Strikes, ash clouds and sunshine add up to boon for South Lakes hoteliers


South Lakes hotel and leisure operators are reporting one of the strongest summer trading periods on record after a dry and sunny start to the holiday season.


The record dry spell during the first six months of the year, coupled with the ash cloud fiasco and strike problems affecting airlines, has resulted in strong trading for May and June, according to many hoteliers.


Barney Cunliffe, director of Gilpin Lodge country house hotel in Windermere, said sales are about 10 per cent up on the same period last year, and bookings for the rest of the summer are strong.


Barney, who saw Gilpin Lodge collect the Small Hotel of the Year Award at the English Tourist Board awards 2010, said: “Despite the recent rainfall, we’ve had excellent weather in May and June and, coupled with the strikes that have affected British Airways and the ash cloud crisis in the spring, this has contributed massively to our sales.


“May and June have been two of the strongest trading months we’ve ever had and I’d say each month this year has been about 10 per cent up on 2009 levels.


“What we’ve found is that rather than going abroad, many couples and families have been staying at home for a few days and then mixing several days accommodation across the spectrum, from bed and breakfast to quality hotels, to create their own bespoke holiday.”


Helen Henderson, owner of the Sun Hotel at Troutbeck Bridge, has also had a busy start to the summer.


Helen, who took over the running of the hotel with her husband Ron in February last year, said: “When we first opened our room occupancy was around 45 per cent, which at the time we thought was good considering we had just reopened and it was out of season. It’s steadily gone up and that figure this February was 75 per cent and is now regularly in the high 80s and early 90s, June being our best month yet at over 98 per cent occupancy. Even the recent rainfall has not affected us and at the moment we don’t have even one room spare.”


John Serginson, managing director of the Lakeland Cottage Company, a holiday cottage lettings agency with 85 luxury properties on its books, thinks the trend is a result of the Lake District “upping its game”.


John, who runs the business with wife Clare, said: “We noticed a significant increase last year and business has remained strong this year too. I think the Lake District has definitely upped its game in the last few years in terms of the quality. We have invested a lot of money in getting our marketing right and producing a quality website which has probably been the biggest factor in our success.


“It’s not just the usual hotspots like Windermere and Ambleside, people are now casting the net far wider in search of quality and places like Cartmell, which people may not have considered before because it’s on the outskirts of the National Park, are doing well because the pubs and restaurants have all improved.”


Colin Johnson, a specialist advisor to tourism businesses at Moore and Smalley Chartered Accountants and Business Advisors, says this picture is reflected across the region.


He said: “The financial crisis and poor exchange rates in 2009 encouraged more people to holiday at home and the Lakes benefitted from the increase in UK based holidaymakers. During the early part of this season we’ve had the good weather, as well as a number of other external factors which have given a further boost to the sector.


“Our clients are telling us that this year has been one of the best in recent memory. The challenge now for hotel and leisure operators is to build on this trend, as I think the Lakes has a real opportunity to use the events of the last couple of years to make holidaying at home the norm.


“Businesses need to make sure they understand their customers and that they are offering the highest levels of customer service and quality, as this is what will keep people coming back to the region for many years to come.”


According to figures from Visit England released in December 2009, holiday trips in the UK were up 18 per cent and visitor spend was up 13 per cent on 2008, largely due to the recession. Analysts expect a similar trend in 2010.


Under its new tourism policy the coalition government wants to increase the percentage of the UK population holidaying at home from 36 per cent to 50 per cent.