Creating a themed holiday break can hike bookings, writes Judith Wojtowicz...
Themed breaks are a great way for holidaymakers to explore new things; to experience something different be it stargazing in Norfolk, learning to surf in Scotland or fishing in the Fens. Whether aiming at a family looking for a week of water sports, such as Willowholt Caravan Park, or a solo traveller escaping for a few days to a writing retreat alongside like-minded people at somewhere like Lumb Bank.
Many centre operators are exploring new ideas while also adding value for today’s cost-conscious consumer. Skelwith Fold Caravan Park in Cumbria brings keen walkers all year round where guests are now raising money for the local air ambulance service through their purchase of walking guides. Routes range from easily navigated low-level footpaths to more demanding ascents of the surrounding fells. “All the walks have been submitted by our guests and used by Skelwith as part of our marketing strategy,” said Henry Wild whose family owns the park.
Henry explained: “Many guests come here specifically to enjoy walking in these spectacular surroundings and our guides are much appreciated. The fact they are compiled by like-minded visitors helps create something of a bond between guests who are delighted to see their own walk realised in print when they next return.” Each guide costs just £1.50 and last year raised £2,675 for the charity. Discounted green fees are on offer at the family-owned Riverside Caravan Park which neighbours Bentham Golf Club in the Yorkshire Dales.
Thomas Marshall rescued the failing club in 2009, ‘taking a gamble’ to invest in his personal vision. The risk paid off as today golfers flock to the site which has earned an enviable reputation as one of the best appointed and most spectacularly sited courses in the UK. The park has expanded still further with the creation of a luxury glamping option called Wenningdale Escapes making it a genuine destination of choice for golf enthusiasts.
Pods and lodges, the latter available both for rent and sale, are dotted around the fairways, a unique location for visiting players while also attracting non-golfers who value the space and beautiful scenery. The project has developed into a unique business model, bringing unexpected and very welcome benefits. The park is seeing a trend among returning visitors to ‘trade up’ initially from renting a spot for their touring caravan to buying a static ‘caravan’ on site, and from there to purchasing a luxury lodge on the fairway.
Said Thomas: “Since buying the golf club our business has gone from strength to strength, with cross-over between the two sites. It has been a hugely exciting ride over the past 15 years and the hard work has paid off, thanks in no small way to the combined efforts of our amazing team.” Taking advantage of what is already available on site is also proving a successful strategy at Acorn Holiday Park in the Cambridgeshire Fens where fishing is the main attraction.
Co-owner Paul Stanton purchased Acorn and the adjoining Pisces Country Park just before the COVID lockdown, recognising the potential to create one big park. “With four well-stocked fishing lakes and situated close to the famous Welney Wildfowl and Wetlands Reserve, we definitely saw an opportunity as people are choosing to get back to Nature for short breaks,” said Paul. “We could see the market was changing as guests told us they want a UK holiday, somewhere to relax and with a variety of activities.
While fishing is a central part of our business plan, we are also exploring the potential of working closely with the Wetlands Trust to offer added value.” With Pisces already established as an award-winning fishing venue, Paul has seen a quick return on his investment having trebled the number of rental units at Acorn and upgraded site facilities. Specialist conservation work is ongoing to enhance the grounds and lakes and several families are now on their second or third visit.
The dark skies over Norfolk also bring returning visitors to Kelling Heath Holiday Park, where a programme of themed breaks includes Star Parties attracting hundreds of amateur and professional astronomers to get an uninterrupted glimpse of the Milky Way and the constellation of Orion, visible to the naked eye. To meet demand, ten premium pitches in a sheltered spot, were added last year exclusively designated for astronomers.
These events have become even more popular since the park was recognised as a 2-star accredited Dark Sky Discovery Site in 2017, unaffected by light pollution. To protect this natural phenomenon, lighting is restricted across the site through sensitive pitch planning and asset design. Guests are advised to bring toothbrush and torch when they come to stay! Kelling Heath gives many people their first true dark skies experience.
The ‘excitement and wonder on the faces of those marvelling at the majesty of the night sky’ at our Star Parties is something to behold, said Michael Timewell, director of park owner Blue Sky Leisure. As well as star parties, the park’s dedicated countryside team runs a series of activity breaks during school holidays with the emphasis on conservation and education, reflecting its relationship with the Kelling Heath Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) which borders the park.
Marketing manager Lucy Cook told us the importance of these events cannot be over-estimated. “Elevating the importance of Dark Skies, educating people on what to look for and supporting specialist groups in the pursuit of their interests is incredibly important to us as a business. All our activities align with our ethos of enjoying the outdoors, discovering Nature and spending time together.”
When it comes to choosing a themed holiday, trying something new outside your comfort zone or learning a new skill, Camp Wildfire probably comes close to having it all. Festival camping with a difference, this forest retreat in Kent is packed full of adventure, a unique experience offering an extraordinary 100 activities with music at night for those who want to party. Activities range from making cocktails and learning to fly the trapeze to hot air ballooning and tree climbing.
New ones are added every year including Camp Kindling for those who wish to bring children. The brainchild of two university friends, it has grown from a one-off summer camp which attracted 350 adults in 2015, to a significant player in the leisure sector attracting 3,000 people to each weekend event held during August and September. More than 40 per cent of guests are returning visitors with social media and word of mouth recommendation ensuring full capacity.
Marketing manager Chris Rice reckons themed breaks are popular because it gives people a reason to take time out and do something totally different. “They are not just buying a holiday, they are buying joy and making memories. They can come back year after year and try something different. Camp Wildfire offers a low-stake investment in trying something they would never normally have either the opportunity, or the nerve, to try.
They can explore all their curiosities in a safe environment, which works for them and for us as a business.” For those who have the nerve to ride the waves, a stay at Surf Tiree in Scotland might be a good place to start. Self-catering accommodation is available alongside lessons from a team of professional instructors led by husband-and-wife team Marti and Iona Larg. Long stretches of beach with safe sea conditions provide the perfect setting for beginners of all ages, while kitesurfing and kayaking are also available.
After a two-year planning battle to set up their surf school, Surf Tiree has developed an enviable reputation. So much so that it is being considered as next year’s host for the Scottish National Surfing Championships. “It was tough in the early days, but we didn’t have the luxury of giving up as we had invested too much emotion and energy into the project,” said Iona. Board, wetsuit and all necessary kit is provided, and each instructor has no more than six-eight people in a group.
While this type of holiday is seasonal (April to October) and weather dependant, the beautiful Isle of Tiree has much to offer and year-round visitors can enjoy the wildlife, whale watching, basking sharks and lots more besides. When it comes to themed holidays there really does seem to be something for everyone. Geocaching in the Lake District, yoga in Wales, ‘witchy weekends’ in the Highlands, indoor bowls at Potters Resort, chess tournaments at Butlins, netball weekends in Shropshire, medieval weekends at Warwick Castle, orienteering in Norfolk… the choice is endless, and the potential is being increasingly recognised by independent owner/operators.
The PR value of such events has also been recognised by the Camping and Caravanning Club. While individual member sites tend not to provide themed breaks, relying instead on visitors choosing a site depending on leisure activities available in the vicinity, the club has created its own themed event. Following a successful launch last year, the club is once again hosting a Torchlight Festival of Camping in Walesby Forest, Nottinghamshire (August 18th -21st).
Exclusive to club members the programme includes an impressive line-up of musical entertainment headlined by Sophie Ellis-Bextor and Will Young. At nightfall, an illuminated light trail will entice visitors into the forest to learn about the club’s 122-year history. A £20 day pass will enable guests to try their hand at outdoor activities such as archery and zip-lining while campers can keep up the club’s century-old tradition of ‘lighting up’ by decorating and illuminating their tents, caravans and motor homes.
It seems activity breaks such as this are especially appealing for those seeking two or three shorter holidays a year, perhaps combining a hobby with a few days away, or simply wishing to get away from stressful everyday life rather than the traditional dash to the sun for two weeks. From a business perspective they encourage repeat visitors for popular annual events and help maintain on and off-peak occupancy rates.