It was falling down the stairs in a pub that proved to be a milestone moment in Richard Beaman’s career. The Crown at Lanlivery was one of several inns that he and business partner David Mathewson owned and a complete redevelopment was taking place. No drink was involved but breaking both his knee and his fibula meant that Richard was chair-bound for three months – a period of enforced immobility that led him to build a website for the pub that included an online booking site, one of the first of its kind.
Richard is a qualified chartered surveyor who spent the first twelve years of his career working for a large property company in London. He specialised in hospitality businesses and, although computers were in their infancy when he started, soon found himself responsible for creating a large digital database. That expertise stood him in very good stead when, after coming down to Cornwall in 2000 and going into partnership with chartered accountant David, they increased The Crown’s letting rooms from two to nine and marketing them effectively became a priority.
“Being confined to an armchair meant I had plenty of time to think about it,” says Richard. “I literally built a new website from scratch and quickly started getting online bookings once it went live. Very few people in the tourism industry were even considering digital marketing then but it proved a real success.”
That willingness to embrace new technology is at the heart of the ten years’ success that cornwallscottages.co.uk has achieved. The self-catering agency which Richard and David launched as a limited company in 2009, came about after Richard converted a derelict barn into a holiday property. As with the bed and breakfast rooms, he decided to market them online, rather than going down the a more traditional route. David asked him to take on his own holiday cottage too and soon other friends were making similar requests. Within months, the property portfolio had increased to 35 and, realising the potential, cornwallscottages.co.uk was formed.
“The business grew very quickly and it soon became clear that I could no longer do everything on my own, from a spare room in my house,” says Richard. “I moved into our current office in Truro and started recruiting staff.”
Now marketing more than 350 holiday homes throughout Cornwall, the agency is constantly evolving its digital presence and is so successful that it has so far seen a 35 per cent increase in bookings compared to this time last year – bucking the regional trend. Indeed, Richard’s biggest challenge is meeting the booking demand.
“We could certainly do with more homes to let out. I know there have been lots of reports of tourism providers worrying about the Brexit-effect on our industry but honestly, we’ve never seen booking activity like it.”
So what’s the secret? Richard is convinced that it’s down to excellent Google rankings, website design, ease and speed of booking, 3D scans and seamless integration with affiliate sites.
“I compare it to running a well-oiled machine,” he explains. “You’ve got to look after it, ensure regular maintenance and, most importantly, upgrade at every opportunity. I also think it’s important to be alert to innovation. When we started, we broke the traditional approach to marketing by focusing on digital and our investment in technology certainly paid off. I believe it’s vital to constantly evaluate, see what’s working well and build on it. Tourism is a very competitive business, so you have to stay ahead of the curve.”
Owners use their holiday property in different ways. For some, renting out is vital commercial income whilst for others it’s a means of subsidising a second home that’s regularly used by the family. Richard and his team work around whatever rental and personal usage requirements an owner has, taking care of all the marketing for a relatively low 18 per cent commission rate.
“Unlike other agencies, we don’t hang on to money taken when a booking is made – only paying out when the stay is complete,” says Richard. “If someone pays a deposit in January, the owner should get what’s owed to them by the end of that month – not in August or whenever the reservation has been made for. To my mind, that’s immoral and shouldn’t happen.”
Cornwallscottages.co.uk may have attracted 2.3m page views and more than 432,000 unique visitors over the last year but there’s never any room for complacency.
“We’re actively exploring new ideas, including a very smart phone app,” says Richard excitedly. “Change is happening all the time and we have to embrace it. That’s why it’s so difficult for individual owners to market their properties effectively by themselves. To be noticed by potential guests you have to have the resources and expertise available to ensure you appear top in digital searches. You also need to be on the right platforms.
“We succeed because we devote our time and energy full-time to making that happen. And that’s why our 2019 bookings look set to go through the roof.”
For more information, visit the website. If you’ve got a holiday property to let and would like to get more bookings, call 0333 271 8265.