This im­mac­u­late Dorset site tri­umphed in the 2018 Top 100 Sites Guide, so dis­cover why our read­ers voted it the best

Practical Caravan - - Travel Regional Round Up -

“WE ARE SO thrilled about the lat­est award, we are danc­ing around the of­fice,” said Jo Brid­gen, co-owner of South Lytchett Manor, on be­ing told that the camp­site was the over­all win­ner of the Top 100 Sites Guide for the sec­ond con­sec­u­tive year. Jo, her hus­band David and son Matt were caravanners them­selves and know what peo­ple want from a camp­site. We chat­ted to Jo to find out just what makes South Lytchett Manor so spe­cial to our read­ers.

How did the 2017 sea­son go? It was our best ever – and was helped by the Top 100 Sites Guide. We also have very loyal re­turn­ing guests, who tell their friends and then they be­come re­turn­ing guests. We were de­lighted with the 2016 book­ings be­cause they were up on pre­vi­ous years; how­ever, 2017 sur­passed this and book­ings are look­ing im­proved again for 2018! Our high sea­son was as busy as ever, when fam­i­lies come to en­joy a high-class tra­di­tional camp­ing hol­i­day. We also saw an in­crease in the low-sea­son book­ings, es­pe­cially among car­a­vannners with dogs. We have an ex­cel­lent 2.5-acre dog-walk­ing field that is en­closed and mowed; we even pro­vide dog­gie-poo bags and hand sani­tiser at the dog-walk gates, which is very pop­u­lar. Dogs are wel­comed at our lo­cal pub, the St Peters Fin­ger, and Dy­lan’s Café, ad­ja­cent to us, and dogs en­joy a free trip on the bus, which stops at the camp­site gates.

Are your book­ings for 2018 look­ing strong? Yes, we had a lot of peo­ple who booked as they left in 2017 to guar­an­tee the pitch of their choice. This trend con­tin­ued through­out the win­ter months. Through Jan­uary and Fe­bru­ary the phone has been off the hook with book­ings!

Do you think top­ping last year’s guide had an ef­fect on book­ings? Yes, our guests all recog­nise the award. The awards the camp­site wins give prospec­tive vis­i­tors the con­fi­dence to book with us, know­ing that they will have a great time. We ask guests when they book how they heard about us and Prac­ti­cal Car­a­van mag­a­zine al­ways come out top!

Have you stayed with the same num­ber of pitches and can peo­ple spec­ify a pitch? Yes, we do not change them be­cause guests are very ter­ri­to­rial and love to be where they

were on the last visit! On book­ing you can re­quest a spe­cific pitch and we will ac­com­mo­date this if we have it avail­able. The sooner you book, the more likely you are to get the pitch you want – we al­ready have book­ings for 2019 and 2020.

Are your guests mainly from the UK or do you get book­ings from main­land Europe? Our guests mainly hail from the UK, but we do get a lot of Dutch fam­i­lies in the sum­mer months. In ad­di­tion to that, French and Ger­man fam­i­lies of­ten stay with us be­cause we are only 10 min­utes from the port at Poole – the Cher­bourg-poole Brittany Fer­ries cross­ing takes just four-and-a-half hours. We also have many guests from Guernsey and Jer­sey be­cause of the Con­dor Ferry Lib­er­a­tion, now dock­ing in Poole. The site closes dur­ing Jan­uary and Fe­bru­ary for main­te­nance work and im­prove­ments. What have you been do­ing in prepa­ra­tion for the 2018 sea­son? Im­prove­ments this win­ter went from a small planned project to a huge in­vest­ment, where we spent nearly £150,000 on re­fur­bish­ments and works that we have just com­pleted. They in­clude the in­stal­la­tion of a bak­ery, so that in the high sea­son, we can of­fer our guests fresh crois­sants, ar­ti­san bread and so on. We got the idea from our many trips to France, when we stayed in the Cas­tel camp­sites with our then-young fam­ily. We have up­graded our amenity blocks with new show­ers and new fix­tures and fit­tings – the ex­pen­sive stain­less steel fit­tings have made a huge im­pact on the ‘wow fac­tor’. We had some feed­back from our guests that we could do with more uni­sex fam­ily bath­rooms; their wish is our com­mand, so we have three new beau­ti­fully ap­pointed shower rooms for 2018. Last but not least, we have in­stalled a warm-water dog wash for our ca­nine guests to en­joy – sham­poo and dog brushes are also pro­vided!

Last year you spent £50,000 on a new chil­dren’s play­ground. Do you feel this was money well spent? Most def­i­nitely. The feed­back has been tre­men­dous from the chil­dren be­cause it keeps two- to 12-year-olds well oc­cu­pied dur­ing their stay. We lis­tened to our in­staller’s rec­om­men­da­tions as to which were the most pop­u­lar pieces of equip­ment

(and, in­evitably, they hap­pened to be the most ex­pen­sive to buy!). Older chil­dren love the foot­ball and bad­minton area, the ta­ble ten­nis and the games room, in­clud­ing the pool ta­ble.

Have your Ro­many car­a­vans been pop­u­lar with guests? Yes, last year was our first year with our four hand-built and hand-painted Ro­many car­a­vans: Es­merelda, Mag­gie, Matilda and Anastasia. Ev­ery­one who has stayed in them has been de­lighted and we have had so many peo­ple re­book. I can hon­estly say we have had no dis­sat­is­fied guests, be­cause the car­a­vans are so quirky and com­fort­able.

Are more Brits stay­ing in the UK for their hol­i­days, in your opin­ion? Most def­i­nitely yes, the poor ex­change rate and Brexit have had an im­pact: they have en­cour­aged peo­ple to stay in the UK and en­joy our beau­ti­ful coast­line, coun­try­side and the her­itage we have to of­fer. We are also find­ing that more peo­ple are in­vest­ing in their first car­a­van or mo­torhome than ever; I un­der­stand that leisure ve­hi­cle sales were up 10-13% in 2017.

You’ve cited cus­tomer ser­vice as be­ing very im­por­tant to your phi­los­o­phy. How much is the train­ing tai­lored to your par­tic­u­lar re­quire­ments? We re­train our staff ev­ery year. All staff have a full in­duc­tion pro­gramme on ar­rival and get to know our phi­los­o­phy – the cus­tomer is king. Our mis­sion state­ment in ev­ery­thing we do is that we do it the best we can. The Wel­come Host course is a valu­able cus­tomer ser­vice train­ing day, which most of our staff, in­clud­ing us as own­ers, have at­tended and we do put into prac­tice what we have been taught. We also learn from any mis­takes, be­cause none of us is per­fect. The new chil­dren’s play­ground has made the site even more pop­u­lar with fam­i­lies and the bak­ery should prove to be a win­ner with ev­ery­one, but it is def­i­nitely the ‘cus­tomer is king’ phi­los­o­phy that is re­ally pay­ing div­i­dends for ev­ery­one.

CLOCK­WISE FROM BE­LOW Co-owner Jo Brid­gen (be­low) staffs the site re­cep­tion. Chil­dren love the play­ground. The site’s grand en­trance and main thor­ough­fare

MAIN New this year is the warm-water dog wash BE­LOW LEFT-RIGHT Wash­block has been re­fur­bished with new kit, while all en­joy the land­scaped site

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