EXCLUSIVE: Investment at The Coniston nears £1m as resort redefines financial model to secure long-term future


The Coniston Hotel and Spa Estate in Yorkshire has invested close to £1m since the lockdown began last March, as it looks to drive up standards and redefine its financial model to secure the long-term future of the business.

The 1,400-acre estate in Yorkshire, owned by the Bannister family for more than 50 years, has utilised the last 12 months to reassess how the business was operated, with significant investments into its spa offering, F&B facilities and wider Estate activities brought on as a result.

Speaking to Boutique Hotelier, director and owner Nick Bannister at The Coniston Estate said pre-covid the business was ‘reasonably profitable’, but focused on volume and top line and not ‘where the real value added was and where we could make a return’.

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He says: “We have invested just less than £1m and for a business of our size it was a big investment. We decided we needed to make these changes and it was a good time.

“This was the right time and the right opportunity to make our changes and bring us back a much stronger business and so far the evidence is that it’s working.

“We used to say pre-Covid we did a third, a third, a third. So a third corporate, a third leisure and a third weddings. Well the new model focuses on our main profitable business which is leisure and obviously a lot of what we did in terms of refurbishment during the lockdowns really focused on preserving and growing that market. It’s been a really fascinating time,” he adds.

The Coniston estate is home to 71 bedrooms, plus two self-catering cottages, The View restaurant, a wide range of country pursuits and the new Nàdarra Spa.

The jewel in the crown was the new spa, which opened in April.

Five years after the launch of the hotel’s original spa and leisure offering, the Nàdarra Spa, which means ‘natural’ in Scottish Gaelic, has been designed to allow The Coniston to muscle in amongst some of the wellness hospitality elite to gain a stronger foothold in the market.

Bannister admits that the way it was operated prior ‘wasn’t a good model financially’, with a high number of members which wasn’t proving complementary to the business.

“Our spa opened in November 2015 and it was a bit of a hybrid model,” Nick tells BH, it was a leisure facility / spa combined and we had over 600 members. The second lockdown we started planning to redevelopment of the spa to create much more of a wellness haven. We reduced the number of full-time members and removed the option of off-peak membership, bringing that number down to 320.

“We changed the financial model, focused more on day spa and encouraging residents to use it much more.”

New spa manager Belinda Belli was appointed in August last year to drive standards, joining with a wealth of experience including stints at The Fairmont in Bermuda and most recently, The Carnegie Club at Skibo Castle in Scotland.

The spa restaurant was updated too, with a new head chef brought in and a new Asian fusion menu introduced.

The hotel’s main restaurant was renovated to become The View, with a new temporary outdoor terrace installed and set to become a permanent fixture over the next few months.

Formerly Huntsman’s Lodge, the new-look space has been rebranded, with walls adorned with new art and menus updated.

The Coniston was also previously home to 2 AA Rosette restaurant, Macleods. Now transformed into a more informal bar, the updated lounge has been reconfigured to provide a space for both locals and resident guests to enjoy.

Bannister adds: “Previously pre-Covid we did have a 2 AA Rosette restaurant but we have no plans to go back to that at the moment. What you can get in the MacCleods bar is a nice bar menu, so we are very pleased with where our food offering is right now.”

In addition to bolstering its F&B facilities, The Coniston embraced people’s reinvigorated desire for the outdoors, putting in new walking routes around the estate and new picnic areas.

While physical changes have been aplenty at The Coniston during each lockdown – “we wanted people to come back and feel that we hadn’t been idle” – the biggest change at the hotel is the shift in mentality throughout the business.

Now Bannister is running a much leaner enterprise, with a smaller payroll, new strategy and approach that focuses on developing the right business streams to increase the bottom line revenues.

The workforce was slimmed by 33%, reducing payroll costs by £1m, and the business model updated to reflect the ‘Covid climate’.

The focus going forward will be on establishing more leisure business against the backdrop of fewer weddings and corporate bookings to create more of a premium product.

Bannister adds: “The next six months are all about current trading. Our priorities going forward are to invest in our bedrooms. Our room rate is up 40%, so we’ve got to justify that and that will require investment.

“We have planning permission for new lodges, but that will be a 2023 project. That will give us eight rooms / chalets, which will increase our capacity but that will be something we will look to do in 2023.

“We’ve got no end of projects, but a lot of it is about cash flow and investment priorities.”

To read the full interview with Nick, make sure you read the August issue of Boutique Hotelier, FREE to view online HERE

Tags : interviewsNick BannisterThe Coniston Hotel
Zoe Monk

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