be the show’s biggest successes.

‘You are about as bad as owners as I have ever had to deal with’ – Hotel inspector’s damning initial verdict

Dorset Echo: Alex Polizzi enters the Coach and Horses Inn. Picture: Channel 5/TwofourAlex Polizzi enters the Coach and Horses Inn. Picture: Channel 5/Twofour

Yvonne and James Harris took on the hotel in 2015 after being in the family for many years, and had no prior experience in the hospitality industry. It was also revealed in the episode that they had no staff and looked after the rooms and restaurant themselves.

With a lack of guests and customers, Yvonne confessed to spending most of her days watching Netflix shows at her reception desk.

James explained the lack of guests and no support from villagers left him and his wife in a dire situation.

He said: “I have invested everything. Every money I saved from the army, my first house, my wife’s house, there’s nothing left.

“We won’t be here next year if nothing changes.”

Alex immediately encountered a problem with the pub upon pulling into the car park, namely their ‘Polite notice – these toilets are for customer use only’ sign.

WATCH BELOW: Clip shows Alex's initial reaction to hotel before its transformation 

After being welcomed into her room, she was unhappy with her £85 double bedroom. She was nearly at a lost for words when she entered the beer garden and saw bricks and materials scattered around.

She said: “This isn’t normal, is it? Someone has bothered to plant two trees and then left the bricks all around it. This is just not acceptable.”

Alex also decided to investigate why even South Perrott’s locals didn’t want to visit the only pub in the village.

One village committee member said: “The pub car park is a builders yard. It would be nice if you were to go in, you would get a friendly welcome.

“Presentation of the staff is something people take issue with. There is a hygiene problem.”

After spending time at the hotel, a clearly stunned Alex Polizzi confronted the hoteliers and told them they needed to ‘tidy the place up’ and told them ‘you don’t want to come here for a drink’.

She said: “You are about as bad as owners as I have ever had to deal with. The problem here begins and ends with you two and I have never had to say that before.

“It begins with how you present yourselves. I know you don’t have guests in, but I am a guest.

“I want you showered, teeth brushed, hair washed and smelling beautiful in the morning when you see me in the morning.

“I cannot think of business solutions for you until you show me you take this one issue seriously.

“I never want to come here again to see you two not looking spic and span and smelling generous.”

‘Abrupt talk’ spurs action from hoteliers

Dorset Echo: The car park was likened to a builders yard by the host and locals. Picture: Channel 5/TwofourThe car park was likened to a builders yard by the host and locals. Picture: Channel 5/Twofour

Her stern words encouraged James and Yvonne to transform their struggling business, they cleared rubbish from the beer garden, built a new fence, as well as give the hotel a new lick of pain.

James admitted Alex’s ‘abrupt talk’ spurred them into action and feel ‘more motivated and happier’ to improve his falling business.

Even the ‘bland and boring décor’ was overhauled and a home designer to show them new bedding and designs to fit in their rooms.

Alex was left ‘encouraged’ by the before and after photos of the hotel and urged them to don’t stop yet.

She said: “This looks like a viable business and not in the process of going bust.

“Not only have you made a big difference to the place itself but you two look much smarter.”

Its long menu was even slimmed down and focused on a smaller menu which took pride in using local produce.

James and Yvonne even learned further skills and took advice from a nearby award winning pub, which showed them how to improve their own customer service.

‘This looks like somewhere you can have a pint’ – Upturn in popularity following transformation

Dorset Echo: Alex Polizzi (Centre) with James (left) and Yvonne Harris (right). Picture: Channel 5/TwofourAlex Polizzi (Centre) with James (left) and Yvonne Harris (right). Picture: Channel 5/Twofour

Following further changes to the hotel, Alex was left amazed by the transformation of not only the hotel but also the owners.

She commented how the hotel suddenly became more welcoming and friendly and remarked ‘This looks like somewhere you can have a pint’.

In a test of how far they have come, she said they were going to host an open day for residents and nearby wedding venue owners – which proved to be a hit.

James said: “I honestly never thought I would see that many people in the pub, ever. I am really pleased.”

James was even described as ‘charming’ and Yvonne was praised for being ‘friendly’ with customers.

Following the event, Alex said: “First impressions – fabulous. There’s a nice seating area.

“The rooms are much nicer, James and Yvonne are much smarter and aware of how to behave around customers.

“I have ticked all of the boxes, but have I ticked enough? Watch this space.”

‘When Covid hit, it was like someone turned a tap off’ - What happened next at the Coach and Horses Inn

Dorset Echo: Yvonne and James Harris spoke about how they tightened their belts during the Covid-19 pandemic. Picture: Channel 5/TwofourYvonne and James Harris spoke about how they tightened their belts during the Covid-19 pandemic. Picture: Channel 5/Twofour

The main segment was filmed during 2019 and saw how the Coach and Horses Inn was completely transformed by the hoteliers as well as designers.

But 2020 saw the Covid-19 pandemic hit and wiped out various bookings and James and Yvonne requiring again to make changes to their business.

Reflecting on 2020, James said: “We were in a good place getting good feedback. Our occupancy rate for rooms was 60 per cent.

“We had a steady stream through the winter, then our bookings were cancelled.

“When Covid hit, it was like someone turned a tap off. The calendar emptied from mid-Feb onwards.

“It was completely cancelled. Nothing there. All the effort we put in the months before, gone in an instant.

“Thousands and thousands of pounds of bookings. They’re the lifeblood of the business, they keep the lights on. I just didn’t know what I was going to do.”

Yet the couple decided to power on and fight for survival. They tightened their belts, trimmed down the costs and bills and saved money in a range of ways – including turning off a large walk-in fridge.

As Covid eased, they enjoyed a staycation boom and experienced a 100 per cent occupancy over two months.

James said: “We roughly need one person to stay overnight to keep the lights on. If we have that, we will be here next year.”

After watching James and Yvonne speak about their difficult year, Alex was heart warmed and encouraged by their response.

She said: “The couple I met a year ago would have given up by now.

“So I am delighted to see their resolve and the intent to fight for their business.”

Are Yvonne and James still running the hotel?

Yvonne and James are still running the rural hotel and pub and are ‘very busy’ due to Summer bookings.

A description on the hotel’s website states: “Each room has its own private entrance, free Wi-Fi, an en-suite shower room and a flat-screen TV.

“A full English breakfast is served each morning, and traditional English pub food, beers and ales are available in the restaurant and bar.”

But the hotel could be reduced in size with two new homes built on the site for the family of the owner, if plans are approved.

A planning application has been submitted to Dorset Council to reduce the nine-bedroom hotel by four rooms, resulting in a loss of about one third of the existing space, just over 200 square metres.

The application also includes a retrospective extension of the existing drive to the rear of the building to create vehicle access and parking for Riverview Cottage.

The proposed houses at two and three-bed which, the application papers say, will be for the use of family members.

The application states how, despite improvements, trade continued to drop leading to the family now planning to reduce the size of the hotel and to create homes for them to live on the site.

The application is currently under consideration at Dorset Council.

You can book through a room or make an enquiry through their website.