Cornwall LivingIssue #76

Redefining luxury

We explore the changing face of self-catering and how stunning properties and amazing services are creating a real experience for the discerning guest.

We’ve all experienced that memorable week away in a holiday cottage… The furniture was shabby without the chic. Evidently the owners no longer deemed the threadbare sofa to be good enough for their own home, demoting it for others to use. Crockery and cutlery didn’t match – and why waste the good stuff on random strangers? All in all, it didn’t quite live up to those cleverly taken photos. The WiFi (if existent at all) was presented as a luxurious extra. Ultimately, though, you’d put up with all these little quirks as part of the holiday’s charm and, anyway, it was just a base near the beach.

“Gone are the days of providing the basics for guests coming on holiday”

That once may have been acceptable. But things have come on a long way in the self-catering holiday market over the last decade or so. Perhaps it’s down to the rise of the staycation, with ever more people shunning the airport queues to enjoy a week away on home soil. People are becoming ever more discerning in their requirements, and faced with growing competition, the market is responding in kind.

Phil Gendall, of Forever Cornwall Unique Retreats, says: “We’re seeing a shift in expectation where luxury is the new normal. That’s always been the case at the high end of the holiday market but it’s now more universally true. TV shows from Grand Designs to Love Island expose potential customers to new aspirations, and social media gives an outlet for bragging rights.”

These days, people expect more than just a base in a convenient location; they want the accommodation to offer a real experience in itself. Yes, we all want a home for home. But surely it actually has be better than home, otherwise why bother making the trip!

George Edward-Collins of Cornish Traditional Cottages puts it neatly: “Gone are the days of providing the basics for guests coming on holiday. To keep guests coming back year in year out, you need to wow them and go above and beyond their expectations. With so much choice and quality rising in properties guests expect that, but they are also wanting to create experiences and memories and this is your chance to do that – you need to blow their socks off!”

Emily Turner, Sales and Marketing Director of Perfect Stays, agrees. “The luxury holiday home market is very competitive and as a result, customer expectations and the quality of homes available are increasing year on year,” says Emily. “Guests are looking for the wow-factor. They expect outstanding facilities and completely unique features, from sensational views to indoor pools and high-tech cinema rooms.”

So, with everyone upping their game, luxurious aspects are filtering down the market. Naturally, though, you can expect to pay a bit more for the top features, and it’s worth the additional expense if you can. What’s more, if you are renting a larger property – perhaps to bring friends and family together for a long overdue reunion – then the cost per person is often actually quite reasonable. Without the expense of flights to consider, it’s worth investing a little bit more into the accommodation to make it memorable for all the right reasons.

For the foodies, the experience often starts as you open the front door, as you find yourself greeted with a hamper crammed full of locally sourced delicacies – perhaps a Cornish cream tea of freshly baked scones, local jam and clotted cream. A sachet of instant hot chocolate and a couple of custard creams no longer quite cuts it!

People want and expect luxury, but they also want convenience and accessibility. Style is essential, but not at the expense of comfort. It has to be practical and hard-wearing too. Guests want to relax without the fear of breaking family heirlooms – especially if they have young children with them. Those of us who’ve begun a holiday by moving an army of glass miniature figurines, antique vases and doilies onto the top shelf of the wardrobe (out of the prying hands of the over-active toddler) will know all about this.

Jenna Ali, of Aspects Holidays, says: “Many of our guests seek properties with additional features that they wouldn’t ordinarily have in their own homes. Our properties with sea views, hot tubs and other unusual features, such as an outdoor pizza oven, sell particularly well. We find that our guests enjoy the added luxury when on holiday.” Indeed, as Phil Gendall points out, “holiday cottages can’t all have the greatest sea views, but all owners can invest in better interiors and facilities.”

This is evident in Sands and Samphire Studios, set in the heart of St Ives and run by husband and wife team Olivier and Angela Noverraz. Both have a background in running high-end hotels around the world and have now brought this experience and knowledge of luxury accommodation to their own properties. The studios are furnished to the highest standards and as Olivier explains: “It’s important to us that we offer a five star service. We have discerning guests that visit from across the globe and we believe that a beautifully furnished property, with those little luxurious extras make all the difference. We also offer our guests a concierge service. It doesn’t matter that the properties are self-catering, we feel that this level of service is something that should be available to all guests.”

So it’s clear that it’s not just the features and specifications of the property that matter. More and more self-catering providers are recognising that it’s the services offered that can make or break the entire experience. As a result, many are offering a full concierge service, with staff on hand to cater for any conceivable need.

“Our customers want more than just a bucket and spade holiday, and require additional services from the moment of booking,” says Emily of Perfect Stays. “That’s why we offer an inclusive concierge service as standard, and frequently organise anything from private chefs to wine tastings, in-house massages and bespoke surf lessons. In fact, we often arrange a full week’s itinerary for our guests, complete with daily activities, restaurant reservationsand transportation.”

Indeed, a growing trend is hiring a personal chef to cook for guests inside their home – this can entail the full table service and a bartender, with even the washing up taken care of. Enjoy the best seat in the house and the region’s finest ingredients, with a menu that’s tailored exactly to you and your guests. This is all about focussing on what really matters – catching up with family and friends, without one person perennially tied to the cooker or sink.

Many guests are booking health and beauty treatments at their property. This could be a quick massage to relieve your back after a day in the surf or a full pop-up spa if the garden is big enough. Some opt to hire a nanny to look after the little ones for a few hours.

You may hate the thought of your whole holiday being planned out for you, and that’s fine. But if you do want some activities laid on, many self-catering companies will help organise these for you – boat trips, kayak or SUP hire and other watersports are always popular. Booking a surfing lesson, for example, can be a great way to keep teenagers entertained while the grown-ups enjoy some proper ‘me’ time.

But, if on the other hand, you are the holiday homeowner rather than the guest, what can you do to stand out from the crowd? Harriet Wills, of Cornish Horizons, tells us: “The world of holiday homes in Cornwall is highly competitive and whilst it’s still a very big cake with plenty to go around, it’s imperative to make sure that your slice is going to be profitable. With the holiday let market estimated at less than 1% out of a total of 23 million UK households, there’s great rewards to be had if your property has an edge over the holiday home down the road.”

Harriet continues: “The properties where owners invest in hot tubs, log burners or open wood fires often command higher prices and get more bookings that easily cover the costs of the initial investment and installation. We also see properties with off-street parking attracting more bookings as do those with character, privacy and those within walking distance to community amenities like a local pub.”

Sometimes, a very simple (and relatively inexpensive) touch will do the trick: “Perhaps your edge is to go the extra mile and make the experience a memorable one for your customers by leaving your guests a bottle of fizz in their welcome hamper – the options are endless!”

So, when you’re planning your next holiday, remember this: whatever your budget may be, everyone is vying for your business and you no longer have to settle for second best!


Discover More

Planning a holiday? Here are a few ideas for enjoying a slice of luxury in Cornwall:

Aspects Holidays:

Cornish Horizons:

Cornish Traditional Cottages:

Forever Cornwall Unique Retreats:

My Favourite Cottages:

Padstow Breaks:

Perfect Stays:

Sands Studio:

Sampshire Studio:

"Gone are the days of providing the basics for guests coming on holiday"