ROLLER COASTER YEAR
The ups and downs of 2020,as the Holiday Park Scene team reports...
It was emotional to witness the end-of-week show at a leading UK holiday resort just before the start of England’s second Lockdown. Not knowing if they were going to get the opportunity to perform in December, the outstanding entertainment team burst into festive song for their encore, just in case they never get the opportunity to stage their Christmas show. The disappointment and uncertainty was tangible. A roller coaster year of famine, feast then famine again, Covid-19 has taken its toll on morale across the UK holiday sector through 2020. A short reprieve from Lockdown this summer meant many holiday parks were able to fire up and get back to some form of business as usual, albeit with restricted booking numbers to comply with new safety measures and a great deal of logistical thought going into communal areas and social distancing.
As the next wave of this pandemic continues to batter Britain, a second enforced national Lockdown has forced holiday parks to cancel bookings and close once again, with staff left fearing an uncertain future. All is not lost. With overseas travel restricted and families desperate to fit in a winter break, December and January are shaping up as the new peak season months. Helen Scott is the Director of Cofton Holidays in South Devon. A family-run business established over 40 years and usually booked year-round with guests enjoying the luxury cottages, lodges, bubbling hot-tubs and static caravans; the bustle of busy restaurants serving Devonshire cream teas. As she spoke to Holiday Park Scene magazine, the resort lay still, silent, empty - with almost 95% of its workforce on furlough.
Our staff are like our family,” says Helen, “We are all so close and work together well as a team, so we are feeling sad. “Nobody knows how this will play out or what the future holds,” Helen continues. “The uncertainty of not knowing if there will be further Lockdowns in the future is something that worries us all and, as we’re usually open 365 days a year, this second national Lockdown has hit us hard.” After months of hard work to make sure guests could visit safely, this Lockdown has been such a blow to places like Cofton. Helen says: “Our team worked tirelessly after the first Lockdown to secure bookings for November, so to see them cancelled is a real shame. It seems so strange for us to have to send our customers away once again.”
December could be one of the busiest months of the year at Park Holidays UK after hundreds of families learned that their hopes for a November break had been dashed. The latest Lockdown means that the company has had to cancel all November holidays, but director Tony Clish says that many guests have opted simply to delay their stay. “Under our coronavirus guarantee, customers can book with confidence because we promise a full no-quibble refund if they are forced to change their plans.
“In fact, we’re finding a large number of couples and families are asking if they can time-shift their break until December – and we’re happy to make the changes without cost. “Added to the high volume of existing bookings we already have, I think it’s likely that December will be as busy as high season across our parks. “It’s great news for everyone, including Britain’s tourism economy, but it means people will need to be fast on their feet if they want to enjoy an escape next month. “Some of our parks are already approaching capacity, so we must work on the basis of first come, first served,” said Tony. Instead of closing after the October half-term, a total of 13 of the group’s 30-plus parks are this year continuing to welcome guests until the week before Christmas. Despite the heavy demand, says Tony, off-season prices will apply.
During December, and guests will stay in luxury lodges and premium grade holiday caravans. The holidays are all being offered on an “accommodation only” basis with many of the parks’ usual facilities remaining closed or operating on reduced hours. “There’s going to be a very relaxed atmosphere across our parks, and I think that’s exactly what people will be wanting after another month of Lockdown,” said Tony. “Roads, towns and visitor attractions will all be less busy, and you can enjoy beautiful coast and countryside walks with the feeling that you’ve got it all to yourself. “It will be a great chance to chill – but also to stay snug as all our holiday homes have super-efficient central heating and high levels of insulation.”
The owner of a Cornwall holiday park has spoken of his ‘gut-wrenching dismay’ at having to cancel more than 130 free holidays for Lockdown heroes in November. Patrick Langmaid of Mother Ivey’s Bay in Padstow had pledged to give key workers the holidays as a massive ‘thank you’ for their bravery and commitment during the continuing Covid crisis. But with the second Lockdown, the no-cost stays are having to be put on ice. “I am so desperately disappointed that we are having to cancel the free holidays that we had planned and were so looking forward to providing,” said Patrick.” We had hoped to be welcoming staff from the NHS, police, fire service, local foodbanks and care workers for their richly deserved breaks. “Now, instead of preparing for their arrival, we are contacting them to let them know they can no longer come with their families and spend time with us,” he said. Throughout November, 137 key workers from across the UK were to be welcomed at Mother Ivey’s, and a further 21 in December at its sister-park, Martha’s Orchard in Constantine Bay.
“I have great respect and admiration for those who have kept Britain going during these challenging times, and it’s so sad that they are not going to be able to have the benefit of these holidays. “Key workers need respite too, and their personal wellbeing seems to have been forgotten during the recent announcements.” Patrick is calling upon the Government to make special provision for key workers and their wellbeing during this new Lockdown, including giving them the important downtime to relax. “Everyone needs a break, and especially those who have been tirelessly working on the frontline for the past six months,” says Patrick. It is not easy for the on-site owners who, Cofton’s Helen Scott says, have been very understanding, or the customers, many of whom have had rearranged trips cancelled yet again: “Our customers are very sad to see us closed but understand this is what needs to be done,” Helen says. “Cofton Holidays is their haven; their get away from it all. Helen says they’re using the time as best they can and trying to look ahead positively: “We are making the most of being closed and progressing with work that we would have found difficult to achieve with customers staying on site.
“We want our customers to really see the difference when they return. During the last Lockdown, we improved our roadways and footpaths, developed our beautiful wildlife corridors, introduced new super pitches and increased security with the installation of ANPR barriers. We know that next year will be a bumper season for staycations. We’re already seeing a significant increase in our bookings for 2021.” Helen remains pragmatic about the government handling of the crisis. “I just keep thinking, who would want to be in their shoes? Would any of us do a better job? “The furlough scheme has been a godsend and has helped us protect the jobs of our Cofton team, which is extremely important to us. “Looking back to earlier this year, I wonder if the first national Lockdown was too harsh, especially on Devon and Cornwall which was not as affected by the Coronavirus compared to other regions.”