‘Tis the season for last-minute bookings


Industry stalwarts share their secrets on bagging late festive trade. 

Upsell all other departments
Steven Simpson, general manager, The Rutland Hotel

“Upsell the other departments within the unit to drive the overall sales; this incorporates the restaurant and bar and should increase their revenue too. Create a bespoke Christmas package for your guests to book during December, make it exciting and enticing. The package should be very competitive and have a USP to deter guests from your competition. Dinner, bed and breakfast packages are a great deal during this time as the consumer has less money to spend on themselves as they are concentrating on their ‘gift buying’. Offer discounts to bedrooms that are fully pre-paid; this guarantees revenue for a room even if it ends up as a cancellation. This will also coincide with guaranteed occupancy and make November a little bit less scary when looking at future occupancy!

If your venue is having Christmas party nights in the establishment then use this to your rooms advantage to and offer discounted bedroom prices to those who are partying with you. Set minimum stay periods over Hogmanay to ensure that people don’t just stay for the 31st and leave those cold shoulders which are incredibly tricky to sell! When October and November is here, don’t react to a slow sell in December too quickly, sit it out and wait for the late rush pick up. Obviously you need to use your common knowledge of the market around you, this may not be an option for some hotels.”

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Steer away from the boring and obvious at Christmas
Jonathan Slater, MD, Oddfellows

“It’s important to steer away from the boring and obvious at Christmas time. Everybody has mince pies, everybody has a turkey dinner, everybody is serving mulled wine by the fire. Be creative, be sparkly and be fun – it’s all about merriment at this time of the year – and think about what are people really looking for at Christmas. We’ve set up a Man Creche at Oddfellows this year – we give the boys a beer and a steak sandwich, a newspaper and the fire, leaving the women to shop without the moaning distractions. And in doing that we are focussing on our assets. We’re in a thriving Christmas shopping city, so we’re using it.”

Incentivise in more personal ways
Emma Robinson, general manager, Nanny Brow

Never ones to follow the crowd, Nanny Brow don’t follow the typical route of ‘slash pricing’ when it comes to bookings. They have held firm to their ethos of not sacrificing on price or quality and it’s a bold approach, but one that is working well, as hotel manager, Emma Robinson, explains:
“Nanny Brow is a very special place and every guest is treated to five star luxury.” she says. “We would hate for our guests to be discussing their fluctuating rates, so have always been consistent with pricing. If last minute availability occurs we look at removing our ‘two night minimum’ policy and incentivise in more personal ways, such as offering complimentary wine. However, our key objective is to actively encourage guests to increase their stay.”

Make constant contact with your database
Stephen Hargreaves, founder and CEO, Cranleigh boutique

Founder and CEO of the Cranleigh Boutique brand, Stephen Hargreaves, has spent many years developing a novel and seamless method of marketing, which now has other hoteliers chomping at the bit to replicate. This December, bookings are already solid at Hargreaves’ three boutique accommodation offerings. “It’s absolutely essential to maintain continuous contact with your database.” he explains. “Our success has come via the recurrent use of exciting email and social media content and that level of engagement with our customers. We also have a separate list of clients who we know are interested in last minute deals. Over the years, we’ve worked hard to get to know our customers and what they want. They have become loyal to our brand.”

Country house hotels should prepare early
Chris Ward, commercial director, Farncombe Estate

“When creating your Christmas and new year breaks get them completed a lot earlier in the year than may seem normal. Our web analysis has shown us that there are still significant searches in quarter one for festive breaks. Some hotels don’t get their programmes and marketing out until July, August, September which for country house hotels is too late. Christmas is an early booking market we have found, while New Year is a bit more last minute. We sit down in January while it is fresh to review our festive packages and then re-write them for the next year, launching online by March and offline with brochures by April. We also offer guests checking out the chance to re-book direct with us for next year with an incentive. This year both Dormy House and Foxhill Manor were full by the end of August.”

Offer the chance to extend packages for discount prices
Mike Warren, MD, Harbour Hotels

“With strong occupancy across the festive season, we focus on filling early; marketing innovative Christmas packages to our database results in us achieving significant advance reservations. We then offer late ‘extend your stay’ packages to that audience. We focus on the ‘twixmas’ period with a late campaign and also encourage locals to send their visiting relatives to us for a comfy bed whilst in the area!”