The Battle of The British Holiday Park
Dave Johnson | On 11, Nov 2013
Never mind your Costa this or Costa that, never mind your Florida theme parks and definitely never mind your Dominican Republic getaways. The true home of British holiday making has always been the Holiday Camp. Currently making something of a comeback the history of the British Holiday Park is varied and surprising.
Holiday Parks B.B.
B.B. – that’s before Butlin’s – there were quite a number of holiday camps. The first holiday camp is widely recognized as Cunningham’s Young Men’s Holiday Camp at Douglas on the Isle of Man. It really did give rise to the expression holiday camp as visitors were accommodated in tents. It opened its tent flaps in 1905 and was followed by a second camp in Hemsby Norfolk.
Harry Warner opened a site on Hayling Island in 1931 with three more opened before World War II broke out. Warner asked a fun fair operator, Billy Butlin, to join the Warner’s board. Butlin oversaw the creation of a Warner’s park in Seaford, Devon and by 1936 he was ready to branch out on his own. Warners went on to operate a peak number of 14 camps by the mid 1960s.
Butlin oversaw the development of an empire that grew to ten camps between 1936 and 1966 including one, famously in the Bahamas. As competition from cheap package holidays grew Butlin’s diversified into overseas holidays during the 1970s but may were closed during the 2980s and 1990s as the British holiday maker fell out of love with the Butlin’s brand.
Fred Pontin opened his first holiday park in 1946 on an old US Army base at Brean Sands in Somerset. The park was a great success and Fred Pontin expanded operations, running 30 different sites at its peak during the mid 1960s. From the late 1970s onward the brand was sold to numerous organisations who disposed of the best assets and eventually left five parks trading under the Pontin’s brand in 2009.
With competition from overseas package holidays offering sun, sand and of course, sangria the British Holiday camp went into decline during the 1970s – 1990s. All of the major brands shed their less popular destinations and embarked on changing the image. Out went the Holiday Camp and in came the Holiday Park. Major investments have seen each of the brands focusing on new markets. Warner’s now focuses it’s offerings based around hotels offering greater comfort with holiday camp style entertainment provided as part of the deal. Pontin’s is now investing heavily in a new Adults only theme while Butlin’s, everybody’s favorite, has reinvented itself by replacing chalets with a range of hotel and apartment offerings.