Hotels find there’s still room at top in market for luxury breaks

AMID the economic doom and gloom, it would seem to many like commercial suicide.

But a series of luxury hotel developers are proving the doubters wrong and adding to an ever-expanding portfolio of exclusive country retreats and city locations throughout Yorkshire.

While concerns have been growing that mid-market hotels are being hit particularly hard, luxury stays away appear to be proving recession-proof.

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More and more guests are looking to save up their cash to treat themselves to a five star experience amid the economic slump, instead of heading out on a whim and simply adding to mounting credit card bills.

Welcome to Yorkshire’s chief executive, Gary Verity, acknowledged there is a growing trend towards luxury stays which he claimed will help bolster the region’s multi-billion pound tourism industry.

Tourism in Yorkshire is worth £7bn annually, and the industry employs almost 250,000 workers.

Mr Verity said: “The economic squeeze affecting the majority of the country does not seem to be impacting on those who want a luxury experience.

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“It’s almost as if in times of doom and gloom people crave escapism more and are prepared to save up to experience a special getaway from reality.

“Hundreds of millions of pounds are being invested in new Yorkshire hotels to cater for this market, which just goes to show that tourism is one of the few sectors that can survive economic downturns and thrive in the bad times as well as the good.

“Prosecco and pints go hand in hand in Yorkshire these days.”

The tourism hotspot of North Yorkshire has emerged as an epicentre for new ventures to sit alongside the county’s already impressive list of luxury hotels.

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Among the latest additions is Raithwaite Hall, which underwent a £30m renovation before opening in October last year.

The 45-bedroom luxury hotel in Sandsend, near Whitby, is set within 80 acres of countryside on the edge of the North York Moors.

Managers revealed bookings had exceeded expectations, with occupancy rates hovering at around 70 per cent during January and February which are notoriously quiet times of the year for the hotel trade.

Average room rates at Raithwaite Hall are about £130 a night although the £400-a-night presidential suite has seen a “very good take-up”, according to the hotel’s director of sales and marketing, Nigel Brunt.

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He said: “There are always a nervous few months whenever such a major venture like Raithwaite Hall opens, but bookings have exceeded all expectations and targets.

“There is a real cross-section of people who are coming to stay, but the one thing they all want to do is experience something a little bit different.”

Other major developments in the luxury market include the Cedar Court Grand in York, which has become the first hotel in Yorkshire to achieve the coveted AA five-star ranking.

Managers at the Cedar Court Grand, which is located in the towering grandeur of a former railway headquarters, found out in November that they have secured the rating only 18 months after the £25m hotel opened its doors. It is now one of only 24 outside of London to be given the ranking.

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Another development in North Yorkshire has recruited celebrity chef James Martin to help re-launch a hotel dating from the 17th century in the market town where he grew up.

The television presenter has agreed to help design the kitchen and source local produce for the menu at the Talbot Hotel in Malton, which is undergoing a £3.5m facelift and is due to re-open in April.

A series of developments are also underway at established tourism haunts, including the Yorke Arms in Ramsgill in Nidderdale.

Owners Frances Atkins and her husband Bill have added new superior rooms comprising two-storey apartments and a two-bed cottage at the 18th century coaching house and Michelin star restaurant.

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And managers at Swinton Park, near Masham, are looking to diversify with the first environmentally-friendly development in the UK which will include a camping barn, luxury yurts and hand-built wooden shacks when it opens later this year.

The county also boasts other luxury hotels including the award-winning Feversham Arms in Helmsley, Rudding Park near Harrogate and the Devonshire Arms near Skipton, which has its own Michelin Star restaurant, the Burlington.

Elsewhere in the region, a planned development will transform Bretton Hall in the heart of the Yorkshire Sculpture Park near Wakefield into a five star hotel, to open late next year.

Tougher times may be ahead

THE Olympics Games in London this summer is expected to bring a boom to British hotels, according to latest forecasts.

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Room occupancy rates for London hotels are expected to reach almost 84 per cent – the best performance since the 1970s, analysis by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) predicted.

Occupancy rates outside London are expected to reach 72 per cent – the highest ever. But although regional hotels are expected to see some growth next year, London hotels are likely to see occupancy rates fall to around 81 per cent in 2013, PwC forecast.

In the last three years, London has seen a 13 per cent increase and will have nearly 24,000 budget rooms by the end of 2012.

But PwC’s hospitality and leisure leader, Robert Milburn, warned there are concerns of tough trading ahead.

He added: “If there is a post-Olympic travel dip, trading could get very difficult – especially in east London. At the end of the day, it all depends on whether the economy perks up.”