AWARDS celebrating the best of the country's tourism industry have crowned Grays Court in York the best small hotel of the year.

VisitEngland ranked the historic, luxury hotel among the top tourism establishments in the country when it announced the winners of its annual Awards for Excellence last night.

It is a major vote of confidence for the city's tourism sector as operators strive to come back from the crippling coronavirus lockdown.

Grays Court scooped the gold award, with Cary Arms & Spa, Devon taking silver and Seaham Hall, County Durham, winning bronze.

York Press:

Grays Court, which is the only privately-owned building in York with direct access to the city walls, is one of the most historic buildings in England and the oldest inhabited house in York.

Helen Heraty, owner of the multi-award-winning hotel, told The Press: "I'm still feeling a little bit of disbelief. It is wonderful, incredible news.

"I thought we would come third. I didn't think we would come first. We sat there reeling a little bit. 

"I have been walking around the garden today. I knew it was special when I first came here and saw this place. I knew it could be extraordinary. I had this feeling we could make this into something incredible. That belief is why I fought so hard and worked so hard to keep this going."

Paying tribute to the team at Grays Court, Helen said: "This place is wonderful but without the guys who work with me to deliver that message this would be nothing. The team is the most important thing."

She added: "Hospitality is a fairly brutal industry and not the best paid. Yet we rely on the people to deliver our message to be our ambassadors so it is imperative that you look after your team, and  care for them and respect them and you get it back in spades."

Grays Court, in the shadow of York Minster, created an outdoor bar within its walled gardens to welcome back guests in July after being closed for more than three months.

Dating back to 1080, it is nestled in the heart of the Minster Quarter, and one of the city's original hidden gems.   

"There were days when it was deeply worrying, some days got quite despairing as I watched the bank balance dwindle," said Helen.

York Press:

Helen Heraty, owner of Grays Court, welcoming back guests to the garden bar. Picture: milnercreative

"Furlough was a godsend, otherwise I would have had to lay staff off as I didn't have any money to pay them.

"It was very nervous reopening. Looking at the bookings, I thought we only have two people one week and the whole team is back. It really was a leap of faith. We did open and suddenly we were busy and it has just grown and got busier and busier.

"We have just opened the restaurant again. It was a big gamble but it's paid off. Because we're so small, people can 'bubble' here - we've only got 12 rooms and tons of space."

Greg Dyke, Chair of Make It York, said: “Congratulations to Grays Court Hotel for this fantastic achievement.

"Grays Court are hugely worthy winners and we are very proud to have them based here in York.

"To be chosen as the winner from hotels across the whole country is testament to all the hard work that the team put in to continually deliver amazing customer service and we are delighted that this has been recognized with such a prestigious national award.

"A huge well done to Helen, Sarah and the whole Grays Court team!”  

The Visit England 19 category winners were announced during a virtual awards event hosted by Julia Bradbury from The Outdoor Guide, in a range of categories.

These included Experience of the Year to Camping, Glamping and Holiday Park of the Year, the Accessible and Inclusive Tourism Award, Business Events Venue of the Year, the Taste of England Award to the Pub of the Year and the New Tourism Business Award.York Press:

Picture: milnercreative

The VisitEngland Awards for Excellence, now in its 31st year, celebrate and champion innovation, quality and best practice across the industry, recognising businesses and individuals who raise the bar of England’s tourism offer.

The winners were selected from hundreds of tourism businesses across England, including hotels, self-catering accommodation, B&Bs, glamping operators, attractions, restaurants, pubs, museums and conference centres.

Tourism Minister Nigel Huddleston said: "Not only does our tourism industry offer incredible experiences to those who holiday here, it supports millions of jobs up and down the country. I'm delighted to see so many great establishments, from major Lincolnshire attractions to boutique Yorkshire hotels, being celebrated.

"This important sector has been hit hard by the coronavirus and we have helped with an unprecedented package of measures including the job retention scheme, a years' business rates holiday and most recently a £4 billion reduction in VAT benefitting the sector.

"I would like to congratulate all the winners and businesses around England who are doing an outstanding job in showcasing the best in tourism. I encourage everyone to get out, Enjoy Summer Safely, and experience everything England has to offer."

VisitEngland Chief Executive Sally Balcombe said: “These prestigious awards celebrate the outstanding businesses and individuals in tourism across England who have delivered excellence. 

“Millions of jobs and local economies depend on tourism and this year’s awards are also a timely reminder of the determination, innovation and commitment of businesses across the country who have been working extremely hard to reopen, to welcome visitors back safely and to continue to provide a first-class experience.”