A tale of two strategies

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.

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.

Still having doubts about fixing that leak in your hostel?

5 thoughts on “A tale of two strategies

  • Pingback: A tale of two travel strategies – Back in a Bit

  • November 23, 2010 at 1:36 pm

    Oh Martin – now that is a trip down memory lane! Might not resonate quite as well with the dinky di Aussies on the site who don’t remember these places, but made me smile. Butlins went along with stripey deck chairs on peddle ridden ‘beaches’, 99 icecreams and Blackpool rock. British tourism – it was ruined when they transported it to Benidorm-by-the-Sea.

    I’m getting out the hostel hammer right now …

  • November 27, 2010 at 1:41 am

    See you gotta move with the times – no point in gazing back to ‘the golden era of backpacking’ that I hear on Thumbrella constantly – better to look forward and flow with demand. it wasnt the daggy Pontins sites that drove customers to Benedorm, but the cheap flights that flew them there – and its not the east coasts reputation dropping numbers, but the dollar and price of getting here.

  • November 30, 2010 at 12:15 pm



    Great editorial – nicely makes the point. If you invest in your brand and look for the opportunities you can prosper in a declining marketplace or during a downturn. In fact, you might even prosper more than those in a growing one.

    Maybe it was the cheap flights that pulled travellers to Benidorm, but it was Butlins’ strategy that kept enough of them in UK to make a handsome profit for the company.

    Glad to see it is already inspiring the industry to get out there and win the punters back!

  • January 27, 2011 at 7:32 pm

    Martin, didn’t I read somewhere that TUI (aka ATA Group in Oz) is the big company that has taken over running the charters to Spain now?


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