In a city setting, a hotel such as the Crawford Beach Lodge would have been able to rely on other complementary businesses to draw a critical mass of clients looking for accommodation, but if you are situated some 40km outside East London, you are going to have to set up the draw cards yourself. And Mark and his wife Carey, third-generation owners of the hotel, set about doing just that by creating more reasons for coming to the Crawford Beach Lodge and for staying longer. Rather than just providing guest-house type accommodation and expecting guests “to sleep, eat and leave”, they introduced professionally curated holiday activities into the business so as to offer their guests a self-contained family holiday with canoeing, diving, fishing, hiking, horse riding, river boating, swimming and tennis to choose from, among other things.
The activities, each of which provides extra income for the business, are organised by the Crawford Beach Lodge’s activities manager.
This, together with the Crawford Beach Lodge’s fully equipped conference facility, turned the hotel into the destination in and of itself instead of just a stop-over on a journey to somewhere else.
Crawford Beach Lodge has become a popular team-building and corporate seminar venue for businesses such as the large car manufacturers in East London, helping to decrease the extent of the business’s seasonal fluctuations.
In order to drive even more demand, the Crawfords started a restaurant and wedding venue some two kilometres inland from where the Crawford Beach Lodge is perched on a massive dune overlooking the stunning Chintsa beach.
Called the C Club, the restaurant drives a steady stream of wedding-party guests to the Lodge, and in the off season, Mark and Carey can turn on a stream of visitors by organising music events at the C Club. Well-known acts that they have hosted include the Parlotones and Prime Circle.
“In these remote places, if you don’t do things yourself, no-one else does it for you. So we decided to create demand ourselves,” says Mark.
The Crawford Beach Lodge with its 52 rooms has come a long way since it was started by Mark’s grandfather Roy Crawford in 1975 as a collection of rustic holiday bungalows. He ran it for almost twenty years before selling it.
Having grown up in the family business, Roy’s son Ian became a hotelier in his own right and from 2003 started the Crawford Beach Lodge by buying back the old cabins one by one, which had been subdivided and sold as holiday homes ten years earlier.
By the time the third generation in the form of Ian’s son Mark joined the business, the Crawford Beach Lodge had about twenty rooms and well established conference facilities.
Mark, who studied psychology and spent a few years working in human resources in corporate London, says he never had any doubts about joining the family business. He and his new bride Carey, a chartered accountant, brought fresh ideas back from London and were able to boost the turnover of the lodge substantially by setting up an online presence for the business.
Mark and Carey joined the business just before the financial crash of 2008, after which no bank would even consider an application to finance the development of more rooms, even though the Crawford Beach Lodge was thriving despite the economic downturn.
The Crawfords approached Business Partners Limited (BUSINESS/PARTNERS), who saw the long-term potential in the business and agreed to finance the building of a further ten rooms.
“BUSINESS/PARTNERS enabled us to build in a time when no-one else was building, and they allowed us to grow our business when no other business was able to grow,” says Mark, who formally took over the running of the business from his parents in 2010.
The resort hotel grew from strength to strength, and at 52 rooms Mark believes it is close to its ideal size. They will soon be able to put the painful process of getting planning permissions for expanding in an environmentally sensitive area behind them, and focus on maximising occupancy.
In this regard, Mark is very optimistic. A world-class golf estate has been built close by, as well as a microbrewery, and there are even signs that more and more city folk are coming to live permanently in the area.
Although they had to pioneer the lodge as an isolated destination, developments in the area suggest that they no longer have to rely solely on creating their own demand.