"From our initial meeting with Away Resorts, we felt we connected with Carl and really bought into the management team’s vision and ambition for the business. They had already achieved a great deal in setting the business up from scratch against challenging market conditions in 2008”, explained LDC Investment Director Richard Whitwell.
“The business had a diverse range of holiday parks with a breadth of operational capacity, but we recognised the team’s potential to achieve so much more with the right backing in place. Our strong credentials in the leisure sector and ability to invest up to £100million in each of our portfolio companies meant we felt confident we could support the team immediately, and with follow-on funding.”
It’s a view shared by Away Resorts’ CEO, Carl Castledine: “We saw six private equity firms in a beauty pageant-type process, but LDC’s flexible funding model and ability to provide additional capital stood out and was extremely attractive. LDC is a very supportive investor – they’re not frightened to follow the money and take on big opportunities with us, and importantly the personalities across both sides of the table worked well together. Working with LDC has been transformational for our business.”
LDC backed the secondary buyout of Away Resorts and the holiday park operator learnt a lot about itself during the transaction. Carl continued: “It was a very detailed and extremely positive process, and looking back, it was very well executed and we’ve enjoyed considerable benefits as a result of taking that level of detail into the partnership.
“We now have more data about our assets and the leisure sector as whole than we ever had before, and it’s really enlightened our approach moving forward.”
The early success of the partnership has seen LDC and Away Resorts work together to accelerate the business’ growth strategy, with Richard Whitwell quick to praise the contribution of the management team: “Hats off to Carl and his team, as from day one they’ve delivered what they said they were going to do. We’ve worked with them to put the right structure in place in terms of the board composition, with two new Non-Executive Directors taking a seat at the table. And within the first year of our investment, the team came to us with more ambitious growth plans that needed additional capital, which saw us put our money where our mouth is quite early on in our partnership.”
Carl and his team are very well networked in the UK holiday industry, and this is crucial for the business when identifying complementary acquisition opportunities, according to Richard.
“Targeting the right acquisitions that build upon what Away Resorts already offers is how the business will achieve the next stage of its growth. The most recent deal, the acquisition of Sandy Balls Holiday Village in Hampshire, was a substantial transaction for the business in terms of its size, location and opportunities it brings. The success the team has delivered to date gave us absolute confidence to back them in a deal like this, and it marks the third time in 18 months that we’ve provided additional capital to accelerate the business’s growth plans.”
Investing in its existing portfolio is also helping deliver record sales growth for the business. Carl added: “Last January, we invested £12million in our Tattershall Lakes Park in Lincolnshire to enhance and expand the facilities available to holidaymakers. The site would have delivered good results as it was, but we remodelled the entire proposition to be aligned for multi-generational family users. Visitors can now get everything they need on one site, and as a consequence we’ve exceeded our budget and customer experience. The site is now hugely popular and is the second most searched on TripAdvisor for Christmas breaks, which is a good indication of its popularity throughout the year and not just for summer breaks.”
Away Resorts offers plenty of choices for those in Birmingham and the Midlands looking to enjoy a getaway. “Whitecliff Bay on the Isle of Wight is very popular with Midlanders, as well as Barmouth Bay in Wales and Mill Rythe in Hampshire, as they’re only a two to three-hour drive away”, said Carl. “We’re expecting visitors from across the UK to head to Sandy Balls. The site in the New Forest offers accommodation including luxury woodland lodges, static holiday homes, camping pods and Safari tents as well as fully serviced touring pitches, and our immediate focus is to ensure it delivers to our customers and is successful.”
Carl’s aim is to replicate a record-breaking year in 2016 again in 2017: “Domestic tourism is set to continue growing significantly, largely due to social and economic influences, but there is also an interesting renaissance occurring in UK tourism.
“The weather is no longer putting people off and there is a revitalised interest in cultural and historical activities and locations in the UK. We want to leverage this, and utilise our knowledge and the facilities and destinations that our portfolio offer to create a holiday environment that means people come back consistently to our parks.”