Butlin’s has been a part of the British holiday scene for more than 70 years and its pools are a central feature of each resort. But what have they to offer the 21st century holidaymaker? Jan Hurst reports…
Transforming the British holiday experience, the vision of Butlin’s founder, Billy Butlin’s, back in the 1930s, was to provide affordable, fun holidays for British families. The mission statement stays the same but today’s facilities, with multi-million water leisure investments are a world away from the chalet-style accommodation of the original Butlins’ camps.
In their heyday, there were 10 Butlin’s sites, including one in Ireland and one in the Bahamas. However, relentless competition from foreign package holidays in the 1980s and 90s saw the operation scale down to the three resorts which are operating today at Minehead, Skegness and Bognor. Butlin’s was acquired by Bourne Leisure (Haven, Warner Leisure Hotels) in 2005 and in the ensuing eight years ago a total of £200m has been invested in updating and refurbishing the three resorts. At the core of those improvements lie the swimming and spa facilities. Butlin’s Splash Waterworlds are open all year round and the company acknowledges that they are a top priority for the 1.5 million guests who use them each year.
A large proportion of these guests are families with children, although every winter a quarter of a million people book in for adult-only, live music weekends when the pools are also in full use. With so many customers placing pool-based activities at the top of their list of holiday requirements Butlin’s seeks to offer the broadest possible range of pool extras at all three resorts. These include free parent and toddler swim sessions every morning, with qualified instructors on hand to offer advice and shallow water play areas with mini slides and fountains, designed specifically with younger children in mind. Swimming lessons are also available for four to 11-year-olds, with qualified instructors at a cost of £5 per session. For the older age range there are wave machines, bubble pools, water cannons, lazy rivers, rides, flumes and DJ booths.
‘Serendipitous’ is the word Jay Hopkins, Head of Communications at Butlin’s uses to describe the happy combination of an increasing of people taking the decision to holiday at home and the injection of cash that has been allocated to refurbishing its Splash Water World facilities. “Our profits have risen for the past five years – we experienced record sales in 2012, there was maximum occupancy at our resorts for many breaks and our research indicates that the big thing that guests come to us for is our pool facilities,” says Jay. “The Skegness resort was in need of a facelift and we have spent almost £14 million on a complete rebuild there and the plan is to look at our other two resorts in the near future.” The new Splash Waterworld facilities at Skegness are scheduled to open as Pool & Spa Scene goes to Press. They will include features such a a Vortex Fast Flume, which will send guests down a 60-feet-high winding slide and spinning into a giant bowl, before plunging into waters below.
Other highlights will include a Jetstream Fast Flume, consisting of a high-speed slide that skims guests across the water of the splash zone below. A Riptide Raft Ride and outdoor River Rapids will be complemented by a Captain’s Challenge –a series of net tunnels above the water that provide guests with a bird’s eye view. A Rockpool Cove for younger children, a central whirlpool and bubble pool, a wave pool, rapids, a DJ booth and a café with plenty of space to relax and socialise in are also part of the new build.
Splash Waterworld at Skegness is the brainchild of Sam Stokoe, Director at Newman Guage Interior Design, whose portfolio includes a range of spa and health facilities. Sam Stokoe was given a brief to capture the elements of playfulness and fun that Butlin’s perceives to be integral to the brand. The design is based loosely on the British seaside, exaggerated to produce a fantasy environment, according to Sam Stokoe. The planning and execution of the project took over three years and has doubled the size of the existing facility. Windswept cliff formations clad the walls and palm trees, dune grasses and monitored air-conditioning enhance the atmosphere to create a sub-tropical effect. “I wanted to create an environment that was three- dimensional, the complete opposite of a municipal swimming baths and as you would expect, Splash Waterworld is not intended for serious swimmers who simply want to lap the pool unimpeded. Splash Waterworld has high level pools and sculptural platforms, linked by cargo-net tunnels, which encourage guests to climb above the water and seating areas,” says Sam. “The facility offers every conceivable choice – large seating areas to relax in, a café, paddling pools for younger children, flumes and rides for the adventurous – it has been designed to appeal to every generation and, most importantly of all, for everyone to enjoy at the same time.”
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