Hotels bounce back with a boom

HOTELS across Tunbridge Wells are currently reporting their highest occupancy rates since before the Covid-19 pandemic, recording “fantastic levels of demand” this summer.


Hotels across the town have welcomed the industry boom and revealed impressive occupancy rates of 80 to 100 per cent since the start of the summer holidays.

The Tunbridge Wells Hotel and Hotel du Vin both reported occupancy rates of more than 92 and 90 per cent respectively, with The Spa Hotel also reporting percentage occupancy figures in the “high 80s”.

Meanwhile, The Royal Wells Hotel and One Warwick Park Hotel both reported that 100 per cent of their rooms were filled over weekends, with an average of 86 and 85 per cent during the week, respectively.

With general positivity around the sector, many local hotels are witnessing their occupancy rates return to levels reminiscent of 2019.

In June 2021, One Warwick Park Hotel sold 415 rooms with an occupancy rate of 35 per cent, but just two years later, in June 2023, the hotel sold 1,007 rooms with an average occupancy of 86 per cent.

Eryn Dawe, the General Manager at Hotel Du Vin, told the Times: “Everything we knew was ripped out from beneath us [during the pandemic], so it was a great challenge to adapt to while still delivering the best service we could.

“Now that things are back to normal, our occupancy rate has been growing, with over 90 per cent of our 34 rooms full each night, which is back to our pre-pandemic levels.”

Julian Leefe-Griffiths, owner of The Tunbridge Wells Hotel on The Pantiles, also told the Times: “It has been an interesting 18 months to two years. When we reopened after Covid, the demand was fantastic, and last year we did great figures.

“This winter was a challenge for us, but this summer has been surprisingly good with the return of Jazz on the Pantiles.”

A spokesperson for The Spa Hotel agreed with this general trend, commenting: “It’s been a really volatile few years for the hospitality industry [but] we have seen an increase in customers choosing to holiday in the UK rather than abroad.

Also pushing demand for rooms appears to be both tour groups returning to the town and increasing corporate travel, as businesspeople have begun to replace obligatory Covid-led Zoom calls with face-to-face meetings.

Georgina Ashmore, Operations Manager at One Warwick Park Hotel (OWP) confirmed this: “We have seen a return of our corporate clients, and to optimise this, OWP created the corporate concierge scheme.

“It also appears other countries are gaining confidence in travelling, as we’ve had an uptake in tour groups coming from abroad [to enjoy] English heritage/National Trust and gardens/wine tours etc. We are also seeing more guests stay with us from America this summer.”

Emma Martin, Operations Manager at Salomons Estate, said: “Three years on from Covid, with the return of conferencing and events, Salomons’ bedroom occupancy has made a strong comeback.

“Occupancy during peak times has grown from 43 per cent in 2021 to 77 per cent in 2023. As local businesses return to operating the way they did pre-Covid, we have also seen a higher demand for corporate bedrooms across the week nights, with occupancy hitting 100 per cent since the early part of 2023.

“One area that we have benefited from the most is self-catering staycations. Our cottages and five-bedroom house have seen occupancy grow from an average of 35 per cent in 2021 to 68 per cent in 2023, with each property being booked for weekend stays and last-minute getaways.”

Self-catered properties have also seen a huge rise in popularity, and an increasing number of people are using apps like Airbnb to find short-stay rentals in town.

Airbnb host Jill Walton, told the Times how surprised she was to be so busy, having only recently started renting out her three Regency period apartments on London Road.

She said: “We’ve really hit the ground running, having only been operating since May 1. We have had around 75 per cent occupancy, which we felt was surprisingly good for a new venture.”

Also making the most this gap in the market is One Warwick Park Hotel, which has successfully combined this style of accommodation into their luxury hotel.

Nick Moore, Operations Director of Elite Leisure Collection, which owns One Warwick Park Hotel and Salomons Estate, explained: “After the pandemic we have certainly seen an increase in UK stays rather than guests going abroad. This is highlighted in an increase in the uptake of our self-catering properties wIthin our venues.”

The Royal Wells’ Sales and Events Manager, Luca Zanetti-Springett told the Times: “It has been much busier since the Covid lockdown, with a massive boom when people were able to get their freedom back.

“The town was slow to come back over the last few years, with stores still boarded up, but with new shops, restaurants and bars opening, we can definitely feel the end of Covid and have felt a lovely boom in events, corporate functions, and parties.”

Overall, the tourism industry in Tunbridge Wells has experienced massive growth over the last five years.

Between 2017 and 2022, a 7.1 per cent change in tourism enterprises meant an increase in businesses such as culture, sport, recreational and conference.

According to a 2021 economic impact report, the Tunbridge Wells tourism sector is valued at more than £191.4million

Even during the height of the lockdown restrictions in 2020, Tunbridge Wells generated £56million in GVA (Gross Value Added) from accommodation and food services alone.

Many of those visiting the town now are international tourists.

Jill Walton, who hosts Broadwater Apartments on Airbnb, found that most of her guests were internationals.

“More than half, maybe 70 per cent, of our visitors, are from overseas, such as China, Hong Kong, the USA, and South Africa.”

Agreeing with this shift, Royal Wells Sales Manager Luca Zanetti-Springett said: “We have also been feeling our international flare once again, with Canadians, Americans, Germans, and Dutch tourists coming to stay with us.”

Hotel Du Vin Manager Eryn Dawe urged the Council to focus on this international trend. She reported: “We have had lots of international guests staying with us, meaning lots of opportunity for Tunbridge Wells Borough Council to focus on the town’s international exposure, which will benefit the town.

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