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EXCLUSIVE: Cumbria hoteliers see occupancy levels spike to over 90% as staycation boom continues into September

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Cumbria is one destination that is benefiting from the boom in the UK staycation, as consumers opt to holiday on home soil amid the pandemic. With predictions showing that this spike to demand looks set to continue to 2021, we spoke to operators in the heart of the county to find out what business is on the books for next year and beyond.

New research last month found that 83% of tourists would prefer to holiday in the UK than travel abroad this year, with this trend set to continue into next year bringing a boost to the country’s hospitality sector for the next 12 months.

Rumours surrounding the predicted staycation boom circulated long prior to the end of lockdown and now it seems to be ringing true as hotels up and down the country report exceptional business levels throughout July, August and into September.

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The new findings from building society The Cumberland found that almost three-quarters of respondents (71%) are also intending to plan a UK holiday in 2021.

And while coastal properties appear to be in the highest demand right now, with towns by the sea experiencing a strong revival, consumers are keen to get to places in the UK they may not have previously considered, presenting a huge opportunity for hoteliers.

The study from the Cumberland showed that Scotland and Cornwall were the favourite alternative destinations to an overseas break, with 16% opting to holiday there, followed closely by the Lake District and Wales (15%).

We wanted to find out how the sharp rise in business was impacting hoteliers in the Lake District and whether this trend was likely to continue into the autumn.

Rothay Manor

Occupancy levels for July and August: 98%

Owner Jamie Shail says: “We decided to open on the 16th July to make sure we were truly ready, and all procedures were in place.

We announced our opening date a month before, giving us plenty of time to get some bookings in, we hadn’t expected that once the government confirmed hospitality opening of the 4th how quickly bookings would come in. The last two weeks of July were at an average of 95%. August is currently better than this!

How has this grown over the weeks since?

Bookings have been great, although we aren’t getting the forward bookings, for later in the year and into next that we would normally expect at this time of year.

What occupancy levels have you been experiencing?

July was at 95% with the first 2 weeks of August at 98% and this level has looked set to continue throughout August.

What challenges have you faced since reopening?

Unfortunately, the partial ‘lockdown’ in Manchester and the increased uncertainty has started to affect the bookings. Generally, our guests have been fantastic, understanding the social distancing and being aware of diner times.

What have been the biggest changes to the business since re-opening?

We have seen an increase in guests wanting to dine in the hotel, usually in August guests would dine out in the local pubs and restaurants and only dine in once but this has changed with most wanting the security of staying in the hotel.

Have you seen a rise in domestic guests and are you seeing increased demand for the staycation?

Absolutely, many of the guests we have spoken with wouldn’t normally be in the Lake District in August and some have never visited before. I hope this will be positive for the future with more people realising how much the UK has to offer.

How are forward bookings looking for the rest of the year?

Ok, but not as good as we would expect for this time of year, September and on into the winter are still below where we would expect to be. Unfortunately, with the threat of a ‘second spike’ this may not change until much nearer the time.

What are your main concerns going forward?

Increased uncertainty, we need people to be confident that they can holiday in the UK and are safe to book ahead of time. The potential of a rise in cases of Covid-19 in Cumbria, this could be devastating to the tourist industry here especially if there is some element of a lock down.

L’Enclume, Cartmel

Occupancy levels for July: 100%

Sam Ward, managing director, L’Enclume House, Cartmel, says: “We are pleased to report that our occupancy is very high, we have record demand for our guest rooms and all our restaurants in the Lakes are reaching capacity on most days. Most of our guests are looking to stay for two-nights.

How has this grown over the weeks since?

We really hit the ground running, primarily because we didn’t close off our reservations and prepared for re-opening announcements way ahead with all of the appropriate health and safety procedures in place. Whilst this involved a little extra administrative work (and a little guess work) behind the scenes to move bookings as appropriate, it essentially meant that we were full once restrictions were eased. Alongside this we also innovated during lockdown; launching Simon Rogan at home, a weekly changing three course menu offered on Friday and Saturday evenings that diners could enjoy in their own homes. As you might imagine this service has proved to be extremely popular and it’s currently only available in Cumbria.

What occupancy levels have you been experiencing?

Because of the steps we undertook prior and during lockdown we are at 100% occupancy. If we had dining space available and more accommodation that too would be fully booked, as demand is immense.

What challenges have you faced since reopening?

The main challenge has been centred on meeting customer demand. We simply don’t have enough tables or rooms available. We have always ensured rigorous hygiene standards and that’s fairly normal at the higher end of the market place, so that hasn’t changed and not only that our tables were placed at two metres or more apart to facilitate our levels of service and provide guest with space in which to relax, so that side of things hasn’t changed either. We’ve always recorded guest details within our systems and in line with GDPR regulations, so meeting track and trace requirements was never going to be an issue. The most noticeable change relates to how we serve our guests when they dine with us, essentially service has been simplified and refined to minimise contact time between guests and the team.

What have been the biggest changes to the business since reopening?

It goes without saying that we have continued to maintain the highest levels of service possible, but we’ve also done things that ordinarily guests wouldn’t see such as carrying out cleaning in front of them, ordinarily this activity would be performed discreetly. But in order to show that we are operating in line with government guidelines we are being very overt about our processes. We learnt a lot from successfully operating in Hong Kong during lockdown there and that has stood us in good stead.

Have you seen a rise in domestic guests and are you seeing increased demand for the staycation?

We are fully booked with guests from across Cumbria and the north of England and lots of guests from London and the South East, but that’s fairly normal. We’ve also seen an increase in numbers of guests staying with us from Scotland.

How are forward bookings looking for the rest of the year?

Our confirmed bookings are well ahead, and we are performing at around 50% on every month this year so far. Our forward bookings are looking extremely healthy, with September and October booking through too. 

What are your main concerns going forward?

Another lockdown would be difficult to deal with, but I think that would prove to be the case right across the board. We keep abreast of relevant guidelines, constantly monitor the situation, and ensure that everything we do is performed to the highest levels and with the utmost rigour.

Black Bull, Sedburgh

Occupancy levels for July and August: 98% – 100%

James Ratcliffe, Black Bull, Sedbergh, says: “Since we re-opened it’s been just a little bit manic; we are really busy and operating on winter staffing levels as we hadn’t recruited for spring / summer when the pandemic closure was imposed. People are looking to get away to the country and get out of town it seems, though they are opting for two- to three-night breaks rather than longer stays at the moment.

How has this grown over the weeks since?

Our first week was the quietest and it’s just got busier and busier since and are having to turn guests away as we simply don’t have the rooms. We initially opened Thursday to Sunday, but we’ve had to change that due to demand as it’s been getting busier and busier, so we are now open, Wednesday to Sunday.

What occupancy levels have you been experiencing?

We were for the first week at around 90% occupancy, but we are now at 98%-100% occupancy, with staff on a rota having to man the phones on Mondays and Tuesdays to cope with the volume of calls and emails coming in. 

What challenges have you faced since reopening?

Our biggest challenge is managing customer expectations, especially when it comes to ensuring that our guests adhere to the regulations. We want to deliver that level of service but there are constraints as a result of one-way systems, service restrictions and the like. It’s all very new for everyone and we are all having to adapt very quickly. We’ve managed to hit the ground running with despite having winter staffing levels, we are recruiting to meet demand. There have been one or two minor issues with guests trying to circumvent the various rules and regulations we all have to meet in order to keep everyone safe, especially when they’ve had a few drinks but we’ve been firm, and people soon realise we won’t stand for any nonsense.

What have been the biggest changes to the business since reopening?

We’ve faced a number of challenges on re-opening specifically reduced capacity in the restaurant, but extremely high demand, so that’s been interesting to manage. Then obviously implementing and maintaining the regulations relating to track and trace and the implications of that across every facet of the business. We’ve also revamped and launched an outdoor space to cater for our guests outdoors. Our wine list has been condensed and as a result it constantly changing so that it matches the dishes we are serving at any given time. We now only offer an a la carte menu at lunch and dinner times as well as a small bar menu that sit’s alongside. In terms of procedure we’ve imposed stringent cleaning practices, installed hand sanitising stations, one-way systems, disposable menus and much more to ensure that we keep both our guests and our staff as safe as we possibly can.

How are forward bookings looking for the rest of the year?

Our forward bookings are looking healthy and September and October are booking through, but it’s difficult to gauge as the vast majority of bookings are last minute.

What are your main concerns going forward?

We have a few concerns around the coming winter months. Obviously, we are also concerned about localised lockdowns, the lack of support subsequent support during any lockdown and the implications of that and then the potential for a spike in the winter months. There’s a considerable amount of uncertainty, which makes it difficult to plan ahead.

Askham Hall

Occupancy levels for July and August: 80% – 100%

Marie-Louisa Raeburn, Askham Hall, says: “We have re-opened our business in stages as restrictions have been gradually eased. Our gardens at Askham Hall opened first at the end of June followed by our pub the George and Dragon Clifton on 4 July, then Askham Hall itself at the end of July. We’ve started off very busy indeed which is good news.

How has this grown over the weeks since?

Demand has increased since the start of the summer holidays and the issues facing foreign travel. August is exceptionally busy.

What occupancy levels have you been experiencing? 

80% to 100%.

Have you seen a rise in domestic guests and are you seeing increased demand for the staycation?

Absolutely, July to September especially, we are seeing a huge rise in staycations.

How are forward bookings looking for the rest of the year?

Bookings are strong until October at present. After that it tails off.

What are your main concerns going forward?

With the ongoing restrictions on larger gatherings we are heavily restricted in terms of larger parties and weddings, which is a major part of our business. Especially if these restrictions continue past October we are concerned as to how we will fare over the winter once the furlough scheme ends.

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Zoe Monk

The author Zoe Monk

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