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Published on Monday, May 11, 2020

Inspirational sustainable UK import - new, fresh and bright

Original scheme came from top South African Lodge

When your clients can't experience the quality of your hospitality - take it to them!

So many people are looking at the travel and tourism industry and asking questions like: 'How will we ever get back from this?' and 'What can we do to survive?'

A few fresh and bright minds are asking a very different question: 'Is this the biggest opportunity since Thomas Cook spotted what no-one else had seen?

For the last few years chi-chi destination country houses have marched forward in the UK. Groups like the Pig , Soho House   and individual establishments have expanded dramatically across the country.

Their offer usually includes sustainable food and wine (the former often grown in their own kitchen gardens) and a relaxed country house environment for young professionals and their families. But above all, everything, absolutely everything - from the décor to the range of games available in the sitting room - is curated to the nth extent. Why? To emphasise that the brand values are totally in harmony with those of their guests.

Obviously it works. Rich young professionals - usually media types - flock to stay at places that could be their own country house if they could afford it.

And, of course, with such a robust brand there are good merchandising opportunities, for instance Soho House's 'Cowshed' Toiletries and interior decorating service.

So the hospitality part of the operation has a second purpose, to act as a showcase for items that can also be bought without the necessity for another stay so an extra profit stream is added.

But what happens when there are no guests to market to?

Babylonstoren (Tower of Babylon) is one of the 'Grand Dames' of South Africa's world famous Garden Route. Happily plying its elegant hospitality trade in Franschhoek since the 17th century, it was always one of the best.

After over 400 years, it was probably due for an upgrade when one of those media types turned up on the doorstep. Karen Roos was the editor of SA Elle Decoration and she had some ideas for the property. Together with her husband Koos Bekker (another media type - the owner of the $100bn Naspers Media Group) they acquired it. Time to bring it up to date!

After a complete makeover and branding job Babylonstoren  emerged concentrating on food and wine and wellbeing, obviously there is a fabulous spa, grounds, garden centre, kitchen gardens, luxury restaurant and ultra chic accommodation. It appears to be a formula that works.

Then Covid 19 happened, international tourism stopped and South Africa was placed in lockdown. The wonderful crops still grew, there were no suppliers to put on hold except nature and with no visitors or hotel guests there was no-one to eat it.

So why not turn the brand formula the other way? Brand all the food, drink and produce and use it to lay a path for visitors post-lockdown.

Of course, it would have been possible to add value to the produce by creating ready-meals but that was a well-trodden path with organisations like deliveroo in the middle impeding the client relationship. So why not fresh-from-the-garden fruit and veg?

Everything has to comply with the brand standards - authenticity, style, wellness, obviously organic. And to make it all a real draw - perceived value. So Babylonstoren created a range that fulfilled a fundamental need - top quality stylish fruit and veg, drink and great wines (naturally) delivered to your South African door.

Earlier, the SA media pair had bought and made over Georgian Hadspen House and grounds right in the midst of an ultra-trendy UK hotspot - near Bruton in Somerset just by where Hauser and Wirth had set up their International art, food and accommodation combo. The Newt,  as it was renamed, made essentially the same offer as Babylonstoren.

As lockdown started in the UK the Newt was ready to offer the same as Babylonstoren to local people - high quality fruit or veg boxes at reasonable prices, plus fruit drinks, including their exclusive range of vintage ciders - and Babylonstoren wines - plus breads of course. And the full range of the Newt spa products. Naturally using all of the back-office functions created for Babylonstoren. And at similar prices to ordinary local veg boxes.

Delivered to local people (within 15 miles) free with any order over £35.

All for £35! Yum

Obviously it's a success and, even if it doesn't make real money, it's sustainably paving the way for a well supported re-opening when lockdown stops.


Valere Tjolle

Valere is CEO of Best of Romagna and author of 'You Lucky People' the story of travel - the world's most delightful and devastating industry. Find out more about it HERE



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