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Meet The Owner – Rockliffe Hall, Darlington

Sarah-Jane Lampe 10 December 2013

SONY DSCNick Holmes, MD of Rockliffe Hall gives us an insight into his hotel’s accomplishments and his ambitious plans for the future 

Tell me the story of the hotel
Rockliffe Hall opened in November 2009, with an investment in excess of £60m and ambitions among the top hotel resort destinations in the UK. Set within 375 acres on the north Yorkshire border on the outskirts of Darlington and adjacent to Middlesbrough FC training academy, the project involved a complete redevelopment of a 19th century historic mansion house; creation of 61 luxury bedrooms, 26 houses, an award-winning spa with eight heat experiences, 13 treatment rooms, a 20 metre pool and hydro pool, three restaurants including the flagship Kenny Atkinson at The Orangery and one of the longest championship golf courses in Europe. We have achieved AA three-star status, three rosettes in 2010 and are currently VisitEngland’s Large Hotel of the Year as well as being voted second best UK Luxury Hotel and fifth in Europe by TripAdvisor.

What challenges have you faced since opening?
As a resort hotel with extensive external facilities not least of all golf, and a rural setting, the weather in the last three years has certainly kept us all guessing. In those circumstances and with the challenges of the general economy, I believe we have done extremely well already reaching operating breakeven within two years, for example. Certainly you would have expected some parts of business to have done better within a more positive economic climate though. However, some revenue streams such as our spa have outperformed all initial expectations.

Where are you spending the majority of your budget?
We spend most of our budget on sticking to our remit and five-star vision with and people and training; relentless maintenance and reinvestment; sales and marketing investment and generally continual improvement. Of course, you have to be sensible with cost control, but our strategy with brand values and product delivery is working and will serve us well in the future. This is a 10 year strategy which crucially our owner supports.

What are your future plans?
We will continue to grow the rate of our occupancy and leisure segment. As well as more people development, a complete refurbishment of our fine dining – including a new kitchen range in January, and hopefully, extending the spa next year to incorporate outside bathing experiences with garden relaxation areas. We are also planning to host a significant high-profile professional golf tournament within the next two years and hopefully achieve red-star status.

What did you want to be when you were younger?
A fighter pilot who played lead guitar in AC/DC at the weekends.

How would you describe yourself in three words?
Passionate, loyal, thorough

If you weren’t a hotelier what would you be doing?
Probably something in sports or the music industry.

Average room rate: £140
Average food spend per head: £18-£55 (three restaurants)
Average weekly occupancy: 70%
Staff members: 290