A LUXURIOUS retreat on the Sussex coast, Bailiffscourt Spa is a mediaeval-style house, thatched cottages and 13th century chapel with a rose garden, a spa with indoor and outdoor swimming pools, a croquet lawn and tennis courts. It is set in 30 acres of private parkland and overlooks Climping Beach.
One of three properties owned by Historic Sussex Hotels, Bailiffscourt offers 39 bedrooms.
Bailiffscourt Hotel & Spa was originally built as a private home for lord and lady Moyne, and it still has the feeling of being someone’s home, with sitting rooms and nooks and crannies, but somewhere you feel you can relax.
She says: “In the 1920s lord and lady Moyne used to love coming down to Climping Beach. Then they heard the land was going to be developed, and they bought it.”
Lady Moyne, she explains, had a fortuitous meeting at that time with an antiques dealer. In those days there were plenty of very cheap antiques and antique furnishings available, which are to be found in abundance throughout the property. Yet the only part of the property that predates the building built in the 1920s is a beautiful 13th century chapel which sit in the middle of the grounds.
“It had a good few years as a party house before it was turned into a hotel in 1948, and it has been in the hands of the family that bought it in 1993,” says Sophie.
YEAR-ROUND OCCUPANCY STRATEGY
Occupancy at Bailiffscourt is traditionally consistent throughout the year, with peak season running from Easter through to the October half term.
“Christmas is beautiful,” says Sophie. “We have open fires in a number of the bedrooms and throughout the hotel’s bar and sitting rooms. We fill the chapel with candles and do carol services – we are very busy at Christmas it’s a really magical time – a completely different experience to if you come in the spring. But what we have worked hard on is listening to trends and trying to create packages and partnerships with other local suppliers or local businesses.”
The hotel has just launched a package called Mind Matters which is all about journaling and taking a minute to be quiet, reflect and consider. “This seems to be one of the trends coming through,” she says. “We have created yoga packages, pilates and health and fitness package, and we try to focus on the fact that Bailifscourt can be lots of different things to lots of different people. You can come and have a beautiful wedding with 150 guests, or you can have a very small wedding for four people.
“People can come for their 40th birthday or their 50th wedding anniversary. It’s lots of different messages to different markets to keep it full throughout the year,” she says.
“The chapel itself is deconsecrated, so you can’t get married in there, but after your ceremony in the hotel you can walk across the beautiful grounds with your guests and we will fill the chapel with flowers and candles and the local vicar will give a blessing.
“It gives a lovely balance of a bit of God and a bit of ceremony,” she adds.
The hotel has 39 bedrooms, so it is not uncommon for a wedding party to book the whole hotel, she says. “We have had some magnificent weddings here, themed with deck chairs, a tepee, or even a mad hatter tea party. We can offer people a blank canvas and for the time they are here we are all there for them to make it a lovely day,” she says.
Staff loyalty and retention is always one of the biggest challenges of any hospitality business large enough to employ staff. Sophie says: “It is important to create a happy and efficient workforce. We are incredibly fortunate that our owners the family are very visible, hands-on, lovely and enthusiastic people who inspire loyalty in the staff. It’s about taking time to go and talk to the staff and make sure everyone is being listened to.
“There are staff who have been with us for 40 years and it’s a genuinely nice thing to see different generations of the same family working with us. We think that’s one of the best endorsements we can have, when staff are recommending their family come to work here. It’s a very open-door policy – come and talk to us and give us your feedback and we work hard to create a nice environment people like coming to work in.”
MARKETING & THE OTAS
Sophie takes a proactive stance on OTAs. She says she can remember the days before the likes of booking.com existed. “When they first appeared, we all thought here was this wonderful level playing field for everyone. Then we realised that wasn’t necessarily the case – there were marketing agreements in place, and varying levels of or high commission rates.”
Rather than dismissing OTAs as an unwelcome evil muscling in on the traditional profits of the hospitality sector, she says: “I think they are like every other distribution channel, in that they are brilliant, but you need to manage them, right down to managing the commission levels and availability. If you can’t afford it then don’t do it.
“I have seen some hotels declare they are not working with the OTAs again and then seen their occupancy drop. You only pay commission on the business you get from them, so as long as you are happy with that then I think that is okay. Paying them commission is more precise than many types of traditional marketing, where you just blindly advertise in a magazine and cross your fingers and hope it has an effect,” she says.
MEET THE OTA
She urges any hospitality business, whether it be a small B&B or a hotel chain, to get to know the right people working for the OTAs. “Make the effort to go and meet the account managers face to face (*), talk to them, listen to them, work with their tools. And don’t be pressured into doing something that you don’t want to do, because they are always doing deals and loyalty programmes, and they aren’t for everybody,” she says.
“We are relatively small, and we manage our relationship with the OTAs very carefully. Like every hospitality business, we want to chase direct bookings, but we very much acknowledge that they deal with a wider distribution network than we could ever afford to with our marketing budget, so to my mind why wouldn’t we work with them?
“OTAs are a very useful tool but as I said you just need to manage it. You just need to be happy that the commission level suits you and the business comes in when you want it to come in,” she says.
(*) If it i not possible to meet face to face, look at Tutorials on the site, live chats or training material.
The hotel’s spa was built around 20 years ago in the style of a Sussex barn, with indoor and outdoor pool treatment rooms, sauna and a jacuzzi. Hotel guests have full use of the facilities, but the hotel also has spa members from people living locally in the area. “Visitors can also simply come for a spa day. That might be a full day or afternoon tea with use of the spa. There are many different ways you can access it according to what works for your time and budget,” she says.
One of the biggest draws to the spa is the friendly welcome guests receive. “It is a lovely team – some of them have worked there for as really long time. We use the beauty products of Temple Spa, which is based around the corner. We work closely with them and they will bring their clients over for us to showcase their products in our spa.”
She adds: “All our treatment beds are water beds, which is a fun experience including one in which the weight of your body is used to massage you. The Spa is stunning when you walk in and when you are standing on the balcony upstairs looking out over the pool and you can see the sea, it is pretty hard to beat.”
Bailiffscourt Spa is just a stone’s throw from the beach. “This is such a simple but enormous pulling point that appeals to dog owners, as well as to guests who want to have lovely beach walks. We are hugely dog-friendly.
“We don’t just welcome dogs, we offer a package designed for dogs and work closely with the dog owners and OTAs to ensure we get it right. We have listened closely to what guests with dogs want and similarly to what is expected by those guests that don’t have dogs.
“Dogs are welcome throughout the hotel apart from the restaurant and spa. We ask owners to keep their dogs on a lead in the rose garden and in the courtyard. We have 30 acres so there is plenty of space for them – and people love taking their dogs for walks to the beach,” she adds.
The most obvious issue concerning dogs is the cleanliness of a guest room after the guests and their pets leave the rooms. Sophie says: “Every room has a thorough deep clean whenever guests leave, so guests without dogs will never be aware that a dog might have stayed in that room.
There is a difference between tolerating dogs and being dog friendly, she says. “Genuinely we love them. They get cuddles, they get treats, and this summer we are about to launch a rather eccentric doggy experience, ‘Paws for afternoon tea’ with an afternoon tea styled for even the fussiest canine to enjoy.
“Our guests are very mindful of their dogs with other guests. Dog owners’ trend to be respectful of others. We have had guests who have tiny lapdogs and others that have brought giant Leonbergers, that just want to say hello to everybody. It makes for a very friendly atmosphere,” she says.
As well as being highly dog-friendly, the hotel welcomes guests with children. “We don’t do things like an organised kids’ club, but families that like to have supper together and laugh together and have fun together have a ball at Bailiffscourt,” she says.
“The space is spread out and we see lots of multi-generational groups. Granny and Grandpa might sit in the rose garden and keep an eye on the kids as they run around in the grounds, while Mum can go to the spa, and Dad can go and play tennis: it’s all very relaxed,” she says.
If guests wish to wander a little further afield, the hotel is about 15 minutes’ drive from the pretty town of Arundel with its beautiful castle, she says, adding: “We get a lot of guests from London. They leave after work on a Friday and get here in time for a late supper and wake up in the fresh country air.”
- Heated outdoor infinity swimming pool Surrounded by sun loungers and with a gloriously bubbly hot tub
- Relaxation rooms
- Designed to enhance the experience Gym & fitness studio
- State of the art equipment, personal trainers and classes including yoga and pilates
- Heated indoor swimming pool
- Indoor pool with spa bath, steam room and sauna
- Sandpiper lounge
- Light-filled space and a balcony overlooking the outdoor pool to the sea
- Tennis courts
- Two outdoor hard courts with coaching on request
SUSSEX WINE SAFARI
”We are passionate about Sussex Wine. We’ve been pouring Sussex wine for 20-30 years before it became quite as delicious as it is now.
Surrounding all three of Historic Sussex Hotels’ properties are the Sussex Vineyards, which are going from strength to strength. “We are passionate about Sussex Wine. We’ve been pouring Sussex wine for 20-30 years before it became quite as delicious as it is now,” says Sophie.
“We always pour Sussex as the first glass of sparkling rather than champagne, and we pour about 70% Sussex sparkling overall as opposed to Champagne. We also know all the vineyards, so very often guests will go off for a nice tour and tasting, wander round and meet the owners and the wine makers, which is a good pull for the area.”
Bailiffscourt owners Historic Sussex Hotels also offers a Sussex wine safari that entails five nights and visiting five vineyards across its three hotels, tasting and touring.
“With time on our hands during the lockdown, we are putting three or four budget plans together that range from the first scenario of a gradual and very slow opening, to a second one, picking up a bit more, to a third one where we are back up at full capacity. We are drawing up budgets for all scenarios, and they are ready and in place for when we say we are going to go with plan A, and for when we can move on to plan B when we hit a pre-determined point.
SPA @ Night
“I THINK IT IS UNLIKELY WE WILL GO BACK FULL SEASON STRAIGHT AWAY AND I THINK WE WILL BE DOING A PHASED APPROACH. AS WITH ANY TIME OF THE YEAR IT IS SIMPLY ABOUT REALLY CONTROLLING COSTS AND PAYROLL AND APPLYING GOOD SENSE ECONOMICS.”
The hotel was quick to respond at the outset of the crisis, she says. “One of the advantages of being relatively small and privately owned is that as soon as we saw indicators that something was happening, we responded very quickly. We have a strong management team that has been in place for a long time with experience of previous recessions and periods of market upheaval. It helps to have a bit of wisdom and knowledge behind us.”
The first thing they did when the lockdown was introduced was to put as many staff as it could on furlough as quickly as possible. “We are left with a core team to oversee the hotels,” says Sophie. “They are old buildings and they need love and attention, with somebody making sure the plumbing and electrics are fine and keeping everything ticking over. – even to the point where we have started to consider possible social distances measures that may be in place by the time we do open up again. We have moved dining tables apart, for example. We have tried to think forward.”
The hotel team has also been spending the spare time it has to consider the kinds of packages to offer and messages for when the hotel reopens, she says. “Things like, ‘Book that trip you have always talked about,’ ‘Spend the time with your family that you have always meant to have’ – nice things, illustrating we are human too! We have
all been trying to get to grips with this and what we can offer when we are on the other side is beautiful places for people to come to and spend time with their loved ones, drink and celebrate and do all the things we all love doing most.”
REMOTE TEAM BONDING
The core teams have adapted quickly to using new means of communication during the lockdown. “One positive to bring out of it is that we have twice daily Zoom calls,” says Sophie. “There is a skeleton team in each hotel, and there are a few of us working from home.”
She reflects: “It has been really wonderful to watch a really close-knit group of people support each other, from time to time when someone needs a virtual hug or a bit of a chat – having that check-in twice a day has been really nice. It is funny how in a busy hotel when you are working 24/7 you can go a few days without really speaking to someone.”
She adds: “Everyone in the core team from the accounts department to the owners is in on the calls. It has really highlighted the importance of communicating regularly internally as well as externally.”
Bailiffscourt Hotel & Spa’s success derives from its offer of a high level of authenticity and a fabulous General Manager, she says. “If you want the real-deal English experience without being frilly and posh and intimidating, we give our guests a wonderful, friendly and memorable experience.