Castle Leslie Estate – how a heritage hotel has grown tenfold in 25 years

This month, Castle Leslie Estate  celebrates its 25th anniversary, and what a quarter of a century it has been!

The last 25 years have seen the estate start from scratch with a handful of staff and a leaking roof, to an iconic €10 million hotel with a team of more than 140 dedicated workers.

The Castle Leslie Estate lies on 1,000 acres of rolling parkland in County Monaghan, where guests can spend hours ambling between ancient trees and lakes, and admiring the local wildlife. One of only a handful of Irish estates and castles still home to its founding family, the stunning property has a thousand years of recorded history.

Yet it only became a business in 1992, when Sammy Leslie opened the tearooms in the conservatory, under a leaking roof. Sammy repaired the roof, restored the castle bedrooms and took the property through multiple refurbishments to get it to where it is today.

Olivia Cannon, head of marketing at Castle Leslie, explains: “Sammy reinvested every single penny made from the tearooms back into the castle. She bought, sold and broke horses, she organised tours of the castle and even held a few ghost tours. She did everything she could to buy back the estate to develop this huge project. She received grants from various bodies, which enabled her to turn the castle estate into this amazing, thriving business with over 30 national and international awards. We’ve gone from a one punt business to a €10 million business in 25 years, but it’s been a challenge getting there!”

Refurbishments and restorations alone cannot attract this kind of business. In order to bring in guests from across the country and overseas, a hotel needs a strong online and digital strategy. Eight years ago, Castle Leslie partnered with booking engine and digital marketing services provider Avvio to grow the brand’s online presence as well as their direct booking revenue.

Cannon, who has worked closely with Limerick-based Avvio since joining the Castle Leslie team in 2009, says: “We’ve grown hand in hand with Avvio for our online room sales and I would say this has grown tenfold in eight years. Since we’re a small property with essentially 49 hotel bedrooms, that’s quite a big difference!”

She continues: “Digitalisation has drastically changed the way we do business. Eight or nine years ago we did maybe ten per cent of our business online and now this has tripled. It also allows you to get a message out very quickly – whether that’s via social media or email, or whether it’s a special offer that you put on the homepage of your website, it’s instant and it’s totally measurable, which is why we love it so much. If I have an ad, whether that’s a retargeting, an e-zine campaign or a sponsored Facebook post, I can track that down to the last second and how much traffic and revenue it generated – and I can also track our repeat guests. So I just love the whole transparency of digital.”

Castle Leslie Estate’s latest digital campaign has been to advertise a special offer on their website. To celebrate the hotel’s anniversary, when guests make a booking, they receive €25 credit to spend in the hotel, and a bottle of bubbly during the month of May, to celebrate our anniversary. They’ll also send this special offer to the 65,000 people on their mailing list to mark the day the business turns 25 years old.

Cannon will track the success of this special promotion, using Avvio’s insights analytics functionality,  along with their usual performance figures in their daily, weekly and monthly reports. By doing this, Castle Leslie Estate finds ways to constantly improve their business.

She explains: “We literally have the data report for breakfast every morning, and the weekly and monthly ones we watch like a hawk, because it’s really indicative of trends. What’s happening online is generally what’s happening over the phone as well. That way we can see if we have an issue with UK bookings or if we see a surge in US bookings, or if our room sales have risen or dropped since this time last year, we can look into why this is. For example, it might be because the price is too high, or too low, or it might be because we don’t have availability, and then we can improve from there. We love the reports and they really help us dictate how we sell our hotel on a day to day basis across the whole estate.”

Castle Leslie also develops digital marketing strategies to attract new guests to book direct on their website and to build loyalty in their guests, so that they return for future stays. One of the ways they engage with their guests is through social media.

Brian Baldwin, the estate general manager of Castle Leslie Estate explains how: “Social media is really important to us. Our biggest social media presence is on Facebook, with over 100,000 followers, then Twitter, followed by Instagram. We also have a very large mailing list that we communicate with on a monthly basis and send them special offers, like the one we’re sending for our anniversary.”

This e-zine campaign is not the only way Castle Leslie Estate plans to celebrate the anniversary. The team will host a traditional afternoon tea party on the estate lawn, in keeping with their heritage and the origins of their business, when Sammy used to serve home-baked scones and steaming cups of tea in the castle conservatory.

Cannon says: “Our afternoon tea party will be a very special afternoon celebration in the marquee with more than 300 guests. We have an amazing artisan cake and all the staff will be wearing the original afternoon tea uniform. We’ll have a local radio broadcast and a string quartet, along with traditional lawn games and fabulous food, to create this afternoon tea party atmosphere.”

This tea party will reflect the Castle Leslie Estate brand perfectly. While the hotel is always poised to transform and develop their business further and keep up to date with industry and digital trends and advances, they always take care to keep true to their original heritage and create a unique and authentic experience for their guests.

Olivia has full confidence that the historic estate will continue to evolve and progress: “Sammy never stops and the Castle Leslie Estate will never stop turning. She’ll continue to reinvest in the estate with each euro that comes in – that’s her nature.”

Sammy has several projects up her sleeve for the near future, including restoration of the formal walled garden. The hotel also aspires to add more rooms to the property. With a 90 per cent occupancy all year round and 99.9 per cent occupancy during the summer months, the demand is certainly there. And that’s not all. Castle Leslie also has plans to update and refresh its digital strategies to ensure they keep at the forefront of the hotel industry and constantly improve their direct booking revenue.

Cannon adds: “I’m looking to do a revamp of the website next year, and we’ll continue to invest in digital, and finding new ways to communicate with our customers on a monthly basis. We’ll continue to invest in social media like we always do.”

Fionnuala Bland is the PR executive for Avvio, the premium booking platform and digital agency for hotels and serviced apartment providers.

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