How a UK coastal property boosted occupancy during the staycation boom
Following lockdowns and a decline in European and international flights, it was no surprise to see a spike in UK domestic travel throughout the summer months.
As a result of the domestic boom, online searches for Cornwall trips were up 325% despite the county's already established popularity for UK holiday-makers. One property in the region planned for the staycation boom accordingly, setting themselves up for a successful summer reopening.
“For three months of lockdown, we had NHS staff staying in our lodges which gave us the opportunity to look at what would happen if we had a COVID outbreak and how we could effectively respond to that, particularly with cleaning the accommodation in between staff,” says Matt Way, resort director at Gwel an Mor. “It was a really valuable experience that enabled us to set ourselves up for when we reopened on the 4th of July."
The luxury five-star resort established a COVID mandate and invested £10,000 in fogging and swabbing equipment, probably the only resort in the country that swabs the lodges to ensure they reach a medical standard of cleanliness.
Armed with this level of safety, Matt Way addressed three elements to further empower the business and guest experience.
1. Using technology as a key driver of safety
Alongside the enhanced cleaning regimes, Matt and his team utilised contactless customer-facing solutions to meet guest’s needs and deliver a positive COVID-safe experience.
“Our virtual check-in has been hugely successful; as well as saving us time and money, it's also assured our customers that they no longer have to go to reception; they can check-in online, pay their balances, order newspapers and other extras all from their mobile."
“We also use the staff portal, where our housekeeping manager can electronically create and store tasks rather than having to write them out,” says Matt.
“That's been a big part of why people have booked with us, knowing that they've got that safety when they're here.”
2. Anticipating trends and redirecting demand
Cornwall replaced Spain in holiday search results for 2020, with over 135,000 searches in the UK for 'Cornwall holiday in July' compared to just 40,000 the same time in 2019.
“Before reopening, we updated some of the lodges because we could foresee the demand; we invested in our product so that what we delivered would live up to the expectations of the customer," says Matt. "Even when we were closed, we were still marketing hard and putting ourselves out there."
“As a high-end lodge, we’re sometimes competing in the holiday park market which makes us look expensive. But this year, we pitched ourselves at the demographic who would normally go abroad but were instead looking for a staycation. That helped create demand at the right price point for us which is something we want to build on and turn those customers into returning guests.”
Another key element of success for Matt has been working with partners who have supported them throughout the pandemic and delivered quickly.
“We needed to make decisions and change the way we worked to maximise revenue, which has led to a fantastic end result for us this year.
“Occupancy-wise, we were full throughout August and September, and the staycation boom is definitely still happening. Even with the recent lockdown developments, people are still looking for a quick getaway and Cornwall seems really well placed to deliver that this year.”
The success, Matt believes, is down to believing in and investing in their product, delivering clear messaging about their COVID-safe regimes and being well-placed in a prime location.
3. Keeping customer experience front of mind
The customer feedback so far in relation to the package of changes Gwel an Mor has introduced has been really good, with Matt seeing a real impact on their business and occupancy levels.
“The measures we’ve put in place offer peace of mind for the cleaners and peace of mind for the customers; it's helped drive our revenue and boost occupancy from the minute we reopened and was a big part of our success over the summer."
“The online check-in and customers having access to their units straight away has also been really well received.”
Although Matt believes this creates a better experience that aligns with guest demand in the current climate, he felt there was still something lacking from a customer service standpoint, which he soon found a solution for.
“We call our guests after they’ve checked in and also do a follow-up phone call before they depart, so we're still having that interaction with them ensuring they've had a great stay.”
One thing Matt and his team have learned about COVID-secure methods of working is that re-evaluating the business has been crucial in order to meet guest expectations.
“Even if COVID wasn't here in a year's time, we’d keep the changes we’ve made in place. It’s also been really important for us to have the right team around us; it doesn't matter how much you invest in your business, you're only as good as the people on your front line."
Matt recommends maintaining prices and keeping standards high so that revenue and occupancy correlate.
“From a revenue management side, we’ve seen the importance of not devaluing the product too far ahead. Looking six weeks ahead, you might think you’ve got a lot of stock still and potentially put the prices down but I think it's about maintaining and believing in the product and so far that's come good for us.
“In terms of advice to other operators, try to think in the long term, not just find a short term fix; how are you going to keep hold of these new staycation guests? I think that's a question everyone should be asking themselves.”