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Case study: Monmouthshire Cottages

Husband and wife team Malcolm and Fiona Wilton started off "gently" with just the one, four-bedroomed property, Foxes Reach in the beautiful county of Monmouthshire in Wales. Flash forward to May 2016 and their accommodation business has significantly grown to three award-winning, five-star self-catering cottages boasting an average yearly occupancy rate of around 47-48 weeks, more than double Visit Wales' average figures for the country. Along the way the couple have scooped numerous awards including two Visit Wales National Tourism Awards as Best Self Catering Place To Stay In Wales (2010) and Best Visitor Welcome in Wales (2015), 2015 Winners of Monmouthshire Business Awards Best Hospitality Travel and Tourism Business against far larger enterprises and most recently, the Eco Business Award of the Year 2016 at the Forester Business Awards.

So what is the key to their award-winning success?

"We have never been complacent, we constantly strive to retain our high occupancy levels and five star ratings by staying one step ahead of what our guests might want and need. We offered Sky TV, air source heating and solar panels long before it became commonplace and most recently installed USB ports straight into the wall sockets, a special touch particularly useful for international visitors so they don't need to bother with electrical converter plugs!"

The couple had originally relocated from Surrey to Monmouthshire when Malcolm accepted an accountancy partnership job in Cardiff in 1981. His successful career as a chartered accountant and business consultant flourished across many different roles and locations, but the family stayed in the area and put down roots. "This rural location did take some getting used to but we have the most wonderful and varied countryside on our doorstep and this drives tourists to our area.  For those interested in history there is a range of Norman castles all the way up the Wye Valley. Wordsworth wrote about our lovely Tintern Abbey and Turner painted it! Monmouth is also the food capital of Wales. We have a range of quality food and drinking places from organic produce, fish and chip cafes, and beamed pubs, to the two Michelin star restaurants along with local vineyards, beer and cider makers. The recent filming of Star Wars has also been a great PR hook to attract visitors."

Fiona worked and travelled extensively for many years as a tourism consultant in developing countries before running their self-catering cottages. She is now the Vice Chair of the Wye Valley and Forest of Dean Tourism Association, an organisation of around 400 local businesses, the majority of which are small hotels, B and Bs ,cottages and glamping sites. She spearheaded the Association's move to online booking, to add to their growing digital marketing efforts, the keystone of which is their tourist destination site

"I piloted several different online room booking systems with our own cottages and freetobook was the one that worked best for us and the one I could see working for a large number of our members too. At this point the Association invited freetobook to come on board to provide 'Together', enabling live, online room booking across all of the featured accommodation providers on our site. Truthfully it has been an uphill struggle to get so many small, highly individual businesses to sign up in a timely manner, but with recent compelling figures for conversion now coming in (over £6K in bookings for 26 properties in the first two weeks of April alone) it's clear that working 'Together' is driving direct bookings for all of our properties and new members need little persuasion."

"Our activity providers are on board too, as they have realized that helping their accommodation neighbours to attract overnight business means bookings for them as well. It's a win win."

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