A day in the life of Chris Kelly, short breaks director at Port Lympne Hotel and Reserve in Kent.
My day starts depending on where I’m coming from. If it’s Monday morning I leave home at 4.30 from my home in Droitwich Spa, Worcestershire; otherwise I have a little annex next to a bungalow in a local village, so I leave at 8.30am. Whatever the journey, when I arrive at Port Lympne, I always look forward to what the day may hold in such a wonderful place.
We started offering accommodation 13 years ago with Giraffe Lodge (then called Livingstone Lodge). This proved to be so popular that we saw a demand to offer year-round accommodation alongside our seasonal offering. We converted the beautiful mansion at the heart of Port Lympne Reserve into a hotel and expanded the glamping offering by creating Bear Lodge. The success of these projects has enabled us to follow on year after year with new accommodation which now includes luxury lodges set partially within our lion and tiger habitats, beautifully converted cottages overlooking rhino and wolves, shepherds huts set in our Asian Experience, a bubble tent and 10 award-winning treehouse suites at the Treehouse Hotel.
My first thoughts are about our guests, both those who have stayed with us the night before, or those coming to stay with us that day. I check that there have been no issues that need my immediate attention and following this I check our bookings for that day and catch up with my heads of housekeeping and customer services to ensure that we have everything in place for the day ahead. I have a team of 40, encompassing a hotel general manager and heads of customer services and housekeeping. In all, the team looks after more than 40,000 guests, 365 days a year.
Then it’s down to emails and any administrative tasks I need to catch up on. I always feel positive; how could you not be in this place? Port Lympne is home to over 700 animals and 88 species. I look around to see the wonderful work we do here in looking after some of nature’s fantastic animals, in readiness to send them to their rightful homes across the world.
Challenges often present themselves around our guests’ journey from parking their cars, checking-in to their accommodation and ensuring they are fully happy, however my team is ready for anything and everything. Bad weather is always on my watch list, especially in winter.
All accommodation is thoroughly checked by the housekeeping team. The guest services team has already called our expected guests to talk them through their stay, where they want to eat and what experiences they would care to book. We then ensure that any golf buggies that form part of the guest experience are checked for safety, cleanliness and fuel.
If there are any accommodation issues, repairs etc. our short breaks maintenance team prioritise these and liaise with housekeeping and customer services to ensure any booked accommodation is ready on time and meets our extremely high standards. Our tented structures have been carefully researched and are the same type used on game reserves in South Africa to ensure we give our guests the full safari experience here in Kent.
I tend to eat at my desk at lunchtime, usually fruit and several cups of tea (strong and sweet), but most days I tend to work through while checking on existing accommodation, or preparing for new developments. We have a comprehensive plan to grow our accommodation that includes the full conversion of a beautiful 15th century Wealden Hall House alongside further luxury lodges and glamping offerings.
We decided to initially start our venture into glamping to offer our visitors the chance to experience the reserve 24 hours a day. It was rightly anticipated to generate more revenue to fund our vital conservation work both at the wild animal parks we look after in Kent and the wilderness areas we protect overseas. Ultimately, this means that we continue to send animals born at our parks to protected areas of their natural habitat, so they can live wild and free – just as they should be.
I never leave work feeling I have left something to do. Our guests are usually fully settled in and enjoying their experience. I can rest assured that they are in the capable hands of my brilliant teams.
I have been working at Port Lympne for seven years, all while living in Droitwich. We have been in development mode in Short Breaks during this period and I have been at the very heart of what we have achieved in this time. Encompass this with our wonderful animals, incomparable people and glorious landscape and you’ll have a pretty good idea why I love my job!
Chris has a comprehensive background in leisure, retail and the public sectors ranging from holiday parks, both UK and abroad, visitor attractions and transformational work in the public sector. He has a wife, Nicola, a son, Brett, and two daughters, Charlotte and Laura. When leisure time presents itself, he loves to watch rugby and still plays the occasional game of cricket.
Port Lympne Reserve Accommodation
> Giraffe Lodge – 10 authentic African style tents overlooking the watering hole on the ‘African Experience’. Aimed at adults, dinner and breakfast is included, cooked on an open fire pit in the Laapa at the lodge. Guests also enjoy a ranger guided safari and the opportunity to feed the resident giraffe herd.
> Bear Lodge – 19 safari tents tents capable of accommodating between six and eight guests in each and perfect for families. The site overlooks the bear habitat and includes a clubhouse restaurant, pizza takeaway, bar and large children’s play area.
> Pinewood – a fun camping experience, aimed at families and groups comprising 13 fully insulated wooden pods, shepherd’s huts and luxury tents. It also has a clubhouse and restaurant and is set close to the lion and tiger habitats.
> Hog Deer Creek – eight luxury shepherds huts set in the garden of the ‘Asian Experience’.
> Forest Hideaway – three raised cabin/treehouses set amongs towering pine trees, close to the Amur tiger habitat.
> The Bubble – a luxury romantic retreat, with transparent walls for 180 degree panoramic views.
> Lion Lodge – the latest development, two unique timber clad, Manhattan loft style buildings set within the lions’ habitat – a first in the world. Featuring picture windows in both the master bedroom and the open plan living area, guests are just a breath away from the lions.
> Tiger Lodge – as above but set within the tiger enclosure.
> Wolf Lodge and Rhino Lodge – two converted cottages adjacent to the wolf and rhino habitats.
> Treehouse Hotel – voted Best Tourism Experience and Self Catering Experience of the Year 2016-2017 by Tourism South East, the hotel is nestled in the tree canopy above the reserve.
> Port Lympne Hotel – four star luxury with a twist in a grade two mansion.