The managing director of the Swinton Estate near Ripon in North Yorkshire tells Caroline Baldwin about creating a luxury hotel brand and allowing Monica Galetti and Giles Coren to go behind the scenes for an episode of Amazing Hotels.
Can you give us a little background on the Swinton Estate?
The Swinton Estate has been in the ownership of the Cunliffe-Lister family since the 1880s.
During the past 20 years, Lord and Lady Masham have been responsible for the launch of several successful enterprises on the estate, including the conversion of the family home, Swinton Park, into a hotel in 2001, the Swinton Cookery School (in 2003), Swinton Birds of Prey (2006), Swinton Bivouac glamping campsite and café (2012) and the Swinton Country Club & Spa (2017).
In 2019 the fishing school and shooting ground were developed and permissive paths in the 200 acres of private parkland were opened to the public.
The estate now employs in the region of 180 staff.
In your mind, what defines ‘luxury' in the world of hotels?
‘Luxury' is a frequently used term in the hotel world these days. For many it's associated with style, richness of fabrics and the high levels of service on offer.
These are all things that Swinton has, but over the past few years, the estate has revolved around having a much broader experience of luxury. For many customers, having time to walk in the park or up on the moor, being able to pamper themselves in the spa or simply learning a new skill is part of their luxury experience.
How do you stand out in the luxury market?
Within the team we often talk about the 20,000 acres we have, along with the need for us to have 20,000 reasons for someone to visit Swinton, which should hopefully mean everyone is able to do something memorable when they are here. An example of this is when you stay at the hotel as residents, you can join the complimentary daily activities, which could be fly-casting lessons on the front lawn, a deer walk with the ranger or a macaron-making session in the cookery school. The wine tasting and cocktail making are also popular.
Are you expecting a busy summer season once restrictions end and foreign holidays are less certain for UK residents this year?
When we emerged from the first lockdown, we were lucky compared to other hotels as people looked for countryside hotels with plenty of space. Over the summer and early autumn we were experiencing 90% occupancy and we hope for a similar bounce when things are allowed to reopen. The UK domestic market has always been where 80% of our business came from prior to the pandemic, so we are well set. We are already seeing strong signs from the holiday cottage bookings, so fingers crossed.
The Swinton Estate is featured in an episode of Amazing Hotels: Life Beyond the Lobby on BBC, which airs this month. What was it like to let a film crew behind the scenes at the Swinton Estate?
The team began filming in October and while we all had our slight reservations filming under social distancing and everyone wearing masks indoors, the series producer quickly put us at ease with what was being proposed and how under Covid-19 restrictions it was all going to be done safely from the BBC and the estate's point of view.
I haven't seen it yet, but it will be interesting to see how some of the team come across.
Do Monica and Giles really get stuck into work at the hotel? Which of the two would you hire given the chance?
They certainly do and both really want to do the job properly. I think Giles would be an excellent addition to the team front of house, particularly in the concierge department, and Monica's food knowledge is amazing. But sorry Giles, I think I would have to go with Monica – she is probably more used to the hours required!
I think Giles would be an excellent addition to the team front of house, particularly in the concierge department!
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