Suffolk . . . a great place for a holiday
PUBLISHED: 13:06 06 January 2015 | UPDATED: 13:06 06 January 2015
More and more people are discovering what a great place Suffolk is for a short break or holiday. And many of them already live in the county. George Bradley, managing director of letting agency Suffolk Secrets talks to Martin Chambers about ensuring they have a wonderful stay
George Bradley admits that the tourism sector was absolutely new to him when he took on his present post as general manager of the holiday cottage-letting agency Suffolk Secrets at the start of 2014.
However, having made the switch from retail giants Waitrose to the holiday industry, he is now well aware of how alike retail and tourism are.
“The tourism sector is very, very similar to retail in lots of ways,” he says. “There is high customer demand, they want something new and they want to see something exciting in the marketplace. That was what retail was all about. Putting the right product in front of customers was a huge part of retail and is a massive part of what we do in cottage agencies.”
George has brought his experience of the John Lewis and Waitrose online operation to Suffolk Secrets, a holiday letting agency with more than 400 cottages throughout the county and with 80% of the bookings made through the website. With bookings for 2015 up by 30% on this year, it looks like he has chosen the right moment to be back working in his native county.
The agency is 100% graded with VisitEngland, with the gradings on the properties ranging from three to five stars.
“We find that it gives our customers a basis to search,” says George. “Some are looking for three stars and some for four or five. It enables them to filter what they want when they are searching on our website which is a dominant driver for people who are looking in this area.
“It is a very useful classification system for us because it does reward properties that have spent a lot on certain facilities and certain levels of quality. It reflects in the price levels of those properties.”
The star rating reflects the quality of fixtures and fittings and the standards of quality in a cottage. It also takes into account the personal touches, where the owners have installed Netflix, for example.
Broadband connection comes with three quarters of cottages let by Suffolk Secrets. “The advantage of wi-fi is that people can stay longer if they can connect with work, in the evenings checking up on emails, but also for the kids because they use social media and want to stay in touch with friends,” says George.
“It also helps them to research the area. Gone are the days when you would have packs of leaflets. Now you can look on the web to see what’s going on and get up-to-date information on the area. Wi-fi has changed the expectations of people. They use it to find out what is going on in the wider world as well. And if people do want to shut off, they can do that.”
Suffolk Secrets has invested well in its web presence, making it interesting and informative. “People don’t just use it as a way to book a cottage,” says George, “but also as a guide to the area. We spend a lot making sure it reflects the area as well.
“Those who book with us can get lots of different offers. It might be 10% off Adnams to go and eat in one of their restaurants, or a deal to go on the Coastal Voyager in Southwold. The website is a vessel for the county as well as much as it is for us as a business.”
The cottages are spread across the county, but Southwold, Aldeburgh and Woodbridge is the heartland, with areas like Long Melford, Lavenham and Bury St Edmunds doing well.
“We need places like Woodbridge, Southwold and Aldeburgh to deliver a great product to tourists as well. We are very keen to develop those links,” says George. Suffolk Secrets works closely with lots of local businesses. It may be simply stopping for a conversation on the high street to take the pulse and ask what the general feeling is.
“We are also able to give them indicators about bookings. Our bookings for next year at the same point year on year are up 30%. We think that is partially down to how well Suffolk is now viewed as a county. The 30% increase for next year is a massive figure and we are really excited about 2015’s potential. Southwold, Aldeburgh and Woodbridge are very highly thought of.”
More and more Londoners are coming for Suffolk breaks as they realise how easy it is to get to Suffolk. Areas like Woodbridge, the Shotley peninsula and the south of the county can take less than an hour to reach from north London. While some of Suffolk Secrets’ customers come from France, Germany, and particularly Holland, an interesting fact is that one of their strongest postcodes is IP, with people coming on holiday perhaps from the west of the county to go to the coast for a short break, or a week’s stay.
Flexibility and freedom are the buzzwords for self-catering accommodation as people hunt for good breaks with great value.
“What helps with towns like Southwold, Aldeburgh, Woodbridge and Bury as well as others in the area is that they are centres,” says George. “You can dump your car and spend three days to a week easily shopping and going to restaurants. There is a huge choice there. If you compare that to other counties, they may have a lot going on, but they are spread out very thinly.
“Aldeburgh and Southwold in particular have a lot going on in their areas. You can spend a lot of time there doing what you like, and of course they both have great beaches. That really does help the offer.”
The quality of the breaks offered is reflected in the loyalty of the customers, with about 40% booking again year on year. Customers range from older couples who go back to the same cottage every year and tend to look on it as their holiday home, to younger couples who upgrade to bigger properties as they get older and have children, and perhaps sharing with other families.
With properties able to accommodate two to 14 people, Suffolk Secrets are seeing multi-generational holidays becoming more popular. “You can take Granny and Granddad away for a holiday in summer or at Christmas, and we do see a lot of that,” says George.