Martin Lane writes: Let me tell you a tale of two travel brands…
Pontin’s and Butlins holiday camps both provided the UK’s post-war generation with everything they needed in a week away — bingo, knobbly knees contests and donkey rides on the beach. They weren’t the most sophisticated consumers in the world, but they had fought and won a war so let’s not begrudge them their week in the, erm, British sun.
Anyway, the two holiday giants reached their heyday in the 1960s, before air travel was widely affordable, with Pontin’s Blue Coats and Butlins Red coats providing the entertainment – a few of them even managed to make it on to the telly.
But it was largely downhill once charters started flying to Spain in the 1970s and the masses turned previously unspoilt resorts like Benidorm into a sunny version of Margate.
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In the 1980s, no-one would dare admit to going to a holiday camp and the whole concept became something of a joke.
But this is where the fortunes of the two companies diverge. Because while Butlins re-invented itself, running themed weekends, investing in its infrastructure and opening new properties, Pontin’s went on a cost-cutting mission, closing camps and allowing those that stayed open to fall into disrepair. In the noughties, word of mouth and the internet did the rest.
Recently, Pontin’s went into administration with pre-tax losses of £14.4 million for the eight months to the end of August 2010. Meanwhile, Butlins parent Bourne Leisure saw profits increase to £87.9 million in 2009, up from £54.8 million the previous year.
According to KPMG, which is handling the administration, the customers stopped coming and the company ran out of cash.
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This blog post first appeared on Thumbrella, the site for everything under the travel and hospitality umbrella.