A few days before we were required to close, we took the decision to close some of our attractions and venues before the main holiday Resort closed on 22nd March. This gave us a few days to look at stock levels in departments, run a shop session for our team members before donating short-dated stock to local causes and get prepared for a full lockdown, something we have never seen in our lifetime and hopefully we won't again.
Easter has now passed, which would have been one of the busiest times for us with up to 5000 guests on the holiday Resort - plus we would have celebrated 20 years of the building of RJ's - our main entertainment complex. Holidays and weddings, have been postponed and children’s parties cancelled. The pandemic couldn’t have come at a worse time, we have worked hard over the Winter period and have invested £4m on maintenance, overheads, wages and development so we were looking forward to our main trading season. We have business interruption insurance however as you have probably seen in the media the insurance industry is not responding to claims linked to the coronavirus pandemic. These are undoubtedly, challenging times and we believe that the decisions we have made are the right ones to protect our guests, our teams, the local community, and, indeed, our business.
What followed was some of the toughest business decisions we have faced in over 75 years of our family business.
95% of team members totalling over 180 have been furloughed under the government job retention scheme. This scheme is so important to help them and us through this time. Without it we would have had no choice but to lay off team members without pay. It is very unfortunate our March starters are not part of the government scheme which our industry bodies have been lobbying for, this will be the same across the tourism industry as we all have an influx of seasonal workers. We enforced a recruitment freeze mid-March to help protect our existing team and limit this.
A small skeleton team remains continuing on with essential work such as grass cutting, payroll, security and statutory work. Our reservations booking team are set up to work from home thanks to sophisticated technology giving secure access to our phone and booking system this allows them to deal with enquiries and bookings in the next few weeks. Across the tourism industry, we are encouraging customers to postpone their holiday rather than cancel to protect tourism.
This week is English Tourism Week. Tourism makes up up 80% of the UK’s visitor economy, English tourism generates £106 billion a year, supports 2.6 million jobs. We are all in it together and are affected in similar ways. It’s about damage limitation to be strong on the other side. Our industry bodies have provided guidance the whole way to help us make decisions on how to handle different situations so it is approached in a consistent, sensible way.
Life in lockdown has been difficult - We have over 200 acres of land, 8 miles of roads, all facilities all closed up and trying to maintain these with a skeleton number of team members to keep costs to a minimum. Whilst we have tried to reduce operating running costs being closed there are still bills to pay. We just aren’t used to everything being empty and locked up, but we are safe which is important during these times and we are following government guidelines.
New projects are on hold, some which we were already committed to like our new Ninja Zone at Brean Play that is ready for when we re-open and several pieces of outdoor play equipment on its way from the Far East. The installation of outdoor sports courts to accommodate netball and sports groups has been delayed. We had started a new caravan pitch development prior to the lockdown, so we have committed to finish this.
We keep up to date with our hard working team members some of whom have taken short term front line jobs and others have become NHS volunteers. Our thoughts are with them and we are very proud of and hope they will all return when this is over. During the lockdown we had a day where team 'shared their day’ on our team social media page with pictures of what they got up to plus a bake off competition and vote.
Team members have access to an online training portal with over a 100 specific courses allowing them to refresh and up skill whilst on furlough. Over 800 online courses have been completed to date. We have also passed on information on various helplines and advice on mental health to assist them and their family. Each week our small remaining team takes part in thanking our key workers.
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For our holiday guests we regularly hold facebook live sessions for family entertainment, a weekly disco and even a tour of the Resort during lockdown. The aim of these is to stay connected with our guests and help provide some entertainment for them in their living room, plus educational home activity sheets for your younger guests on our social media pages.
Learning new technology and getting used to meetings by video link rather than face to face meetings all adds to our new way of working to keep the business ticking over and to stay up to date with industry guidance.
When will it be over everyone is asking? We just don’t know. We expect it to be in stages affecting different areas of the Resort at different times again this will bring operating challenges.
We will need to adapt to how we can sustain social distancing measures and other requirements that could be placed upon us by the government. Our business is likely to be affected for several months and future planned projects and investments over the next to 2-3 years. The holiday season is generally over by October. We plan our Winter months based on the success of the holiday season and income without this our business model will have to be adjusted.
Our own family life has changed with young children and home-schooling and time at the weekend we were never used to having. Whilst our business is closed and the worry this causes family always comes first, including our team members and their own families. We will look back at these times and cherish the moment where we all stood still during lockdown 2020.
Key workers across the country are doing a tremendous job and we thank them very much.
We are committed to our team and customers so that when we are allowed to open we will be here to welcome them back to Brean. Keeping everyone up to date as we go is fundamental. Our one remaining marketing team member recently created this video about missing our guests and team and looking forward to happier times.
Times will be challenging. This is not over yet. Will our customers and team members come back we worry, but slowing down the virus and people’s health is the priority right now. We will get through this together and we will be better together on the other side.
Written by Sarah House – One of the Resort’s Directors