We spoke to Jason Adams, Managing Director of Rockliffe Hall Five Star Hotel and Golf Resort on their exciting plans for reopening.
Tell us more about Rockliffe Hall and the facilities you have for those who haven’t been.
Rockliffe Hall is an AA-rated five star leisure resort set within 375 acres on the banks of the River Tees just outside the village of Hurworth, County Durham.
The resort offers 61 spacious guest rooms and suites; two bars; three restaurants – ‘The Orangery’, ‘The Brasserie’ and ‘The Clubhouse’; 12 meeting and event rooms; an 18-hole championship golf course; and a 50,000 square foot, award-winning spa and wellness centre, refurbished in 2019. It offers luxurious treatments, a Spa Garden and a 20 metre indoor swimming pool. In 2018 Rockliffe Hall opened Mischmasch, a Lewis Carroll themed whimsical wonderland featuring curious cabins, an eco-adventure playground, Looking Glass House, tennis courts and an interactive water feature.
Rockliffe Hall is five minutes from Darlington Railway Station and Durham-Tees Valley Airport, while Newcastle Airport is an hour away; From Darlington, it’s a two and a half hour train journey to London and two hours by train to Edinburgh. The historic city of Durham is on the doorstep, as are Newcastle, York, Leeds and the Yorkshire Dales.
What’s been happening at Rockliffe Hall during lockdown? E.g. supporting the local community.
Shortly after lockdown Rockliffe Hall donated toiletries to the NHS and gave away surplus food to vulnerable or isolated people within the local community. The hotel also partnered with suppliers. We operated as a pick-up point for Wellocks customers to collect their food boxes and offered a discount with Berkmann Wines to guests and members, with 12.5% of sales being donated to the Great North Air Ambulance Service.
How have you kept in touch with the team to keep them motivated?
The team is our priority as they’re our biggest asset so each individual’s wellbeing during this time has been paramount. The majority of the team has been furloughed, with some working from home and a few still on site but keeping in touch with them and making sure every member is okay, has been very important.
Throughout lockdown we’ve been chatting with each other through WhatsApp groups and team Zoom calls. They’ve received “Rocky round-up” newsletters several times a week, including wellbeing tips, baking tips, advice and news. We’ve also tried to keep a virtual form of normality by continuing to send out team member birthday cards and Rock Star of the Month awards.
You are one of the first venues we’ve seen to share re-opening plans, tell us some of your ideas?
We’ve been busy developing innovative new offerings to ensure that if the Government gives the go-ahead for hotels to reopen on July 4th, not only will Rockliffe’s guests and our team be safe, but they’ll still be able to enjoy the five star experience for which the resort is renowned.
In addition to the essential developments to make sure everyone stays safe, the hotel has developed a range of new initiatives and offerings to make guests’ visits extra special.
The Spa team has created virtual treatments with ‘Spa in a Box’ skincare kits. The beauty experts have made guided videos on how guests can perform a prescriptive facial or treatment experience from the comfort of their Rockliffe bedroom, with all the products they need. It is hoped that the main Spa will be available for overnight guests, when the hotel opens, subject to government advice.
A new Champagne and Cocktail Trolley Service will bring the bar to the guest. Cocktails will be made fresh to order, outside the guest’s room. With many of the resort’s rooms boasting terraces and balconies, guests can then enjoy their delicious drinks whilst soaking up the summer sun and taking in the stunning views.
Al Fresco Dining will also be more widely available across the resort. The hotel will be enforcing social distancing and special measures in the restaurants, as they reopen, but, weather permitting, guests will also have the option to dine on the various terraces around the building.
Guests will also be able to order from a new Picnic Hamper Menu and then find themselves somewhere private to dine on the beautiful Rockliffe estate. Concierge will be on hand to recommend the most picturesque spots.
The resort also offers complimentary bicycle use for guests, along with tennis courts and croquet on the lawn. Of course there’s also the championship golf course which is now fully operating and welcome dozens of golfers a day, who can enjoy a drink and food after their round from the Rockliffe Horsebox, currently located outside the Clubhouse.
How have you been promoting your offers for consumers?
Throughout the lockdown period the Rockliffe Hall key marketing messages and goals have been:
- To keep our guests informed, updated and reassured
- To spread positivity and warmth through our various channels
- To play our part in the community, supporting key workers, small businesses and those on the front line of the pandemic
- To sell with a ‘soft’ approach; whilst creating excitement and intrigue for reopening
All of this has been promoted through emails and on social media.
How will you reassure your guests that it’s safe to return?
We will be introducing new procedures to ensure that everyone adheres to social distancing rules. These will include an online check-in service, temperature checks, reduced occupancy levels, heightened hygiene practices, unique signage, digital menus and online ordering. The hotel also plans to introduce virtual services such as video calling Concierge and virtual room tours. Our team will be wearing PPE, but of course, underneath they will all be smiling and providing the usual first class Rockliffe hospitality.
What training are your staff having to get them ready for the ‘new normal’?
All Heads of Department have put together training calendars for their team members as they begin to return to work. During lockdown, spa therapists have been continuing to perform treatments at home with their household members. Carrying out massages every day takes its toll on the body, particularly the hands, so we need to ensure they’re “massage fit” when they return to work.
All departments have been doing additional training via video calls and there has been cross-training between departments. We’ve taken this opportunity to help improve skillsets of all our team members while also learning new skills.
It is also important that when our team members return to work, they feel safe, and keep our guests safe too. New Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) have been introduced with each team member being required to adhere to the new rules, and no team member will be allowed to return on site until they’ve completed training in the new protocols.
Describe some of the positives you have seen as a business for the hospitality industry.
This challenging time has certainly made us think outside the box. When we first had to close, it was just before Mother’s Day when we had hundreds of families booked in for lunch and Afternoon Tea. We quickly came up with a takeaway service which proved hugely popular. This was just the start. It’s made us analyse everything we do and has given us the opportunity re-plan our business model, as well as coming up with lots of innovative ways in which to move the business forward whilst living with Covid-19.
Have you joined any of the Institute of Hospitality webinars during lockdown? Which ones have you found most useful?
Having so many hospitality industry bodies, including IoH, offering webinars during lockdown, has been a great resource for myself and my team. In the midst of a global pandemic it can be overwhelming to even know where to start when it comes to planning. Human resources, communications and business strategy are all really important topics that need to be approached sensitively, and carefully thought through; and having access to webinars and guidance from experts is invaluable.
Rockcliffe Hall recently posted a video about their plans for reopening on YouTube.