Editor’s Note: Julian Gothard was born in Singapore, has lived in Germany, England and the U.S. and has traveled extensively in Europe and North America, including Canada and Mexico. He is a freelance writer and photographer for examiner.com and an enthusiastic advocate of the RV lifestyle. This article appears in the July issue of Woodall’s Campground Management. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Holiday and residential leisure parks in the United Kingdom operated by companies like Butlins and Pontins – and immortalized by the 1980’s BBC TV show “Hi-de-Hi” – provided a uniquely British summer vacation destination from the 1940s through the 1970s.
But the entry of Dutch firm Center Parcs to the U.K. market – the company opened its first village resort in Sherwood Forest in July 1987 – heralded a sea change in the British holiday camp market.
Today, vacationers can choose from a tent and RV campground in static caravan parks – operated by companies like Haven Holidays and Park Holidays – or opt for premium destinations like Center Parcs or Don Amott Leisure Parks.
In the U.S. too there are similar differences between park operators from KOA and Jellystone to Encore/Thousand Trails and RVC Outdoor destinations.
Holiday caravan park developments in Britain often consist of serried rows of static caravans lined up at popular seaside destinations, though the attractions of such resorts have always been lost on me. According to Samantha Heap, director of Don Amott Parks Ltd. and the third generation of the family involved in the management of the business, the original parks dreamt up by her father might also have ended up cut from the same cloth were it not for a fortuitous visit to the United States.
“The whole setup of our parks changed after a visit to America. My parents’ holiday in Palm Springs… and when my dad used to get bored… he used to travel around all the RV parks around California and look and see how they did things differently,” said Heap. “We had just bought a park in Lincolnshire and started developing in that traditional way where the Brits lay all the caravans along the coast in lines.”
According to Heap, when her father, Don, returned from the U.S. he halted all development work with the comment “We are doing it all wrong. Scrap the plans. Start again. The Americans have got the right idea.”
Today, many aspects of Don Amott’s business look like they have been transplanted from North America. “We create massive bays. We give people proper gardens with features in. We put them in forests. It changed the whole landscape of our business,” said Heap. “Every subsequent park we bought we developed in the same way,” she added. Don Amott still spends six weeks every summer in America – always in a different state and invariably astride a Harley-Davidson motorcycle – and scours the Union for the best and most innovative ideas to add to his company’s state-of-the art holiday parks. “All the time we’re pushing forward and reinventing our parks and doing new things that nobody else does. We are always looking for new ideas,” said Heap.
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