Richard Harrison, managing director of Warwickshire-based No Ordinary Hospitality Management (NOHM), breaks down the five-year mission to offer a complete staycation package within the grounds of a 12th century country house hotel.
The disruption to the UK travel and hospitality industries in recent years has offered opportunities to approach destinations in a new way.
Following the pandemic, the industry saw a 41 per cent increase in staycation bookings according to Go Compare – and 22 per cent of people are looking to spend less overall on their holidays and are steering away from going aboard.
This, combined with the cost-of-living crisis, means we have an opportunity to bring guests in to stay longer.
NOHM manages multiple venues across Coventry and the wider Midlands area including Coombe Abbey Hotel. These changes to the way people travel have accelerated our decision to bring a new leisure offer to market – though in truth, it has been years in the making.
The launch of Go Ape in 2019 represented our first major diversion in our approach to the estate at Coombe, and after a delay due to Covid, we have now taken further steps to grow our onsite leisure provision.
A huge part of the expansion of our site – and brand – more recently has been the repurposing of our visitors’ centre at the entrance to the park into a retail and leisure portal we are calling The Avenue at Coombe.
It includes our 1950s inspired family-friendly dessert parlour called The Sundae Club and our new and improved Café in the Park. We have also introduced The Abbey Artisan Market, which offers a range of high-quality local produce for people to enjoy as part of a picnic or to take home, and Flowers at Coombe helps to make occasions extra special by offering floristry services to locals and hotel visitors alike.
Beyond this, people still have access to the incredible natural world once they head out into the park with an accessible bird hide, pond-dipping, fishing, wildflower meadows, and three walking trails, including views of the West Terrace Gardens designed by Capability Brown.
In addition, we are about to launch a new nature-inspired children’s play area – which is also inspired by royals who resided here at Coombe in the 1600’s, helping us to preserve the incredible history of the location. We are also one of the only locations in the country that guests can go punting in our beautiful but often overlooked moat.
The result is a space that guests can treat as a self-sufficient resort, adding real value to that moment of complete immersion on arrival that one associates with classic country escapes. This value and breadth of experience on offer is expanding our drive time and customer reach to new levels, but also growing our share of the Warwickshire, West Midlands, and East Midlands hotel market.
Every new project launched under the NOHM brand at Coombe Abbey has contributed to this sense of complete separation from city life – despite the hotel being just a few minutes outside of Coventry.
We have utilised a range of expertise to bring this new offer to life and ultimately do more with the site we inherited a few years ago. Insights from our sales teams and the knowledge of our on-site management have allowed us to identify areas of improvement, commercialisation and potential audiences, and now our facilities, marketing, and customer-facing teams are enabling us to deliver these changes.
A year-or-two on from the lifting of Covid-19 restrictions, some travel habits have remained, and the ideal holiday looks completely different to five years ago.
With all this in mind and, in some ways, a new product at our disposal, we launched our 2023 Staycation package earlier this year. The package includes a two-night stay in a feature room with breakfast and a three-course dinner in our Garden Room Restaurant on both days, with everything just mentioned also available to enjoy.
The event calendar also continues to evolve and we launch the new ‘Swing and Fizz’ event this summer which includes drinks, live music and a light summer menu served on the West Terrace with waterside views giving people even more reason to extend their stay with us. This is on top of our famous medieval banquets – still running after 40 years – as well as private dining in rooms full of character to fit any celebration.
Coombe Abbey has always had the appeal of a country escape from city life. I arrived in 2018 wanting grow its reputation as a country house hotel, but also make use of the incredible space and expertise in the hospitality industry that puts the venue in such high esteem of its visitors.
In our previous visitor hub, we had the space, and thus the potential to grow an in-house retail and leisure offer. And now, after Covid, and with the creation of NOHM as a way to bring a host of hospitality management expertise under one umbrella, we feel we have raised the bar for the way people can experience our hotel and park and plan to work in this way with our other sites, partners and any other potential clients who choose to work with us on the commercialisation of their business.
We work very closely with the tourism board and are patrons of Destination Coventry, which means we have objectives to bring in more business to support the growth of the city and its community – which is always on our mind as well as the need to look for ways to broaden our horizons.
We have already received Staycation bookings from across the country. But what’s most encouraging is that local people from Coventry and Warwickshire, families and couples on our doorstep, have booked a staycation too.
They recognise this is not only a convenient, stress-free way, and affordable way to have a memorable holiday, but a fantastic new way to experience Coombe Abbey in all its glory.