Concierge Camping – a remarkable campsiteThis campsite is so popular, there's a waiting list to stay there
The AA's camping co-ordinator, David Hancock, visited Concierge Camping in West Sussex, winner of the AA Overall Campsite of the Year 2018-19, to find out why they are so successful.
Having acquired the historic Ratham Estate in West Ashling, near Chichester in 2011, a working farm until the 1990s, Guy and Tracey Hodgkin set about bringing it back to its former glory. After three years of letting sheep graze and just cutting hay in a field close to their 15th-century farmhouse, Guy decided he needed to do something different with it as it was costing him money. The field has since been transformed into one of best campsites in Britain.
Extending Concierge Camping
Developing the park has been a labour of love for the Hodgkins, and since opening in 2015 with just 15 touring pitches, they have added four magnificent safari lodges in their own paddock, and in 2018 they extended the park to accommodate caravans and motorhomes on 27 huge, fully-serviced pitches.
Guy admits that ‘it was a very selfish project really as I couldn’t find anyone in England who did camping the way I wanted to or had all the elements I like in one place. It stems back to when we travelled across Europe in a campervan. We stayed on some great sites and they just do camping so much better, with nicer sized pitches and quality facilities.’ He adds, ‘Many sites in England are very traditional or they just haven’t moved with the times, failing to reinvest money to improve them in line with the expectations of the modern-day camper, caravanner or motorhome owner.’
Raising the quality bar
It’s true to say that Guy and Tracey are camping’s new trailblazers, they have raised the quality bar to which all campsites should aspire – Concierge Camping is a small, luxury park and the attention to detail throughout is truly remarkable. Money has been lavished on developing the park, everything is top spec and the couple are very hands-on as concierges of the park.
In the swish reception there’s a local produce shop selling fresh pastries, croissants and breads from an artisan bakery, great coffee, local meats and barbecue essentials, and an informal continental-style café serving local wines and beers – you can order a bottle of local fizz and then sit and relax alfresco on smart rattan chairs beneath a sail canopy on the decked terrace.
The state-of-the-art amenity block is top-hotel standard and certainly has the wow factor – Ratham Estate toiletries (note the branded orange loo rolls), air-blade hand-driers, eight stunning waterfall shower rooms, an excellent family/disabled room, piped Smooth Radio, stylish Concierge Camping branding on glass doors, and an ice machine ideal for your gin and tonic. The heating/boiler system is the best – warming the block in winter and providing air conditioning in summer.
Emperor pitches – breaking new ground
The park offers 27 spacious hardstanding pitches in a beautifully landscaped area, with thick laurel hedging between pitches to offer plenty of seclusion. All pitches are fully serviced, with 16- or 32-amp electrical supply, free WiFi, TV and satellite connection, and some are spacious enough (14mtrs x 6mtrs) to accommodate large American RVs.
In 2018, the Hodgkins introduced their unique Emperor pitches to the park. Each of the huge (15m x 8m) pitches has a day-living, mini safari tent beside the gravel hardstanding, so there’s no need to pack or erect your awning. Where else would you find a pitch offering you a self-contained tent replete with Smart TV, dishwasher, fridge-freezer, coffee machine, wood-fired oven and burner, and a decked area for unwinding and relaxing? They’re not on the cheap side though – fees range from £60 to £125 a night depending on the season and day of the week, but they are very popular with people who enjoy the freedom of touring with a caravan or motorhome but desire the comfort and luxury touches
to be found at a swish hotel.
Luxury lodges – safari style
The quirky, luxury styling and meticulous attention to detail extend to the four fabulous safari-style lodges, idyllically situated beside a babbling chalk stream in a separate, adjoining meadow. Resembling lodges found in Africa, with exposed timber frames supporting a hardy canvas exterior and a spacious deck with smart rattan outdoor furnishings, they are hugely impressive.
Naturally, they ooze style and comfort and make even a winter stay very cosy as there’s underfloor heating throughout. Along with a state-of-the-art, Aga-style range in the fully fitted kitchen, you’ll find a dishwasher, fridge-freezer and Nespresso coffee machine.
There’s a 40” satellite TV, remote-controlled blinds, a Bluetooth speaker system, and a super bathroom with a hi-tech rainforest shower, fully plumbed toilet and Ratham Estate toiletries – all very much creating a home-from-home experience. Two of the lodges are 2 storeys and accommodate up to 6 people and two are single storey for up to 4 people each.
Building a quality and attractive website with a bespoke booking system and spending up to £45K a year on marketing the park has certainly contributed to the success of Concierge Camping. ‘Our repeat business is fantastic with 95% returning time and again because they love what we do here and they are recommending us to friends and family, which is great’, says Guy. ‘New people are finding us but they can’t get in so they are booking up well in advance and outdoing (and frustrating) our existing customers. One customer who came when we first opened in 2015 has only just managed to get in again as we’re always fully booked when he wants to stay.’
Guy adds, ‘We’re very lucky, fitting people in our biggest problem due our size and offering only 27 pitches. Yes, we could be bigger, but we don’t want to be as it will distract from what we’re doing and what we are about. Other than a few tweaks to some of the pitches and extending the reception, we are planning few changes at the park.’
Having trademarked the Concierge Camping name in Britain and Europe, Guy and Tracey plan to develop the brand and a create a niche group of five parks of similar quality over the next 15 years, perhaps Scotland, the Midlands, Devon, and one or two in France. ‘The idea is to develop existing sites, make them smaller in the Concierge Camping model with bigger pitches and state-of-the-art facilities’, says Guy. ‘It won’t be yet as we still have much to learn and we need another two years here to get the details right. If you think about it, we have the branding, the systems and the website are all set up, the advertising is in place and the concept works, so developing the brand in a few select locations in Britain and in France is very exciting indeed.’
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