Date: April 2018
Location: Bath & Harrogate, UK
Name: The Lansdown Grove in Bath and The St George in Harrogate, will undergo an extensive refurbishment before being rebranded as ‘Country Living Hotels, exclusively by Coast & Country’. Currently four and three star, to re-open May & July 2018.
No. of Keys: Lansdown Grove – 56; St George – 92
Owner: Shearings Leisure Group has announced plans to reflag two of its hotels under the Country Living brand, after signing a deal with Hearst UK (publishers of Country Life magazine).
The hotels, currently under part of Shearings’ Coast & Country Hotels, will continue to be operated by the group, which will also pay for the refurbishments.
Richard Calvert, Shearings Leisure Group CEO told Hotel Analyst that the agreement came from “a brain storming session with Hearst and Shearings Leisure Group. The Country Living brand gives us an opportunity to reach new customers through the well-respected and much loved brand of Country Living.”
Calvert said that the group had a licence from Hearst to use the Country Living brand name, with the hotels fully managed and operated by Coast & Country Hotels. He added: “However the Country Living team have been involved in all the decisions on everything from décor and duvets to menu choices and much more, using their expertise and knowledge to bring the brand to life.
“The hotels will sell direct through Country Living magazine and the other Hearst brands, through the existing Shearings Leisure Group databases of customers and through the travel trade and OTAs.”
Calvert was appointed as CEO last year, joining from US-based global holiday group Celebration Travel Group. Calvert said: “The kind of short breaks and holidays that today’s over 50s want has changed beyond recognition. We’re healthier and more adventurous than ever, and as interested in walking holidays in Austria and river cruises on the Rhine as hotel breaks on the Cornish coast.
“We’re continuing to listen to our million customers and evolve our offering to reflect the over 50s market in the broadest sense, providing a wider range of exciting locations and activities across each of our brands, underpinned by a common commitment to great quality, value and service.”
A fund managed by LaSalle Investment Management recently backed a GB £22.2m refinancing to support the Shearings hotel portfolio.
Hearst will be using the properties to host events with the first one booked for June named “Country Living Build A Business”.
James Wildman, Hearst UK’s CEO, said: “The magazine has a loyal following of readers who enjoy the unique country themed content and we strive to bring that content to life through our events.
“This is a very ambitious project and is the first time a publisher has put its stamp on a hotel – so we’re thrilled to be working with Shearings Leisure Group, who are very much the experts in running a hugely successful travel business. Together we plan to create something new, that will surprise and delight Country Living loyal fans as well as introducing many more to the brand.”
Shearings Leisure Group was acquired by Lone Star Funds for an undisclosed fee in 2016. Lone Star had previously held a minority stake in the operating business of Shearings and in February 2016 bought 46 Shearings hotels as part of a GBP1bn portfolio acquisition from Moorfield.
Grant Hearn, chairman of Amaris Hospitality – also backed by Lone Star – was appointed chairman of the group, having previously been a non-executive director. Hearn told this publication that there would be no relationship between the two groups other than having a shared chairman.
The group also acquired specialist holiday operator Equalmatch, which operates the Travelstyle and UK Breakaways brands, consolidating its position as one of Europe’s largest specialist holiday operators.
Shearings said the acquisition would complement its National Holidays business by expanding its regional presence in the UK.
The acquisitions would, Hearn said, help the company reach new audiences, commenting: “Whilst Shearings is one of the leading specialist short break and holiday providers for the over 55 market, its operations also enjoy business from a younger family demographic as well. The recent acquisition of the Equalmatch brands will further grow our opportunities in these markets.”
The group’s most-recent results, for the full year 2016, saw it post a 3% increase in revenues to GBP207.2m. Adjusted Ebitda increased by 13% to GBP10.3m and passenger numbers climbed by 4% to 1.1 million.
THPT Comment: Wow what a transformation for Shearings, from rather down-market coach operator started over 100 years ago, to dynamic up-market hotel company – and a stroke of genius to do this deal with Hearst’s Country Living magazine.
Katherine Doggrell from HA adds: Success will depend on the ability to blend hotel expertise with brand allure. Hard Rock and Bulgari are examples of brands transferring to the hotel space successfully.
Country Living and Laura Ashley come from different spaces to the afore mentioned brands and have a more mid-market appeal. If they succeed, hotel branding will be heading into another interesting direction.
First Seen: Hotel Analyst