Even the humblest washroom facilities can make or break your brand, advises Becci Knowles...
Leading market research firm Mintel says that in a competitive market, with relatively low brand differentiation outside of the leading holiday centre brands, catering for rising visitor expectations in terms of accommodation, facilities and experiences has become vital for success. Clean, modern, accessible, and eco-friendly washrooms have a key role to play in continuing this upward trend.
A quick look at holiday park reviews online at Tripadvisor is testimony to the fact that these facilities feature highly on the list of customer priorities across every demographic. Meeting the rising expectations of existing customers and changing the perception new ones, is vital for a destination’s growth. Park Holidays operates 43 caravan holiday parks across the UK from Cornwall in the West, Suffolk in the East and up to Yorkshire and Scotland in the North.
Commenting on the importance of its washroom facilities across the portfolio, a spokesperson told Holiday Park Scene: “On our parks which provide touring and camping pitches, the washrooms remain one of the single most important factors in shaping guests’ level of satisfaction with their stay.
“On review websites, our facilities will frequently be commended for their cleanliness, standards of maintenance, and overall impression of being a welcoming and hygienic environment for ablutions. “Positive comments on our washrooms also appear on Park Holidays’ Feefo review website and have helped the group achieve the platform’s excellence award for six years in succession.”
Washrooms are pivotal in the success of smaller parks too, particularly where there is a spa element Kevin Jones, resort director at Whalesborough Farm and cottages tells Holiday Park Scene. “Being a health spa and 5* cottages resort, cleanliness and the experience is vital to our business, we pride ourselves on giving the customer the best possible experience they can have while with us,” says Kevin.
He continues: “Businesses are judged by the cleanliness of the facilities and predominantly the washroom facilities, we want our customers to enjoy their time with and a clean, pleasurable place to be starts with the washrooms.” Shaun Matthews is the owner of Blue Hills Touring Park in Truro. He agrees that good quality, clean facilities help to present a professional image of your park.
“Many smaller caravan and camping sites such as our 50 pitches often don’t provide some of the other facilities that are found on larger parks so it essential that those we do provide are as good as they can be. They will be one of the main facilities that a park is judged upon. “The main requirement that guests are looking for, regardless of shape/ size washroom facility that’s provided is cleanliness, this seems to be the number one priority and is never going to change.
“Washroom facilities have been moving more and more “posh”, underfloor heating, heated and backlit mirrors, background music. In some case there has been a move to provide facilities that are more akin to a hotel, although this is still the preserve of the much higher end parks.”
Emma Bateman is the site manager of Lincolnshire based holiday park, Westwood Lakes. Specialising in fishing holidays, it has seven lakes open to guests and the public. As fishing is an outdoor sport, and the lakes are sometimes a distance from the main buildings, the park has built its own toilet facilities around the lakes, which staff clean daily. The company also hires portaloos, via an external provider, for the lakes that cannot be reached by the water and drainage system.
Emma says: “Over the 16 years we have been operating, we have tried to update our facilities as we see fit. For example, the outdoor permanent toilet blocks are a recent addition to the site after fisherman complained the café and bar toilets were too far away from the lakes. “In addition, we have recently updated our hand driers to the Dyson air model, and we find they are much more efficient at drying hands and that means less paper is used too.”
Onsite facilities include both a café and bar with washroom facilities, including disabled toilets and baby changing units. Emma adds: “Having these extra facilities means we can accommodate all visitors; inclusion is important to us at Westwood Lakes, and this is reflected in our facilities having ramp access etc, to improve visitor experience.” Mayfield Park is a family-owned and run camping, caravan and residential park nestled in the hills on the outskirts of the famous market town of Cirencester.
Picking up on Emma’s point about access and inclusion, managing director Carl Upton agrees that the location of your washrooms, is key: “When planning on new toilet blocks it’s always good to keep them near the camp site and not miles away or in a muddy field and to have easy access for disabled users,” he says. Had the team at Westwood Lakes foreseen just how much how much the park would grow in the 16 years since its inception, Emma says they would have planned their washroom facilities differently: “For example, the outdoor permanent toilet blocks would have been built much earlier and we would have used part of the accommodation plumbing and drainage systems to be able to reach the further afield lakes instead of portaloos, which is an extra monthly expense.”
“Washroom location is everything,” says Blue Hills Touring Park’s Shaun Matthews. “So not too far from the furthest pitches but equally close enough to services to reduce installation costs.” He also points to ease of operation. “Are they user friendly, can some facilities remain open whilst others are closed for cleaning,” Sean asks. “Don’t underestimate the number of cubicles/ showers required, make sure that guests are well catered for and won’t have to queue for their morning shower. “Accessible and family bathroom facilities should also be provided. Can you integrate other facilities into the same building, for example, wash up areas.”
Back at Whalesborough Farm and Cottages, resort director Kevin is keen to stress the importance of sustainability: “Parks should always consider sustainability, from thinking how we heat our washrooms to the water we use in them,” he says, adding: “We use water from our own bore hole and air source heating powered by our turbine on site.” Blue Hills Touring Park’s Shaun Matthews suggests using recycled and environmentally friendly cleaning products.
“If you can easily manage the cleaning maintenance through good design then you are part of the way to sustainability. “In addition, sustainability can be achieved through the installation of renewables such solar thermal, air source/ground source heat pumps and so on.” Achieving a more sustainable business model, especially in the current economic climate, remains a challenge for many parks.
Emma again: “We have to think of what is friendly and cost effective; we are becoming more aware of the environmental damage and we can make a difference with better quality hand driers, environmentally friendly toilet rolls and tissues. “Sadly, this doesn’t always equal cost effective, and that is something we are trying to balance here at Westwood Lakes,” she adds.
Looking to the future, Shaun says: “Washrooms will become more upmarket as guests demand a better experience. “Probably more eco-friendly, it’s quite likely that more operators will also move towards unisex facilities. This will help to reduce the number of cubicles required and reduce costs as utility bills continue to grow.” Picking up on this point, Whalesborough’s Kevin Jones says: “Washrooms of the future will be clean, vibrant, multi-generational, filled with cloud-based technologies, a zero emissions bathroom removes the feeling of guilt when using natural resources and energy.
“It will allow us to take a shower several times a day without placing a burden on the environment. “Designed as a small power station, the bathroom functions as a heat recuperator and water treatment facility, for example by converting waste materials into methane which is then used to generate heat.” While the development of washroom technologies continues to gather pace and the exact future of them remains to be seen, what is clear is that parks looking update their existing facilities or install new ones have an ever-widening range of products and services to choose from.