EXCLUSIVE INSIGHT: UK hotels reap the benefits of TV tourism

The crew of Poldark film on Porthgwarra in Cornwall.The crew of Poldark film on Porthgwarra in Cornwall.

TV and film is a powerful tool that can boost the awareness of your hotel and encourage thousands of visitors to your door, however it’s used. We wanted to discover how TV shows like Downton Abbey and Poldark help to bring our landscapes to life and how the impact is felt in the hotel industry.

TV exposure of our country undoubtedly helps to encourage foreigners to pay a visit to our shores. Whether it’s directors choosing our scenes for films or the likes of Downton Abbey promoting the quintessential British experience, positive publicity of our landscapes, cities and rolling countryside helps put the UK on the world’s map.

As international business increases this year for many hotels, given the weakness of the pound, the popularity of our country and attractiveness of what it has to offer only continues to soar.

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The ‘Downton Abbey’ impact has only helped elevate the status of the UK, as hotels across the country report a rise in visitors, from the US in particular, who come to seek a traditional ‘British’ experience and explore the heritage and history that some many buildings are bursting with.

Highclere Castle – the setting for the series of period drama – is located 7.5 miles from The Vineyard in Berkshire, and as soon as Downton Abbey went on air, the business definitely felt the impact. According to the hotel’s website statistics, the highest peaks were during Series 5 and 6 in 2014-2015, where page views rocketed compared to normal and reached peak at 1,590 unique visits in January 2015.

A similar impact was felt in Cornwall, the home of BBC drama Poldark, which aired at a time when more people were beginning to consider holidays in the UK, as the staycation trend went viral. Will Ashworth from Watergate Bay says: “I think everyone in Cornwall saw a rise in searches thanks to Poldark; we all received Sunday night searching peaks for hotels in Cornwall at around 9pm.”

It’s not just TV shows either. Thanks to film directors opting to use our shores as backdrops to major blockbusters, hotels have seen a knock-on effect as the coverage helps to bring tourism to the area and create a buzz around a destination.

Neil Kedward from The Grove of Narberth says: “Many major film directors have chosen Pembrokeshire for big coastal location shoots in recent years including Harry Potter, Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood, Snow White and the Huntsman and Their Finest Hour and a Half. We have been lucky enough to host many of the leading stars and directors here – including Ridley Scott himself, Cate Blanchett, William Hurt, Mark Strong, Kirsten Stewart, Chris Hemsworth, Bill Nighy to mention just a few.  It’s nice to have when it happens, and of course the publicity that comes with these movies has undoubtedly increased bookings to the county.”

Rockliffe Hall in Darlington is a five-AA-red-star hotel boasting an 18-hole championship golf course, beautiful spa garden, 61 bedrooms and 3 AA Rosette restaurant all set in 375 acres, with a new £750k Alice in Wonderland inspired outdoor area to launch at the end of this summer. Chief executive Eamonn Elliott says that while the business is never short of offers from directors looking for a striking location to film, it’s crucial that he chooses the right ones.

“On the film front we are in the process of working with possible film makers that are desperate to use Rockliffe and its grounds in its filming, we may or may not pursue with this, only if it fits in with our strategic direction going forward.”

The capital

For London hotels, location-centric TV exposure is in abundance, as the flourishing capital attracts demand from all sorts of media and genres. The recreation of the quintessential British life and rich history in TV shows such as Made in Chelsea and Mr Selfridge definitely plays a part when bringing tourism to London. “Made in Chelsea series often features Mayfair hotspots,” explains Debrah Dhugga, MD of Dukes London, “but the area has such a rich history already when it comes to British traditions, Royals and celebrities it always attracts TV production companies wanting to film something.”

Josh Craddock from The Bloomsbury, part of the Doyle Collection, has noticed that this style of exposure has helped to spike an interest for a more bohemian experience from overseas visitors.

“We’ve seen more of an eclectic interest in boutique shops on our doorstep such as Thomas Farthing, the 1940s tailor tucked away near The British Museum, or James Smith & Sons – a traditional handcrafted umbrella and parasol shop which first opened in 1830.”

The small screen

While hotels close to the set and location of a hit TV programme see a rise in interest, actually having your own slice of time in the spotlight can have a direct impact on bookings as even a short clip of your property can open the doors to a huge potential customer base.

“In my experience TV coverage is unbelievably powerful,” says Patrick Burke, owner and managing director, at The Atlantic Hotel in Jersey. “A few years ago we featured as the final treat on The Apprentice with the winning team being flown over to Jersey by private jet to spend the day as our guests. This resulted in an impressive 60 seconds of exposure which was seen by 12 million people. Needless to say this had a significant impact on our forward bookings for the following season and people still talk about it to this day.”

Lucknam Park is no stranger to the media and has enjoyed many stints on screen playing host to various TV concepts and programmes. The five-star property in Bath is set in 500 acres of parkland and is home to 42 bedrooms, a fine dining Michelin-starred restaurant, plus a luxury spa and two premium self-catering cottages.

“It is difficult to measure if Lucknam benefited from TV coverage,” comments chairman Harry Murray, “but it certainly helps to keep the property in focus in a highly competitive market. The business is 90% from the UK of which 80% is leisure and year on year the hotel had a 14% growth in sales as of 31st May 2017. The growth mainly came from ‘staycation’ possibly as a result of the devalued pound and young families concerned with security issues in many places overseas.”

In 2016, Elly Wentworth a sous chef at Lucknam Park competed in MasterChef. The talented 24-year old chef appeared on a total of 14 programmes, including the final where she was runner-up to the winner and highly commended by Marcus Wareing. Following the airing of the show, she attracted 550 plus covers to a host of special evenings promoted under her name over the course of nine evenings. Her Twitter following also rocketed to 7,800.

The reach of MasterChef is powerful, as the show, now in its 11th series, continues to pull in impressive viewing figures. This year, the penultimate episode of the series attracted 4.9m viewers at its peak and according to The Telegraph, is the nation’s second favourite food TV show after The Great British Bake Off.

MasterChef: The Professionals has a massive impact on the hospitality industry. Last July, the semi-final was filmed at Gravetye Manor, which then went on to air in December watched by 8 million viewers.

Managing director Andrew Thomason explains how this exposure affected the hotel: “This was a half hour programme shot entirely at the hotel and its gardens. The website crashed that evening and since then we have seen a huge increase in bookings both for the dining room and bedrooms, which was most welcome during the first four months of this year. Evan today the bookings are still coming in from viewers who saw the hotel on MasterChef; a ‘priceless’ piece of PR.”

Cooking shows such as MasterChef certainly help to heighten the nation’s appetite for premium food and hospitality. Craig Bancroft from Northcote in Lancashire credits The Great British Menu with having a huge impact on trading at the hotel’s restaurant. Chef Nigel Haworth first appeared on the programme in 2009, and then acted as a mentor to the chefs of the North East region in 2012.

“It was incredible on every level,” explains Bancroft, “it was without doubt the most lucrative and busy time we have ever had in restaurant reservations; they showcased the restaurant, the kitchens and the surroundings which was the driver.”

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