SOUTH LYTCHETT MANOR CARAVAN & CAMPING PARK
This immaculate Dorset site triumphed in the 2018 Top 100 Sites Guide, so discover why our readers voted it the best
“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