31 August 2018
Nailing the niche; Director of Quality in Tourism Deborah Heather considers the importance of formalising your USP, and how being unique can underpin commercial success. What better way to see this in action than to ask Deborah about the businesses she’s met on her travels?
For many, achieving maximum occupancy either seems unattainable, or purportedly requires an all-encompassing strategy that says yes to every booking. It seems wholly counterintuitive to specify a target guest profile and then to turn away business that doesn’t fit pre-set parameters; but believe it or not, a strategy like this can help to establish a thriving business with maximum occupancy and almost zero sensitivity to market trends and seasonality. The trick is to be unique or to operate in a niche, and then to target and attain the best possible customer experience.
As part of our scheme relaunches, we introduced the new ‘Unique’ accolade, designed to identify and showcase the businesses that ‘do niche well’. It’s about recognising and showcasing those that do not fit the standard mould, but who are shaking up their market nationally or internationally, and doing so with flair, style and creativity. Interestingly, since starting the inspections earlier this year, a few common themes have emerged between the unique businesses; they have a passion for what they do, a personal interest in their specialism, and a loyal and returning customer base, keen to visit each year and often multiple times per year.
Even we were surprised by the diversity of businesses that fit the unique model, and just how varied their business models are. In each case, the majority boast year-round occupancy, and certainly occupancy on their terms. They all advise that clear marketing is a core aspect of attracting and securing a loyal following, with many highlighting that they rarely need to turn away business any longer, thanks to clear expectations set out across all their materials. It’s hard to identify favourites, but here’s three of those I believe are doing it best…
Ettie’s Field, Atherstone, Warwickshire
Ettie’s field is the brainchild of Linds & Dom, offering a unique experience for everyone who owns a distinctive Glamping rig. Linds and Dom were keen to develop a place which encouraged visitors to bring their own Glamping tourers to use their facilities, providing a dedicated offering to meet the needs of different guests. What makes Ettie’s Field different is that you can only stay if you use one of their glamping pods, or own and travel with something quirky of your own. No caravans allowed!
The site facilities include everything you’d expect from a Glamping facility; toilets (including a compost loo), showers, elsan point, dishwashing facilities, clubhouse and a boutique shop, however the finish is to an exceptional.
The clubhouse includes a pellet heater for warmth and has a Moroccan design feel with large sofas, sumptuous cushions, intricate throws and ornate lighting. The area provides a relaxing space to read or just sit and watch the world go by. The boutique shop that is housed along with reception sells a variety of local produce and handmade creations and the site in general is awash with artwork, creations and colour including ‘boobtubes’ which have been crafted to hide the cable trunking that runs throughout the site.
Linds Such, owner of the site says “This journey started four years ago for us and was something we always knew we wanted to do. Being avid airstreamers and travelling around the country, we are yet to find a site that delivered on our vision, so we did it ourselves! We strive to be perfect and deliver on the needs of the visitors that are staying with us.”
She continues “What we offer is unique and we were keen to find a way of helping us showcase the site to potential visitors. The visit from the assessors at Quality in Tourism didn’t faze me; it’s what we do on a daily basis, but this would be the ‘seal of approval’ to show that it wasn’t just me that felt it was a special place, but independent, qualified assessors did too.”
Tree Top Escape, Umberleigh, Devon
Tree Top Escape is a wedding venue which offers a very special experience: a wedding in the clouds! It’s perched high above the trees, surrounded by rolling hills, fields dotted with grazing sheep, leaves of every shade of green, and no sound apart from birds singing, softly rustling tree tops and guests saying ‘ahh’. The glass walls of the wedding lounge enable couples to take their vows against a backdrop of the sky, tree tops, and miles of the rolling Devon countryside.
This luxurious treehouse-style venue offers a different approach to the normal wedding: a small, intimate wedding with only a few guests. It’s for those who want to avoid the hassle, politics, arguments and bucketload of stress that can often accompany the larger-scale wedding and the Tree Top Escape holds up to a maximum of 16 including the wedding couple and the photographer. It offers exclusivity, privacy and rural tranquillity thanks to its location on the beautiful, private 32-acre Millbrook Estate in north Devon, and each year hundreds of couples make their vows at the venue. It’s also got a great LGBT following, building a reputation for perfect same-sex marriages.
Yet, there isn't the merest hint of roughing it - an Italian designer kitchen, a William Holland copper bath, and high tech facilities make this the perfect place for making the couple feel special. After all the wedding celebrations have finished, the happy couple can relax under the stars in the open air hot tub listening to owls, the wind murmuring through the trees and drinking champagne in the glasses reserved especially for this purpose. Owners Bob and Kate Boothby have invested heavily in the property to ensure it offers something really special for guests.
Bob said: “Tree Top Escape goes a step beyond other self-catering accommodation. Its perched high above the trees, but everything inside, right down to the light switches, is luxurious and high-end. We keep investing and innovating to keep the quality high for our guests.”
He continues “We’ve been working with Quality in Tourism for a number of years now and were delighted when they announced that they were launching a new unique accolade. It’s certainly where we sit; there is no other experience like ours in the country and we are delighted that we can provide couples with THE best day of their lives.”
The Baron at Bucknell, Shropshire
Diversifying a traditional country pub can be a challenge, but building unique, outdoor pods that offer couples an adults-only romantic break is just the ticket. Owners Phil & Debra Wright wanted to create a space that offered romance, privacy, private hot tubs, and interestingly a natural swimming pool, and so the ‘garden rooms’ were born. Despite being part of the same business, the pods standalone and have a unique and very specific offering, with exclusive use of facilities not available to guests of the country pub.
The pub itself offers delicious home cooked food, local real ales and a warm welcome. It houses five rooms in the main building which have been graded as a four star gold property for a number of years and which are available for paying guests on a traditional B&B basis. However Phil & Debra wanted to do something more, different, special and unique, and so launched the Garden Rooms as a standalone extension of the business.
The garden rooms have been created to offer guests the opportunity to relax and reconnect with one another and the great outdoors. Each pod is individually designed, with a hot tub just for two, and the rooms have been positioned to ensure each one retains its privacy. The adult-only zone keeps kids to the pub only, and the private locations ensure that you will not view other guests, whether you’re sitting on the terrace or in the hot tub.
The Baron at Bucknell also boasts a natural swimming pond where guests can swim as nature intended in chemical free, naturally cleansed spring water. The pool is only open to Garden Room guests and is kept quiet and exclusive. Every detail of a guest’s stay has been considered, from the privacy and blackout curtains, to the sunken beds and Shropshire breakfast. Phil & Debra have made The Baron at Bucknell an experience that’s like no other.