Britons in their masses packed up their cars and drove off on their first holidays since the beginning of lockdown last weekend. The country’s first caravan and holiday parks reopened their doors on July 4 following the go-ahead from Boris Johnson for domestic travel to resume.
“We took the decision to phase reopening, so initially we opened just for our holiday home owners so they could enjoy the park for a few days prior to everyone else.
“It gave us an opportunity to recognise and thank them for their support through lockdown and also for our teams to get used to having people back on park and see how all the new safety procedures work with a much smaller number of people.”
Though the firm was understandably hit hard by the lack of foot traffic in the early summer months, Mr Howe says focussing on getting everything right ahead of reopening was important.
The team Bridge Leisure team felt “taking a cautious approach was more important than grabbing another week of bookings however much we need the income.”
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Mr Howe emphasised: “We are committed to safety first so felt it was the right thing to do.”
Instead, Bridge Leisure will reopen officially to the public today, with the site anticipated to be popular following a surge of bookings.
Despite the large number of eager holidaymakers though, social distancing and hygiene will remain at the forefront and ensure “a safe holiday experience”.
“We have invested a significant amount of time and effort into ensuring all of our parks can still provide a great holiday experience but also a safe holiday experience,” said Mr Howe.
“The list of changes is quite long but the most visible things to our guests will be a contact-free check-in procedure, so they go straight to their holiday homes or pitches.”
This method has already been utilised by a number of holiday park operators across the country, including Haven and Butlins, who have appointed a time slot system for guest arrivals.
Mr Howe also explained how cleaning measures have been ramped up across the site.
“If they are staying in self-catering accommodation, guests will see a sealed sticker on the door and will be given instructions not to enter if this seal has been broken,” he said.
“We want to make sure they are entering a sterile environment.
“There will also be visible markings on the floor in our community areas like the shop, bars and restaurants to maintain social distance.
“Our tills have sneeze guards fitted, we have an app for table ordering and service and we are also offering takeaway and delivery direct to accommodation.”
By working hard at figuring out the safest possible options, it means the majority of site facilities on offer with Bridge Leisure continue to be operational.
“The only thing completely shut off at the moment are the swimming pools,” added Mr Howe.
Thanks to the heightened safety measures, Bridge Leisure anticipates customers will be confident in their stay and keen to get back to holidays.
It’s a scenario the firm has already witnesses, thanks to a booking boom across its Cornwall, Peak District, Yorkshire and Scotland parks.
“There is a lot of demand and it is hard to manage the incoming calls – online is much quicker and easier,” said Mr Howe.
“We started a long long way behind where we should be at this time of year, but I am confident we will have a very good August, September and October.
“Many people are very nervous about travelling overseas at the moment so are opting for a UK staycation instead.
“Holiday parks are a great low-risk option because you are staying in a self-contained unit with your bubble and you don’t have to visit any of the facilities or complex areas if you don’t want to.
“At the very least it gives people a much-needed change of scenery and a new place to get out and explore.”
The CEO also added his gratitude to site owners and customers, who he said have been a constant source of “support”.
“The pandemic hurt us badly, we lost half a year’s income and many of our costs just carried on,” he said.
“But we are already seeing a surge in bookings and so we will fight back and survive.”