The new Butlins hotel? Get away!

Which is why the Butlins founder, who died in 1980 after creating one of
Britain’s largest domestic holiday operators, might have been a little
surprised by the latest reincarnation of his summer holiday.

From today guests will begin to arrive at Butlins’ most upmarket creation yet,
a brand new £20m hotel in Bognor Regis which boasts spa treatments,
widescreen televisions with DVD players in every room and even a haut
cuisine menu where you can find such culinary delights as Chateuabriand,
confit of lamb or fillet of sea bass.

The five storey Ocean Hotel is a far cry from the cheap and cheerful
“Hi-Di-Hi” style that Butlins became renowned for with its famous Redcoat
staff and yearly chrome badges which regulars wore with pride on their
chests each season. But bosses hope the hotel will attract new customers in
these economically tight times as well as appeal to veterans of the Butlins
experience who are looking for something a little more upmarket.

Inside the hotel itself guests will be greeted by a cornucopia of kitsch that
is a mixture of Footballer’s Wives meets Ikea. Each bedroom boasts lime
green furniture, under bed mood lighting, singing showers and widescreen
televisions whilst the lifts that take you to the rooms blast disco music
and yet more colourful light displays at their occupants.

Where Bourne Leisure ? the company that bought Butlins in 2000 – particularly
hopes to attract new punters is at the hotel’s sizeable spa at which guests
can pay anything from £20 – £125 for an array of treatments such as waxes,
pedicures and “marshmallow facials”. To keep the men happy, meanwhile, there
is even a “Premier League” treatment (£29) where male vacationers can have
deep muscle massages for 25 minutes and watch the football at the same time.

The move towards hotel accommodation is something that Butlins has been
increasingly experimenting with in recent years at their Bognor Regis branch
? one of three remaining Butlins camps across the country that attract
approximately 1.5million visitors every year.

Four years ago they opened the Shoreline Hotel at Bognor Regis, the first time
the company moved away from chalet-style accommodation, which will now be
used by parents with toddlers. Speaking after the Ocean Hotel’s official
opening yesterday Richard Bates, the company’s managing director, said the
average Butlins guest is now increasingly asking for the kind of hotel
accommodation they might get on a package holiday abroad.

“We listen to our guests and they tell us that the kind of entertainment they
want is what comes out of their TVs on a Saturday night and we provide that
with shows featuring Britain’s Got Talent and X-Factor contestants” he said.
“But they also tell us what sort of accommodation they want and increasingly
it’s balconies, sea views and lots of light.”

So far Butlins’ move toward a more upmarket atmosphere ? a gamble that the
company has spent £53m on in accommodation costs alone over the past six
years ? seems to be paying off. Of those who have booked to stay at the
Ocean Hotel over the next six months, at least 55 per cent had never been to
Butlins before. Meanwhile the number of visitors to Butlins overall has
increased ten percent year on year for the past two years.

With more Britons now looking to take a domestic holidays because of the
ongoing economic turmoil and weakness of the pound against currencies like
the  euro, no-frills operators like Butlins are determined to cash in on the
so-called “staycationers”.

“For me it’s not so much how you attract the staycation set, but how you keep
them,” says Mr Bates. “When this economy recovers, if they didn’t get a
quality experience, they’re off and you’re going to lose them.  About 55% of
the customers for this hotel have never been to Butlins before, so they’ve
booked on trust.”

Away from the hubbub of the hotel’s official launch, Holly Graham and her
partner Hartley Whittaker were taking a brief rest from watching their
nine-year-old daughter Jodie on a nearby climbing wall. The couple usually
booked their holidays in Majorca but said they couldn’t justify the expense
this year. Would they come back to Butlins for their next holiday?

“Definitely,” said Miss Graham. “The children love it and – I know this is a
bit naughty – but the nicest thing for the parents is that you don’t really
feel like you’ve got your kids around because they’re always doing some of
the activities. I’m sleeping much better. We’re hoping to come back in
December with all the family.”

For Butlins bosses, Miss Graham is exactly the sort of customer they need to
keep attracting. “Building the hotel was easy,” admits Mr Bates. “Now the
hard work begins.”

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