We spoke to Sophie Tanner, Director of Sales & Marketing at Historic Sussex Hotels, and Chris Alger, General Manager at Bailiffscourt Hotel in Climping, about what is needed for tourism and hospitality industries in Coastal West Sussex to thrive in 2022 and beyond.
Tell us about Historic Sussex Hotels and Bailiffscourt. How long have you been up and running and what’s on offer? What makes you different?
Chris: At Bailiffscourt Hotel, we’ve got lots of things which make it special. We have log fires in the bedrooms and we’re 200 metres away from the sea, yet we’re set in 39 acres of land.
We even have an underground tunnel that links the main house to the thatch house. The history and the way it was created is a complete one-off. It looks like a 12th or 14th century building, but it was built between 1927 and 1932 by Lord and Lady Moyne.
Sophie: Bailiffscourt is part of Historic Sussex Hotels – three exceptional, privately-owned hotels in West Sussex, a business firmly rooted in family which began in 1957. As a family we are passionate about delighting our guests when they visit us with fabulous four-posters, dreamy spas and pools, delicious food, amazing treatments, and perhaps most importantly, enthusiastic, friendly and professional service.
The pandemic hit hospitality and tourism industries particularly badly. How did you manage the crisis?
Chris: What was interesting about lockdown is that it really pulled us together as a management team. Going into the first lockdown, it took us quite a while to digest and process the shock and then how to run an empty hotel. We worked really hard to understand what was required and by the next lockdown, we knew what we were doing and were able to implement the change with calm efficiency. These are old buildings that need constant care and attention so there was always someone on site to oversee this.
The 2021 lockdown was a long stint. When we came out of it in May, there was a wonderful togetherness within the management and the team. We’ve also learnt an awful lot about what’s actually important in hospitality and what counts for our guests. In 2022 we’re looking forward to welcoming back all those guests who were ‘forced’ to staycate in the UK last year and discovered that they actually really enjoyed dipping their toes in the English waters!
It’s customer care and the staff that are key to our success and to guests enjoying their stays. That interaction and friendliness is key – we’ve had customers stay who had not seen their families for months. Having three generations of families come together once again and being able to cater for all their individual needs – those are the golden moments that make it really special for people.
Thinking aside from the pandemic, what is needed for the tourism and hospitality industries to thrive in coastal West Sussex, in 2022 and beyond?
Sophie: Throughout the pandemic, we sought guidance from the government, local council and UK Hospitality (the voice for our industry) on how best to re-open, keep our guests safe and start the road to recovery. It wasn’t easy deciphering the guidance, restrictions and expectations of these governing bodies and applying it to our business in a sensible manner but we got there.
What we most crave is clear planning, and one message to come from government and councils, which is not last minute – a strategy that allow us to develop our own strategy. One of the biggest challenges was having three different hotels which are under three different councils, who were sending out three different messages.
All the support has been hugely appreciated. Going forward it would be great to see a continued unit front to promote Sussex including coastal West Sussex as a tourist destination with a sharing of resources and ideas.
Chris: I think the key message is staycations. I’m really hoping that the British public has realised that the English countryside is beautiful. I think hopefully we’ve opened up people’s eyes so they see they don’t have to travel far and go through all that stress and hassle for a good holiday.
Sophie: Our message in the past two years has been: Travel less, stay longer, slow down: Climping is closer than the Caribbean and Sussex is closer than St Tropez! It’s a bit tongue in cheek but it went down well and we will continue to promote Sussex as the ultimate staycation destination. What other county has such sparkling credentials? Sparkling Wine (an abundance of award-winning vineyards), sparkling sea (the coastline) and sparkling stars in the Dark Sky Reserve – it is this trio that makes Sussex unique.
Whatever message we choose to promote as a county, it needs to be clear and consistent and span all industries, in order to generate ongoing promotion for Sussex and generate the staycations which we will all benefit from.
What needs to happen to help the sector grow?
Sophie: I think it would be of huge benefit to present a united tourism programme and strategy for all of Sussex: East, West, Mid and Coastal. We’re very close to London and very accessible, but not a lot of people necessarily know that. At the moment it’s quite fragmented – I totally understand there are challenges of working with multiple agencies, districts and councils, but this has led to multiple Sussex websites which can be confusing for a visitor to know which way to turn and indeed for local businesses to know where to advertise. The Cotswolds or Kent are excellent examples of counties with a clear identity and tourist website, so UK travellers know what to expect from the area, as do travellers from overseas.
To have something similar for Sussex would be great. I know there’s some amazing things happening at Experience West Sussex, the Great Sussex Way, and Sussex Modern, as well as many other initiatives, locally and county-wide, so I’m sure it’s a work in progress and we are keen to do everything we can to support this.
Thinking about skills, how can you make it more attractive for prospective staff?
Chris: It’s really high on our agenda. I’ve worked in hospitality all my life and I do believe it’s a lifestyle, but recruitment is a problem for the industry in general. Hotels in Europe are struggling with this too.
I think we need to look at apprenticeships and think about the long term, so when someone applies they can see a clear career path ahead and we’ll support people to progress and develop. NVQs have received negative press in the past but if you’re actually working, an NVQ gives you the knowledge you need to progress. I think for 2022 that’s going to be a focus – building that framework.
What are your aims for 2022? What are your predictions?
Chris: we’re hoping 2022 is going to be a bit more normal and stable – and that many of the guests we’ve had stay in the past two years come back to us. With this in mind,we’ll be promoting staycations. From an environmental and sustainability point of view, we really want to bring the team together to share ideas and develop a strategy that brings results,
Sophie: In terms of tourism trends, I expect we’ll continue to see the rise of the catch-up guest making up for the experiences missed – the big birthdays and multi-generational gatherings. 2022 will be a time for re-connection and making memories. There will be continued spotlight on sustainability and a rebound of wellness and people wanting to reset their health.
Last year we launched a Cycle Electric Sussex self-guided package, which was extremely popular. There is a golden triangle that connects our three Historic Sussex Hotels. Working with the fabulous team at Cycling for Softies, we created an e-biking tour that showcases the Sussex countryside in all its beauty, with routes that take you past vineyards to the seaside, along the coast, through rolling chalky hills to verdant polo fields.
Active travel will be a growing trend, as well as the rise of the solo traveller – we all need to get away after the past two years.
What can visitors enjoy in Coastal West Sussex? What makes the region exciting/different for tourists and day-trippers on staycations?
Sophie: As I mentioned before, it’s easy to say what makes Sussex sparkle and a great region for all to visit. It’s the sea, the award-winning wines and the stars! And once they are here, they’ll discover so much more.
How can the tourism/hospitality industries become more sustainable? What support is needed for businesses on this?
Sophie: When people talk about sustainability, it seems an enormous and insurmountable challenge, and difficult to know where to start. Our aim is to listen and learn from experts, to start looking at small changes which we can do consistently that can have a positive effect and then build on these for a medium and long term strategy.
Support from local councils is always welcome – guidelines for things we might need to look out for are really helpful. A lot of our partners have already implemented really strong sustainability programmes, including Temple Spa products.
Chris: Chichester District Council collect our waste and they’ve been great at talking to us about how they can help us. They’ve shared with us tools to help process food waste more efficiently and we are always keen to learn more. We’re keen to do the right thing, and ensure we invest time and resources efficiently and effectively.