November 25, 2011
Despite the economic downturn, a major hotel overlooking Rutland Water in England’s smallest county is surviving better than most thanks to the steadying influence of its mixed-use resort operation enjoying 90 per cent occupancy levels.
Barnsdale Hall Hotel in Rutland, near Leicestershire, is pretty much the perfect example of a contemporary multi-functional mixed-use hotel resort.
Barnsdale Country Club offers a variety of timeshare accommodations
Barnsdale gets the most from its land assets with the build of timeshare villas in its spacious grounds
Set in conservation parkland overlooking the picturesque Rutland Water, the complex also known as Barnsdale Country Club, features 66 hotel bedrooms as well as timeshare accommodation, bars and restaurants, conference facilities, spa and leisure facilities – including a 22-metre swimming pool, mini and crazy golf courses, tennis and squash courts, a football pitch, bowling green and even a helipad.
Russell Waters, the hotel’s general manager said: “The helipad is popular with wedding parties as a way for the groom and best man to arrive.”
Weddings are big business for the venue, though bookings aren’t as strong for 2012 as the credit crunch continues to bite.
Rolling with the punches dealt by economic recession is something Barnsdale is good at. The owner and management have been quick to adapt to change over the years, and indeed the hotel operation – which came after rather than before the timeshare element – was introduced as a way to handle the recession of the early 1980s.
“The owner was first introduced to timeshare while on holiday in the 1970s and really liked the concept,” explained Mr Waters.
Grounds for growth
Seeing the business potential of timeshare, the property owner developed a small timeshare operation of four apartments within the main Barnsdale Hall building, a former hunting lodge built in 1890.
The spacious grounds of Barnsdale were put to good use in generating further revenues from timeshare operation with the building of individual lodges in the grounds.
“Sales started well, but were hit by recession in the late 1970s and early 1980s,” said Waters. “At the same time, the corporate market was holding up – the area’s steel and concrete industries were doing well back then – so the resort shifted its focus to corporate business.”
The move initially meant converting some of the timeshare apartments to hotel rooms – the size of which still impresses guests – before more accommodation was added. This included adding further timeshare units in the form of apartments, mews cottages and timber-constructed lodges, sleeping two to eight people. The resort was affiliated to RCI in 1992, and has held RCI Gold Crown status almost permanently since then.
Hotel guests now stay in the main hall or one of two accommodation blocks, with nightly rates ranging from £96 for a single room to £525 for a suite. A timeshare week costs from as little as £1,200, with maintenance fees from £500. The resort also offers a rental and resale service on behalf of its timeshare owners, which it operates via its own website and through third parties.
“Our timeshare prices represent great value for money, not only when compared to the hotel rates, but because of the additional benefits they bring,” explained Waters.
“One of the big draws is that timeshare owners get concessionary use of leisure facilities all year round, which means 80 per cent of our owners live locally.”
With the leisure club charging annual fees of £540 for an individual and £925 for a couple, it’s not surprising that gym users see the incentive of buying timeshare at Barnsdale.
“People moving to the area come to the resort to use the gym facilities and then find out they can buy here,” said Waters. “They soon realise that the maintenance fee effectively gives them a cheaper membership to the gym and leisure facilities. Many then either bank their week with RCI for exchange purposes or rent it out.”
Waters values the benefits of being an RCI affiliate. Plus, having guests on site in whatever capacity brings revenue-generating opportunities. The hotel’s restaurants and spa facilities all benefit from the increased footfall of leisure visitors as well as the high proportion of timeshare exchange guests – which can be as many as 70 per cent at any one time.
Rental and exchange guests also offer marketing potential for resales and unsold weeks, but the sales tactics are generally low key. Brochures are sent to exchange guests, while fliers offering incentive packages are distributed to conference attendees, wedding guests or left in hotel rooms. The resort rarely holds formal presentations or open days, according to Waters.
“We run promotions at certain times but otherwise it’s very low key,” he said. “We have a welcome morning for guests and they can visit our sales office during the week if they choose – it’s very relaxed, which happens to be the best way to sell.
“Having said that, we have a responsibility to our 2,500 owners – and the owners’ committee, which pays us to manage the resort on a rolling three-year contract – to keep money coming in, so selling weeks or helping owners to resell their weeks, is important for the health of the resort.”
Waters said the resort has sold around 100 weeks during the past 12 months, with 70 per cent being resales.
“That’s not a bad figure in the current climate, when hotel bookings are down and less people are going away on holiday,” he said. “We’ve seen the way the recession is likely to affect our wedding and conference business, so the timeshare operation provides a steadying element.”
Waters said the timeshare operation also helped to stave off some of the effects of recession – as well as seasonality – by maintaining a year-round solid occupancy level. Its average hotel occupancy dipped below 70 per cent during 2011, but timeshare occupancy remained at over 90 per cent.
Management funds and revenue generation through food and beverage and other areas contribute to the ‘steadying’ aspect, helping cash flow and enabling the resort to maintain operations and staffing levels (with nearly 120 staff Barnsdale is one the largest year-round employers in the area).
The higher occupancy levels enjoyed by timeshare also help justify the original decision to make the most of the hotel’s extensive land by building wooden timeshare lodges.
“It’s something that all hotels with land plots that they can develop should automatically consider,” said Waters.
“We’ve seen lots of hotels go into receivership during the past couple of years and having the timeshare element has kept us afloat.
“I don’t think we’ve seen the end of the recession yet, but the mixed-use model has proved very effective in overcoming some of its problems and will certainly help us to ride it out.”