On the Swedish Westcoast, in the little town of Lysekil, we recently paid a visit to the Strandflickorna (“Beachgirls” in English) Coastal Hotel and had a conversation with the two owners, Bettina and Åsa. This is their story.
Good friends Asa and Bettina attended to the same school after which Bettina worked at a large conference hotel in Uddevalla, not far from Lysekil, while Asa worked at the tourist office in her little coastal hometown. Hostels did not exist in the area at that time, but the two noted that many visitors inquired about them.
One summer Åsa asked Bettina if they should start a hostel together, Bettina was at first reluctant, but was ultimately persuaded to go into business with Asa.
“The hostel was fully booked and guests arrived and paid for their stay,” says Åsa, who was quite nervous. “But it was fun. We had rented the second and third floor. An art dealer had rented the ground floor for the summer. He was a bit eccentric.”
The art dealer did not like the fact that a hostel existed on the floors above his business. Suddenly Åsa heard pounding on the stairs and their door flew open, in storming the art dealer. “What are you doing?” he screamed, “Water is flowing all over in my premises. I have artwork worth millions! ”
The girls had made a temporary bathroom where guests could shower, but the room was not really designed for that. “We had put in a wash basin and a small tub,” says Åsa. “It was approved by authorities. I ran into the room, but everything was dry and nice there,” she continued.
She ran down into the cellar, seeing lots of water. All the drains were clogged up, and water floated around. It was a complete disaster. Åsa says she went back upstairs again with tears in her eyes. Suddenly Bettina called from her brother’s wedding in Gothenburg, asking if everything was ok. “It is going to hell!” cried Åsa tearfully.
The two girls rented an old house in central Lysekil, gathered together some beds and bedding and started Toppensnäckan 1. It turned into a total disaster the very first day, that midsummer evening in 1990.
In the end Åsa had to tell all the guests that the toilets were closed and that the guests would have to use the public toilet in the town square. Åsa called her boyfriend and told him about the clogged drains. On that Midsummer’s Eve he put on his rubber boots and tried to help, but did not succeed. Bettina asked her father – in the middle of the wedding dinner, who had some contacts in the waste water industry, for help. He called his contact just in time before he would join a midsummer night party table. It proved to be a huge clog in the drains in the old house along with broken pipes.
“We close tomorrow,” the two girls said to themselves although they had bookings for the whole summer. In the end, everything worked out. The price was SEK 80 per person, and people were happy. It was actually fun, as the girls recall.
Since then the two have remained partners and friends. “Of course there have been ups and downs,” they admit, but they have stayed together on amicable terms. “We’re two very different people who complement each other,” they say. “Bettina is hardware and I am software, “says Åsa.
The next summer they had other jobs alongside their studies. The summer of 1992, however, they tried again with Toppsnäckan 2 in another larger and more spacious old house, which was later torn down.
“That summer we worked ourselves nearly to death and thought that enough is enough,” they say. “We had other jobs in addition to the hostel, but this was our summer vacation. It was absolutely hysterical. We felt that we did nothing but to clean. Later I hated to hear that it had been good weather that summer, with plenty of sunshine. But we were never out. We were pale. We would never do this again. ”
After operating their first hostel they were actually able to afford their own laptops. None of their friends could afford so at that time. They used what they had earned and were quite proud of themselves. After the second hostel they were also better acquainted with the municipality.
In the summer of 1993 two old beach hotels were renovated by the municipality, and were advertised for rent. Åsa and Bettina submitted tenders and won the contract.
The girls started their whole year open hostel and hotel in 1993 . “We called it Strand Hostel and Coastal Hotel,” they say.
Åsa, the economist, was responsible for marketing management, while Bettina, the non-economist, was in charge of finance and accounting.
“In 1994 Swedish Television was filming the Christmas Calendar in our hotel, so we were fully booked for a month and a half during low season,” says Åsa. “One of their requirements was that there should be television in in every room, and the company invested in the connections. We had to buy the television sets.”
In 1995-96 Bettina and Asa began to consider buying a hotel nearby. It had been purchased by a couple from Stockholm, who ran it and stayed in the house as well. However, they were not used to staying in the country, so it was a bit too much for them. Åsa and Bettina heard rumors that they considered selling the house, but when they approached the couple, they denied everything.
After three weeks, however, they contacted the girls and asked if they were still interested. Just then Bettina had booked a vacation to Central America together with a friend. On the way to the airport she stopped at an office in Gothenburg, which supplied her with the forms for purchase contracts, completing one and sending it to Asa just before her departure.
Åsa was now left alone to run the business for almost seven weeks. The loan application to the bank was denied by the credit officer. Asa called the bank manager and told him that the credit manager had refused their application and wondered if she could have a meeting with him to present their ideas.
It ended up that Bettina and Asa were granted the loan on one condition; they had to amortize 300.000 kronor the first year. In 1998, they bought the hotel. All friends and family helped out – and took decisions. “It was a hell for six weeks”, Åsa recalls.
“When I came home after six weeks I was informed that also I could decide,” says Bettina with a smile.
They fulfilled all the bank’s requirements in the first year, the hotel consisting of 15 rooms. Now they were in charge of two hotels, and the municipality called them Strandflickorna (The Beach Girls). “We thought it was a fun name and wanted to name the hotel just that. We submitted the name to the company registry more or less for fun. We did not for a moment believe that it would be accepted. However, accepted it was, and the name has given us both fun and benefits. It was good PR. However, it was misunderstood once when a person called in middle of the night and wondered if we were doing escort service. ”
Then they started to renovate the rooms. “We wanted to turn time back to the turn of the century,” they say. “We started reading old gossip newspapers, released in summers of the period 1895-1920. There we found lots of ideas on how to furnish the rooms. We read about prominent people who had stayed there. The house was actually originally built by King Oscar II, who was fond of girls, and always had a swarm of young ladies around him. The building was raised as a home for weary nurses. Frida Aaron’s room is one of several that is inspired from this time. She was a very beautiful woman from Marstrand. One of the pictures is hanging on the wall in the room shows her photographed together with King Oscar.”
Many prominent people have stayed at the new Beach Girls Coastal Hotel. Scandinavians will recognize names like Fredrik and Jørn Skavland, Arja Saijonmaa, Thomas Ledin, Jan Guillou and Ulf Lundell, to name a few.
“It has been wonderful to work here these years,” says Asa. “We have satisfied and happy guests. It has been a privilege to furnish the rooms as we wanted. We’ve had the opportunity to work with great people aged 16-65, real beach girls, who we thrive wonderfully well together with.”
Week-end guests visit the hotel year round, and many conferences take place with guests and participants very pleased with the facilities. “When we took over the hotel we closed on weekends, since no one came here. But that changed after we renovated and built the beach pavilion right at the water’s edge, “says Bettina.
The bathing pavilion is an experience in itself. Guests are advised to book the facility in advance, since it is extremely popular, and intended for guests traveling together.
When we ask Bettina and Asa what has been the most difficult, they say in unison that it was to find time for private life. “It’s wonderful to be home, and it is wonderful to be at work. Finding the balance is perhaps one of the biggest problems, “they say.
The menu at the hotel is short and simple, but homemade. “We do not want a complicated kitchen with a lot of staff,” they say. “Still we have dinner guests not staying at the hotel. With us, the environment is more important than the food. But we cooperate with unique eateries in town, and we can guarantee guests who want to combine environment and activities with food experiences a unique stay with us,” Bettina and Asa assures us.
There is a staff of 15 working full time at the Strandflickorna Hotel today. In 2013 the girls invested six million kronor in six new double rooms and the so-called orangery, and do not intend to end their story there. Over the next two years there will probably be room for more guests, and new experiences are already on the drawing board.
Going to Lysekil? Here you can read more about what Lysekil has to offer.
All images by Tor Kjolberg, except when noted.
Feature image (on top): Helgard Mahrdt.
More images below.
Hidden Gem in Sweden: Stranflickorna were interviewed by Tor Kjolberg