Ufford Park: New challenges as hoteliers look to the future

CHALLENGE: Tarnia Robertson will become the new managing director at Ufford Park Hotel Golf and Spa

CHALLENGE: Tarnia Robertson will become the new managing director at Ufford Park Hotel Golf and Spa - Credit: Archant

Changes are afoot at one of Suffolk’s best loved hotels as it rebrands and draws up a succession plan to safeguard its future. Sheline Clarke spoke to Tarnia Robertson, marketing director and future managing director, at Ufford Park Woodbridge Hotel Golf and Spa

Over the years they have invested and diversified, creating a luxury spa and top notch facilities for golfers - including a two tier heating driving range - to complement the 18-hole championship golf course and 100-bed hotel.

Since then the management team has decided to move away from the Best Western marketing machine in favour of being 100% independent, preferring to use social media and websites such as Trip Advisor as a more meaningful route to market.

This has led to a rebrand and thoughts for the future.

Marketing director Tarnia Robertson, Colin and Shirley’s daughter, has decided to step up to the mark and take over the business when her parents retire in a couple of years time.

“At first it was a frightening thought and I wasn’t sure I could do it, but I have had six months to get used to the idea and now it’s a really exciting prospect,” said Tarnia, a qualified surveyor who joined the family business 13 years ago to help with advertising and marketing.

Now marketing director, Tarnia was at the centre of the decision to ditch the Best Western “comfort blanket” in favour of an independent approach.

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“Best Western is a marketing umbrella and we have been with them from the start so it was a big decision but we felt it was better to strengthen our own brand,” she said.

“I think the relationship came to a natural end. These days, people choose hotels on the basis of other people’s experiences and they find those on sites like Trip Advisor, Facebook and Twitter and we feel confident that, certainly for the leisure market, we will continue to attract guests.

“For the corporate side, whilst firms in our own county and region know us, we have joined forces with HotelRez, which should boost corporate bookings from further away. The advantage is they don’t require any branding and simply market what we have to booking agents.”

HotelRez is a global hotel representation company offering support to more than 1,000 independent hotels and small groups of hotels.

“I personally respond to all comments on Trip Advisor, which currently has us down as the Number One hotel in Woodbridge.”

Being associated with Woodbridge is also part of the rebranding, as the market town is popular with visitors from London and further afield. Tarnia welcomes the work being done by Suffolk Tourism bodies and even the controversial ‘Curious County’ campaign.

“The point is that campaign has got people talking; there was a time when people knew about Constable Country and the Norfolk Broads and Cambridge but Suffolk was overlooked. That has changed. Places like Sutton Hoo and the castles at Orford and Framlingham have become national treasures and people are travelling to see them and in those circumstances a friendly family-owned hotel like ours, with all its facilities, is ideal.”

One of the most pleasing outcomes of using Trip Advisor has been comments about the quality of the service and friendliness of the staff.

“We have been working really hard with consultants over the past couple of years to try and realign the ship and make sure all our staff are fully trained and engaged and proud to be part of what we have here, and that has been a great success,” said Tarnia.

“The whole process reminded us that the customer is king and that we should put all our energies into making guests feel happy and well looked after.

“What helps the process is that we are an independent, family-run hotel, and we can make decisions quickly and also show staff that they are appreciated, whether they are making beds or in a management role, we couldn’t run the place without all of them.”

So with staff morale high and new branding in place Tarnia and her parents are putting in place plans to ensure the future prosperity of Ufford Park after Colin and Shirley retire in a couple of years time.

“The challenge will be to understand the wider issues affecting the business and not to get bogged down in operations,” said Tarnia. “It is already a steep learning curve and will continue to be but Mum and Dad will still be involved and it will be reassuring to have them around and benefit from their knowledge and experience. Added to that, I will have advisors in place and a great management team. I will never say I know it all and am not afraid to take advice; what I will do is listen to people, take an opinion and make a decision. There will inevitably be a culture change as well as some aesthetic changes too, running a hotel this size is like the proverbial Forth Bridge, but I think my new role will be seeing the bigger picture and ensuring the family business survives until the next generation.”

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