In this article we provide a broad coronavirus update as it related to Exmoor Character Cottages. It contains the policies and procedures we have either enhanced or implemented to help safeguard everyone on our team, and our guests.
Choose any adjective – and they are all used regularly – extraordinary, unprecedented, unparalleled, seismic, unimaginable, inconceivable. COVID-19 and the lockdown hit the global ‘factory reset’ button like nothing we’ve seen in our collective memories. I’m proud of how we responded at Exmoor Character Cottages. We always put guests first, and this was no exception. The team refocused their energies to respond to changing customer needs and government guidance. We prepared immediately, laying plans and looking to the future when we reopen.
There are 13 key changes that we have implemented across our business and operations. We outline them here.
1. Guests always come first
As lockdown came into effect and was then extended, we contacted our customers who booked directly. It was a matter of priority to discuss their wishes for their cancelled dates. We either moved their holidays or where preferred, or we refunded them in full. Our team kept in touch with our customer base with more newsletters than normal. We explained the measures we have implemented, and our plans for the future. Lucy provided support and advice throughout for guests we know. We also worked to help those who booked with our external agencies.
2. We appointed independent and expert consulting advice
Lucy sought the counsel of Responsible Marketing expert David Oxendale to forensically examine every element of the business. She did this to ensure we were delivering world-standard best practice to ensure safety for all and government compliance. Read more about David’s COVID-19 advice for Exmoor Character Cottages.
3. We introduced The Exmoor Character Cottage No Risk Protected Bookings Scheme
This is our £50 fully refundable deposit for anyone booking direct during the lockdown. It applies to dates for later this year or for 2021. Guests can reserve their dates cheaply and without risk. Should they not be able to travel because of COVID-19 and government restrictions, we will refund the £50 – no quibbles. The response to this has been amazing, as our bookings show. Find out more details about our No Risk Protected Bookings Scheme.
4. Squeaky clean
This Coronavirus update is more of an amplification of already stringent cleaning procedures that are in place. We researched and created an enhanced cleaning protocol to further enhance our antiviral cleaning regime for all our houses. This includes sterilising each surface as we exit the properties and an enhanced housekeeping checking procedure. We changed our laundry service. As a result, professionals will now disinfect all linen for added peace of mind. Find out more details about the lengths we have taken to ensure our properties are thoroughly cleaned.
5. Exmoor Distillery hand sanitiser
Each party will now receive a 250ml bottle of hand sanitiser from our local provider, Exmoor Distillery. We’ve also upgraded the cleaning items we leave for guests including bleach and anti-bacterial spray for cleaning during their break.
6. A new arrival process
We’ve always had pre-arrival calls with all our guests. We do this to run through directions, key safe codes, parking, the hot tubs and more. We’ve also offered in-person ‘hot tub familiarisation’ in our Vicarage Road Cottages. We can still do these socially distanced. However, for those who prefer, as part of our coronavirus update, Steve and June filmed videos with hot tub use instructions so we can share how to operate them safely.
7. Indulge in some luxury
We upgraded our guest toiletries to indulgent goodies from The White Company, which will be in use when the current supplies run out.
8. Food delivered to the cottage door
Our team organised food delivery services for our guests when they do come. We arranged this with our trusted suppliers. For instance, home cooked meals from Claire’s Catering and grocery deliveries from the Deli in Dunster and the Stuart Lowen Farm Shop in Minehead.
9. Socially distanced guest experiences
Lynne and Lucy researched, created, and printed a map with 12 ‘social distanced’ activities on Exmoor for when guests return. This will appear on social media and on other websites too – it’s for everyone. We added four new experiences for our guests that our suppliers will do socially distanced:
- Exmoor wildlife safaris with Red Stag Safaris
- Blueberry Farm tours
- Home delivered cream and afternoon teas from Cross Lane House in Allerford
- Foraging walks on Exmoor
10. Videos and social media marketing
With the cottages empty and looking frankly perfect, we created 10 videos for social media and marketing campaigns and updated our photograph gallery. We launched our YouTube channel where we share them all. Our team then ramped up social media activity, and our Facebook page for Exmoor Character Cottages hit 1500 likes – a milestone for us. David was instrumental in making this happen, and in driving our successful ‘Exmoor Escapes’ promotion which has had an overwhelming response rate.
We overhauled our website and redesigned the overall look and feel. The team published 10 blogs, including three from our guests Heather, Duncan and Maeve and Sam and Lucy prepared a new series based on our ‘Little Book of Walks’. We did this as a means of providing all manner of reassurances and updates about our operations.
12. Advice from industry
We liaised with the membership bodies we belong to including UKHospitality, VisitEngland, Visit Somerset and Visit Exmoor. This was to ensure we were abreast of every relevant coronavirus update, guidance and advice available at a specific moment in time (it did change a lot!). We are part of the Discover Dunster marketing team and as such, we conceived and supported the ‘Bunting Bonanza’ campaign in Dunster. As a result we helped to support the recovery in this small and beautiful village that we love so much. Lucy and June made a lot of bunting in lockdown! We organised the PR, which included a huge amount of local new coverage, including on the BBC Points West evening news show.
13. Little Book of Walks updated
Lucy and Lynne revised and republished our ‘Little Book of Walks’ for our exclusive retailers Not Two Deer in Dunster and the Minehead Tourist Information Centre. As a result Lynne secured press coverage for our Little Book of Walks in Exmoor Magazine, and Somerset Life magazine, and on the Visit Exmoor and website. This was to promote the wonderful, social distancing-compliant activities available and help in the area’s recovery from the lockdowns.
We hope this coronavirus update proves useful and reassuring to you. Above all, we all stayed safe, we stayed sane and stayed in touch. We learnt a lot about friendship and comradeship too, and we have kept each other going through difficult times.