Elemental Escapism: Hillside Beachclub

Elemental Escapism: Hillside Beachclub

04 Aug 17 5mins Jon Midmer


The more I travel, the more I suspect a good number of hotels and resorts would far prefer life without the inconvenience of guests! Without them, life would be so much easier! Indeed, the worst offenders go about their business as if their patrons should do their utmost to ensure the smooth running of the hotel and the wellbeing of the staff, not vice versa. There are, though, welcome exceptions, and the one preferred by the Midmer family for a week every summer is the Hillside Beachclub in southern Turkey.

Repeat business

“This your first time here?”, asks a middle-aged family man with an American accent. “Seventh”, I reply, trying not to sound too smug, thinking this man may be a newcomer. “It’s our eleventh”, he replies with nonchalance that surely belies smugness… Last week, on holiday at Hillside, as I tend to, I met a number of families who come back year after year. With such choice in hotel destinations these days, it struck me that our behaviour goes against the grain. So why so many ‘repeaters’ at my preferred resort (with which, it should be mentioned, I have no commercial interest)?

Let’s consider the 5 Ps. Place: it’s in a stunning, private bay with crystal clear, turquoise waters and a 500-metre Blue Flag beach. There’s rarely a cloud in the sky between June and September, and temperatures hover between 30 and 38 degrees. It’s also 45 minutes away from Dalaman airport, which boasts both numerous international connections and a superb new terminal (think Madrid Barajas).

Price: it’s superb value, often half the price of snootier, less child-friendly rivals elsewhere in Europe.
Promotion: this year they threw an airport transfer into the bargain, and once you’ve returned three times you get 30% of drinks at the bar (everything else is included).
People: the staff, and I mean all of them, exude the laid-back warmth I have seldom seen outside the Caribbean with the professional smiliness of Disney ‘cast members’.

And the guests themselves are in the main a clubbable, well-mannered bunch who truly value what they’ve come to enjoy. Product: almost all the rooms have large balconies and the facilities (allowing you to indulge in everything from archery to zumba) are first rate and upgraded every year, as is the stunning range and quality of the food.

Squaring the circle

What struck me this year, as I looked at it with more of a critical eye, was the way this resort squares so many circles that others never quite manage. While it’s part of a large, successful leisure and entertainment group, it retains a homely, independent feel. While it’s actually pretty big, it feels intimate, and although it’s now over 20 years old, it looks as if it were opened no more than a few years ago. It appeals to both foreigners and locals – I estimate a 40-60 split – and equally to adults and children. The music and parties are as boisterous as you need to feel invigorated, but it is also careful to preserve oases of calm and silence. Furthermore, it treads a clever tightrope of being natural and down to earth, while also offering urban extravagance to those who desire it, not least in the form of two world-class spas.

What it also does so well is something that Virgin Atlantic has traditionally excelled at: providing delightful magic touches. In Hillside’s case, they come on a daily basis and never cease to delight. Fresh flowers in your room; ice-cold towels, mocktails and a sunglass polish at noon; plates of cherries, freshly-roasted sweetcorn, and tea and cake in the late afternoon; and a post-dinner hot dog stand are examples of this. As are the weekly Cinema Paradiso screenings on the beach (the screen actually floats on the sea!) and the funicular railway to take you up to your room. 

Putting theory into practice

Thinking on how it draws on business practice, its constant thirst for feedback and bonusing staff on NPS measures alone have achieved the desired effect. As have the long tenure of the majority of its team and a reward and recognition culture of which David Novak, ex-Chair and CEO of Yum! and his protegés, would be proud: the army of chefs and cleaners are applauded in front of (and by) the other staff and guests once a week, a ritual that can bring a lump to the throat.

It takes a leaf out of How Brands Grow, by Byron Sharp, by retaining its heavy buyers, while always seeking new, light ones (clearly fearing the Pareto rule). With a nod to The Paradox of Choice, by Barry Schwartz, it carefully edits the choice of everything down to five options… apart from the nine varieties of pillow! And, taking a leaf out of The Pyschology of Influence, by Robert Cialdini, it leans hard on the social proof influencing of Facebook recommendations. When it comes to technology, we were sent a welcome and goodbye SMS, and this year you could order your drinks via an app and have them brought to your sun lounger – tremendous!

Making people feel good

While excellent, thank goodness it’s not perfect! As Frasier and Niles once agreed, there’s nothing worse than an establishment where there’s nothing to complain about. August will be too hot for some, and depending on your expectations the rooms could be a tad spartan. If lobster and caviar are your thing, you’ll have to head to the Kempinski or Mandarin Oriental down the coast. Despite all the healthy options, if you’re over 30 you’re bound to pile on the pounds, and, while unfailingly welcoming and totally inclusive, unless you count the different motifs on Vilebrequins, it’s not very diverse. If “edge” is what you look for out of a holiday, I suggest you head elsewhere: it’s unapologetically family-focused and awfully middle class. 

The founding mission of Hillside was to ‘Make People Feel Good’ and, although I have spent more on other continents in search of a comparable experience, I have yet to find another resort that makes guests feel more at ease. The late A.A. Gill said: “Travel is not broadening the mind, it’s narrowing the gap.” At Hillside, guests from all over the world experience a communal welcome where gaps are narrowed, circles squared and paradoxes resolved. And what makes it quite so special is that it offers an elemental, pure form of hospitality that most of us can only dream of enjoying.