Iconic British holiday firm Butlin’s has just opened the doors on its most ambitious new venture in years: Splash, a state of the art swimming facility at its Bognor Regis site in West Sussex.
Filled with 600,000 litres of water, decorated with more than two million tiles, and measuring 6,300 square metres, 1,250 people worked on the five-year long project that cost the company a cool £40 million, making it the most expensive pool in Europe.
It can also stake a claim at being the most family-friendly too, as the destination has gone to extreme lengths to ensure the pool offers an unrivalled experience for its visitors of all ages.
“This has been a five year piece of work, and it's not all been the build,” Butlin’s MD Jon Hendry Pickup explained to Yahoo. “The pool is such a core part of our break, that it was essential that we did something really great.”
The new pool is vast and enclosed in a new purpose-built structure on the far side of the Bognor Regis site’s car park. It’s a short walk from the main hub, but the difference between the old and new pool is night and day.
The art-deco inspired building is bright and airy and filled with natural light on all sides, and a huge helter skelter waterslide dominates one corner. The main pool is circular, and divided into four main sections - a 1.2m deep lido with beach huts, a toddler slide area (pictured above), a splash zone for little ones, and a wave pool that runs on a 20-minute cycle.
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It boasts more slides, rapids, hot tubs, wave machines, and flumes than your average outdoor splash park, but it’s in the changing rooms that you begin to understand the importance of the user input that went in to the design.
The company worked closely with parenting network Mumsnet to identify key areas of improvement they needed to address for the new facility, and it quickly became clear that changing rooms were universally bad, not just at Butlin’s.
“[The design process] really started there because so much of the negative feedback we got was about our changing experience,” explained Jeremy Pardey. resort director at Butlin’s Bognor Regis. “How many times have you been to a pool and hated the changing experience? Every time.”
The new changing room area is 40% bigger than is usually dedicated to the space, offering flexible changing solutions for families of all sizes, from solo bathers up to families of four, and it’s air-conditioned to keep it a comfortable temperature all year round.
Each colour coded area has its own lockers too, increasing in size to match the capacity of the changing room. Crucially, every family-sized changing room has a baby changing table, and a secure seat to strap in your little ones while you get changed.
On the return journey back from the pool, underfloor heating puts an end to soggy socks, while free swimwear drying facilities means there’s no need to spend time wringing out everyone’s swimming costumes. Plus there’s ample showers for everyone, with the pool offering a capacity of up to about 1,000 people at peak times.
Like Butlin’s the company, the pool is forward-thinking, while also being reverential of its past. For example, Splash boasts the world’s first helter-skelter water slide (lovingly dubbed the Emperor Dalek by staff), inspired by one that stands in the resort’s funfair. The heated changing room floors are covered with a tiled pattern inspired by Butlin’s pools of yesteryear, while Sir Billy Butlin’s customer service motto “Our true intent is all for your delight” is writ large above the seaside-inspired beach huts on the wall of the pool.
The company founder’s daughter Jacqui Butlin believes her father, who sold the company in 1972, would have approved of the company’s newest attraction.
“My father would have been so proud,” Butlin tells Yahoo. “You have to keep moving with the times, you can’t stay in the 1950s and have the knobbly knees competitions, and that’s what they’ve done. They’ve brought it up to speed. They’ve done such a great job, in fact it’s even better.”
The Hi-de-Hi! era with its bingo and knobbly knees competitions, is something the company is keen to stress belongs in its past.
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“I think a lot of the perception of the brand is quite retro,” admits Hendry Pickup. “I think that's probably because we've not done a good enough job of telling potential guests about what we do really well now.”
One thing that took us by surprise, is the amount of activities that are included in the price of a package holiday. We visited during one of the resort’s Tot’s Weeks, catered towards families with children under the age of 5, and found our itinerary packed every day. From free stage shows featuring the Teletubbies, Paddington, and characters from C5’s Milkshake, to soft play, funfairs, arcades, puppet shows, and the obligatory trip to the local beach, it’s a cost-effective break compared to somewhere like Center Parcs.
“I think if we can bring [our message] to life more effectively, and that's certainly the plan with how we communicate, I think over time, that will definitely change perceptions, because I don't see any guests at the resorts who are saying: ‘this reminds me of Butlins in the 1950s’”, adds Hendry Pickup.
Splash is sure to play a big part in changing the public perception. A £40 million investment is a bold statement, and the company is already seeing dividends with summer sales apparently looking ‘strong’.
“We’re seeing really high demand across the resorts,” said Hendry Pickup, who admits Brexit has caused a lot of uncertainty in the travel sector.
“I think uncertainty affects everybody, unfortunately. The plus side - from our perspective - is summer looks really great. And that's our that's our biggest trading window. So we're very pleased about that so far.
“But I think Brexit may or may not have an effect on whether people decided to be in the UK or be away. What it definitely does is it makes people cautious and fearful about spending their money. And so I think again, we just have to make sure we give them a really slam dunk reason to spend their money with us.”
Splash is open now at Butlin’s, Bognor Regis. Visit www.butlins.com for details on how to book a short break.