Caravan parks have recorded a boom in demand as lockdown measures are relaxed, providing an unlikely source of economic growth as overseas travel remains largely off-limits.
Figures from the Office for National Statistics show activity in the UK’s accommodation and food services sector grew by 68.6% in April, with the biggest driver being caravan parks and holiday lets.
There was also strong growth in retail sales, with rising demand for caravans and motorhomes as lockdown-weary consumers packed their bags for a spring break on a camping ground or touring park.
At Seafield caravan park in Northumberland, Carolyn Britton is fully booked until October for holiday guests and has no permanent pitches left to sell to prospective caravan owners, as demand spirals upwards this spring. “Everything is at capacity, the spring bank holiday was one of our busiest ever,” she said.
Set in the picture-postcard village of Seahouses on the Northumberland coast, Britton’s family have owned the caravan park for more than 60 years – and business has never been so brisk.
“I’ve just come back from London for my birthday. I couldn’t believe how quiet London is compared to here. Seahouses itself is absolutely chocka. People are enjoying themselves, the takeaways are busy, the chip shops, supermarkets and everything.”
After a difficult year when Britton furloughed some of her 60 staff, Seafields is running up against a different problem. “Sales have come to a standstill as we haven’t got any space left to sell,” she said. “Normally we have a couple coming available each year but at the moment everyone is using their caravans.”
The first stop for Gemma and Gareth Thomas in their new caravan will be Glanusk in the Brecon Beacons but later in the summer a fortnight touring Scotland beckons.
The couple, who are in their 30s, are among a growing number of millennials embracing caravanning. They are also looking forward to getting away, along with many other Britons, whose bookings for caravan parks and holiday lets boosted consumer spending in April.
Gemma said it had been a running joke between them that they “felt a bit old” when they told people they were going to buy a caravan for the first time but said their experience on recent holidays told a different story as it was clear a “lot more people our age were investing in caravans”.
The pair, who live in Ystradgynlais in Powys, are proud owners of a Swift Sunrise 890. With a price tag of £26,000 they were won over by its spacious quarters which include fixed bunks and a separate seating area for their children Sophia and Hari.
Not being fans of package holidays the couple like the flexibility and freedom a caravan holiday brings. “The children can run around outside rather than being in a hotel room,” she said.
In St Ives in Cornwall, the spring holiday season was unusually busy for Becki Osborne at Polmanter touring park. “It will probably will be the busiest year on record for us, after April and May, and if the rest of the summer goes to plan,” she said.
Each time the government announced plans to ease lockdown restrictions – and to crackdown on international travel – Polmanter recorded a sharp rise in interest. “We often have quite strong advanced bookings but this year in particular we’ve seen a lot more demand for earlier in the season than would be usual.”
With 300 pitches within walking distance of St Ives, Osborne said the family-run park was welcoming guests this year who were taking a camping or caravanning holiday in Britain for the first time. Others are returning after experiencing it for the first time in 2020 when the pandemic first limited holidaymakers’ options.
“We’ve spoken to a lot of people who think of camping as being all cobwebby grimy showers and not much luxury, but then they come to a place like ours. You can’t always guarantee the weather but there is no place nicer than St Ives when the sun is shining,” she said.