Reasons to be cheerful: how the holiday park industry is bouncing back

Caravan Industry & Park Operator editor Victoria Galligan highlights three reasons why the future is now looking brighter for the holiday park industry.

The coronavirus lockdown had a major impact on travel and tourism for three long months but, as lockdown eased and sites began to reopen again, bookings went “through the roof” – and so did caravan sales. The industry should be extremely proud of itself for its actions during lockdown, with many working hard to prepare for reopening and the “new normal”. Thankfully, all that hard work is starting to pay off. 

Fresh from my own little glamping break in Shropshire (there was a wood-fired hot tub, it was bliss!) I have seen how holiday parks are taking social distancing and cleanliness routines extremely seriously, allowing the trade to pick up where it left off without putting guests or staff at risk. Here are my insights into how things are finally beginning to look up despite disaster striking back in March…Bailey caravan on a field near cliffs at a holiday park

1. Holiday parks have adapted well to new safety measures 

Thankfully coronavirus restrictions on outdoor areas were eased early on, and the outdoor nature of holiday parks has stood the trade in good stead. 

The National Caravan Council (NCC) Director General, John Lally, commented on this when the July 5 reopening date was announced by the Prime Minister, pointing out that caravan products are “socially distanced by design”.

He added: “The parks industry across the UK can be safe places for people to holiday.  Not only are caravans required to be 5m or 6m apart, but caravan parks are big open spaces, the ideal base for hard working families to enjoy the great outdoors.”

John added that parks worked hard on safety protocols to keep staff and visitors safe. There's a great example of how this was achieved at Love2Stay near Shrewsbury. Park manager Chris Skitt said: "As soon as parks got the green light to open, booking started going through the roof from people wanting to enjoy an escape to the countryside."

Parks had been carefully monitoring government guidelines on coronavirus safety measures and staff at Love2Stay, which is owned and operated by Salop Leisure, put their plan into action. It was such a good plan, they even named it.  The Safe Stay initiative defined a new standard in caravan site cleaning standards, elevating hygiene practices from check-in to check-out. There was a thorough research assessment carried of all points of guest contact, from the front barrier to firepits, and team members were trained on how to protect themselves and guests via thorough cleaning processes. Inspections were increased, communal areas defogged daily and car cleaning and sanitising was even offered to guests. A timed session system within the pool also proved a great success when it came to monitoring the amount of people in the area at any one time.

All in all, the Love2Stay team are maintaining scrupulously clean environments throughout the holiday park.

“Our first priority has always been the safety of our guests and team members,” said Chris. “Safe Stay built on the best practices and protocols which we developed after our shutdown in March, allowing our guests to relax and focus on enjoying the unforgettable experiences we have to offer – while protecting our team members who are on the front lines of hospitality.

“We are delighted to say that we have seen a really positive return to business since reopening on July 4. Of course many things have changed and thankfully, on the whole, our Safe Stay campaign has been really well received. As with everything at Love2Stay, our continual review process has seen some slight operational changes but on the whole things have remained the same since we reopened.”

2. Spending is rising again thanks to the post-lockdown staycation

With three months’ worth of spending to make up for, it’s good to see that many Brits couldn’t wait to take a break. If nothing else, lockdown provided an opportunity for some people to save money. I personally couldn’t wait to holiday in the great outdoors, choosing a glamping shack in Shropshire which was booked entirely on a whim. I just felt the overwhelming urge to have a family break and catch up with friends – at a safe distance, of course. And I wasn’t alone.

According to a survey carried out by Nationwide Building Society at the end of July, one in five people planned to use the money they’d saved in lockdown to treat themselves to a change of scenery after so long indoors. This was particularly prevalent amongst younger people, with 30% of those aged 16-34 planning to use money saved on a holiday compared to 14% of 45-54s and 17% of those aged 55+.

Nationwide also found that those choosing to remain in the UK were likely to spend, on average, £480 on items, ranging from travel and meals to entertainment and essentials. This amount was on top of accommodation costs.

The NCC also reported a huge spike in interest in tourers and motorhomes since dealerships re-opened in June. In their recent survey 70% of UK adults said they perceive a holiday caravan-based UK break as an acceptable activity post-lockdown. Motorhoming did even better, with 77%, indicating it as an appealing option. 

In caravan sales, Bailey of Bristol recorded the most sales ever in any one week since its dealerships re-opened on June 1. There’s a great video on the Bailey website where marketing director Simon Howard shows viewers around an empty car park and factory, saying, “That’s a result of the fantastic sales that our retail network has recorded since they reopened in June.”

Auto Trader reported that in the second half of May, users on the caravan and motorhome sections of its website were up by 17% versus the same time last year. 

3. This winter looks set to be the best yet

I’m not talking weather wise – although I wish I could predict it so far in advance! Many holiday parks had already dipped their toe into winter opening over recent years and for those that hadn’t, the lockdown has meant that they’re exploring their options now in order to bolster sales figures when the nights start drawing in.

With Pitchup.com now offering an “open all year round” filter on its search engine, it’s clear that there is a demand for winter breaks. Owners also want to get more for their money and as modern holiday homes are made from such advanced materials, they’re real homes from home. Long gone are the days of frost inside the windows and seeing your breath when you wake up in the morning. Winterisation is essential of course, and there are plenty of products and services out there which are making this easier.

Halloween, Bonfire Night, Christmas, Burn’s Night and Valentine’s Day all offer holiday parks large and small some ample opportunities to entice guests and market their facilities over the winter months.

Chris from Love2Stay added: “We only close for four days of Christmas and run a whole host of Christmas activities for children and adults alike. Bookings have been strong right the way throughout the rest of the year and we hope this continues into 2021. We are continually looking to improve the park and have some quite exciting plans.”

Camping and glamping offer a low-tech way to enjoy the great outdoors and, if campers are well kitted out, there’s not much stopping sites from opening throughout Christmas and beyond. Unless another Beast from the East or Pest from the West should darken our shores, of course. Well, I did say I can’t predict the weather!

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