Explore the amazing safari park which has recently introduced brand-new accommodation ahead of its reopening. Port Lympne reveals how they help guests make the most of their stay and what they do to maximise their marketing opportunities. By Abbey Warne
Europe’s only animal focussed holiday destination is closer than you think.
Situated near Ashford in Kent, Port Lympne Safari Park, Wild Animal Reserve and Hotel, provides a new level of luxury stays and fantastic visitor experiences, which you can take inspiration from.
The award-winning visitor attraction includes a beautiful selection of luxurious accommodation, fascinating sights, and exotic restaurants, promoted by their marketing teams’ incredible efforts.
Port Lympne Safari Park is also home to some endangered animals and is owned by The Aspinall Foundation, which has projects both in the UK and abroad which aim to protect rare species.
Their sister park, Howletts Wildlife Park, is also based in Kent and owned by the foundation. Together, both of the parks are among the UK’s most popular visitor sites.
Port Lympne is the only one of the two attractions that includes accommodation.
Their hotel has an unbelievable selection of luxury overnight stay options; from lodges, cottages and glamping to unique treehouse suites. There is something suitable for everyone.
Sales, Marketing and Fundraising Commercial Director, Samantha Bailey, started working for them just over a year ago. However, for over six months within the past year, the site has been closed.
Nevertheless, it’s clear that Samantha is passionate about promoting what the park has to offer, including their en-suite pods, which guests can look forward to when the park reopens its doors.
“Our entry level accommodation is the Pinewood Pods, and we’ve just upgraded some of those to be en-suite, which is fantastic,” said Samantha.
The park has a jaw-dropping 14 different types of on-site accommodation, which have seen increased success in the last year, with the rise of staycations.
“I think going over the whole market, we saw a similar trend when we went back last year after the last lockdown,” explained Samantha.
“People could travel so we did really well in short breaks, and it was really brilliant for us.”
A stay at the park that is definitely worth mentioning, is The Mansion House, a stunning eight-bedroom, 20th Century former entertainment venue, which has seen its fair share of famous faces.
“It’s a 1917 mansion and the rooms are named after people like Charlie Chaplin, Winston Churchill, Lawrence of Arabia stayed there, it’s steeped in wonderful history, and it’s beautiful.”
Accommodation at the park has witnessed some significant developments over the years, which is certainly something to take inspiration from, especially if you want to change up your own business.
“I think it was only seven or eight years ago, we were literally just using the hotel. Our first accommodation, Giraffe Lodge, was opened in 2011, and then each year we’ve just built on more and more,” said Samantha.
More recent additions to the park’s accommodation include Tiger Lodge, which opened in April 2017, and Lion Lodge, which opened in February 2019.
These have been very popular with guests and Samantha said: “There’s a massive waiting list. There’s literally just a handful of dates left. Weekends have gone already.”
This year, when the park re-opens, they will be opening a new type of accommodation, their much-anticipated Leopard Creek.
Samantha said this includes the Wigwams, Cabins and Cubs.
Victoria Aspinall, the wife of The Aspinall Foundation’s chair, Damian, designed the interiors of these gorgeous lodgings.
“She’ll do a mood board and design all the rooms, but all are different. So, if you go into the treehouses, they’re similar, but there will be artwork on the walls,” said Samantha.
“High end, luxury quality is the look she’s going for.”
The Cubs are ideal for couples and have been designed with comfort and great views in mind.
“We’ve got two units of Cubs. They sleep two and are cosy, luxurious, shepherd huts with panoramic views, underfloor heating, en-suite bathrooms, and a wood-burning stove.”
Meanwhile, the sister accommodation to the Cubs are Port Lympne’s Cabins which have luxurious modern facilities, perfect for families.
“We have three units sleeping four each. Luxurious cabins with modern amenities, a cosy mezzanine nook for the children to sleep in, with wild neighbours and views across the park,” said Samantha.
The park also hosts glamping experiences for visitors in the Pinewood Pods, Giraffe Lodge, Bear Lodge and more.
When visiting the Safari Park, Port Lympne goes above and beyond to help visitors construct their itineraries so that they can make the most of their stay.
“We use ‘GuestJoy’ and they send our guests an email saying ‘Would you like to book your animal encounters and experiences?’ So by utilising that workflow via the emails you get, you can start building up an itinerary,” explained Samantha.
She added that their customer service team calls guests before their stay if they have not yet booked an experience, or to see if they have any additional requirements or needs.
“And then the same for families. We just make sure that, for example, if someone has got a dietary requirement or special needs, making sure they tell us about that and then we can direct them in the right way or the right restaurants to book into.”
Samantha emphasised the importance of communicating with customers to ensure they have an itinerary that perfectly suits their needs.
The park has a range of activities for visitors to enjoy, suitable for a wide range of people, from families to couples, and kids to adults. Some of which include golf buggies, safaris and more.
“There’s something for everybody,” said Samantha.
“Then for the families for example, there’s different encounters that you can do for the younger children; You can do a VIP safari with a ranger and you can have your own ranger for the day amongst other things.”
As well as having their fair share of accommodation, the park is home to some amazing restaurants, one which they have just revamped.
“The Garden Room is a beautiful setting in our Aspinall suite that we’ve literally just refurbished,” said Samantha.
But if you don’t fancy the Garden Room, guests can visit one of ort Lympne’s other eateries and even just “go for a pizza”.
The park also has its very own marketing department, dedicated to making sure people come back.
“We have an in-house marketing team,” explained Samantha.
“We send out emails to our database of existing bookers. Once they’ve booked, they get an email with special offers and details, or we might do a spotlight encounter experience and tell them what’s included.”
Of course, their social media and PR connections are vital elements of running the business.
“We use our social media platforms to encourage people to visit the park. We use all digital channels in order to do that,” said Samantha.
“We also have a PR agency that we work closely with and if we were launching something new, for example, the new Leopard Creek accommodation, then maybe we can do a leopard experience.”
The park also hosts competitions on their social media platforms to engage with potential guests.
“It’s thinking about all the different aspects of your business for use on your social that isn’t just ‘Book a room here,’” she explained.
“It’s thinking about offers, working out who you’re trying to attract, and then finding out the route to market and trying a little bit of everything.”
Samantha explained the crucial publicity tasks they complete when something new is launched, which include writing press releases, doing interviews and even hosting their own ‘media breakfasts.’
“We also do a media breakfast, which is really important for any venue to do.
“It allows you to mix your local contacts that you work with, helping you push local stories as well as encouraging your national contacts to get the story out.”
The park pushes out teasers every so often to give their guests a taste of what’s coming up and encourages visitors to buy care packages for animals, to help keep their audience engaged.
“You can buy care packages for our animals whilst we’re closed and don’t have any income coming in. You can also buy lunch for a lion, so that’s quite nice,” said Samantha.
“That’s a really nice way to help the park. It’s all great content and keeps building the narrative.
“It’s not just about selling our accommodation or selling our experiences. It’s also a nice sort of charity angle.”
Samantha emphasised the importance of reaching out to local Journalists, and the publicity that it can bring to the table.
“Reach out to your local contacts. Here we have Inside Kent, Kent Life etc. We keep in touch with local Journalists and make sure we are always reaching out to them with stories.
“We always want to push when we’ve got offers on too,” said Samantha.
“So things like short break sales or boxing day sales. Then in-between those, we push for actual sales and give them lots of content.
“Like when the baby cubs were born, we invite the media down,” she explained.
The park welcomes the media, along with bloggers, influencers and celebrities to stay in their various accommodations and eat at their restaurants, knowing they will write about them online or post on social media.
Samantha said: “We invite local bloggers, influencers, celebrities, and local media to come and stay and eat in our restaurants. If appropriate, we’ll offer them a free night stay if they’re going to write some editorial.”
Port Lympne believes offering free overnight stays is worth it, but only when the people coming to stay have the right audience for the park, who will gain great publicity in return.
“Definitely, 100% it is [worth offering free stays]. If you get an enquiry from a celebrity or an influencer, you need to look at their reach and remember it’s not always about size,” said Samantha.
“It’s about who they’re in front of and if they’re the right audience for your business to get in front of.”
Port Lympne’s marketing strategy is very successful, evidenced by their accommodation being booked fast, as well as some of the influencers and celebs who have visited the park.
“We’ve had Millie Mackintosh, who was on Made in Chelsea. She was fabulous.
“Rio Ferdinand came with Kate, which was brilliant. Alesha Dixon came here too…
So, we’ve been really lucky. And because they’ve had such a great time, they post about it and tag us in the posts which helps to widen our reach.”
The park also has their very own media packs, which could be something to consider for your own business.
Media Packs tell writers and influencers exactly what they can expect from you during their visit and what you would like in return.
“We always give them a little heads up about what we want,” explained Samantha.
“We outline what we want them to post and what we want them to tag us in on social media.”
A final piece of marketing wisdom from Samantha, for owners of hospitality businesses, is to know your audience so that you can attract the right people to promote your stays.
“If it’s a couple, consider who are the sort of hot celebrities or influencers you want to come and stay, because it would be their target market who see and read about you,” she said.
“When they post on social media about their stay with you, that will encourage the people within their own audience.”
Samantha believes that even working with just one influencer can create a range of opportunities for your business in the future.
“Through working with one [influencer/celeb] you tend to get loads of others enquiring off the back of those who stayed here, also requesting to come and stay.
“I’d say that 99% of the time, it was them reaching out to us,” said Samantha.
“Once you’ve got their contact details, it’s about making sure that you look after them.
“Send them updates, pictures, and things that they can post on their platforms even when they’re not staying,” said Samantha.
SAMANTHA’S 5 TOP TIPS
1. Communicate with customers to understand their needs
2. Know your audience and keep on top of the trends that your audience follow, e.g. using locally sourced produce
3. Stay in regular contact with your media contacts and send regular updates
4. Consider hosting a media breakfast
5. If you invite celebrities and influencers for a free stay, make it clear what you expect from them in return
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