Corporate funding aids campsite purchase

LDC-backed UK holiday park operator Away Resorts has completed the acquisition of Sandy Balls Holiday Village in the New Forest, forming a group with six sites valued in excess of £100m.

Sandy Balls is a five-star holiday village in the New Forest National Park, between Godshill and Fordingbridge, and offers accommodation including luxury woodland lodges, static holiday homes, camping pods and safari tents as well as fully serviced touring pitches.

The purchase of Sandy Balls is the second acquisition Away Resorts has made since mid-market private equity firm LDC backed the secondary buyout of the business in April 2015. The deal was supported by additional capital from LDC, and marks a significant step in the strategy of identifying and delivering high quality sites to complement Away Resorts’ existing portfolio and increase its share of the UK holiday market. It brings the business’ portfolio of parks to six with Sandy Balls joining Tattershall Lakes in Lincolnshire, Whitecliff Bay on the Isle of Wight, Mersea Island in Essex, Barmouth Bay in Wales and Mill Rythe on Hayling Island.

2016 was a record year for the business as overall bookings across its parks rose significantly against 2015’s figures. This comes as the number of people taking a holiday in the UK increased from 64% to 71%*, with domestic holidays proving more popular than a trip overseas.

With the addition of Sandy Balls, the business now has an annual turnover of over £40million, up more than 20% since LDC first backed the business, and employs 650 staff across its portfolio of sites.

Carl Castledine, Chief Executive Officer at Away Resorts, says: "Over the last eight years, we have built up a strong brand that has really hit the right note with UK holidaymakers. The demand for affordable UK holidays, particularly short breaks, is strong, and growing, as our record bookings for 2016 have shown. "Thanks to our partnership with LDC, we have been able to steadily build our portfolio of parks over the past few years, as well as improving, renovating and re-energising existing parks, where needed. We still have plans to invest in the right opportunities, and are always on the lookout for new parks to acquire and to bring into the Away Resorts family."

Richard Whitwell, Investment Director at LDC, said: “Amidst a booming ‘staycation’ market in the UK, the acquisition of Sandy Balls is a real milestone moment for Away Resorts. The site benefits from an enviable position as the largest holiday village in the New Forest, which receives around 20 million visitors a year. Its close proximity to London will help the business reach a wider range of holidaymakers looking for a break closer to home. “We’ve been working closely with Carl and his team over the last two years, supporting the business’ ambitious plans to grow both organically and through a targeted buy and build approach, which has already seen it successfully integrate Mersea Island into the portfolio. The business is now well placed to offer a holiday experience for all tastes and budgets across its group of parks, and we look forward to helping the business further develop the Sandy Balls proposition.”

Sandy Balls has welcomed hundreds of thousands of guests to the village since opening its doors nearly 100 years ago, its name dating back to the reign of King Henry VII when ‘sandyballas’, domed sand and gravel outcrops on the site’s western boundary, first appeared on historic maps. Reflecting on the acquisition, Castledine says: "Sandy Balls has been a family-owned business run with passion and feeling for almost 100 years, so we are very mindful of retaining the heritage and essence of what makes Sandy Balls such a well-loved holiday village. It is in a brilliant location, near to London and with excellent road links to make getting away on holiday relatively painless. The village is also awardwinning, having won accolades for its conservation and management of the wooded areas and riverbank, including The David Bellamy conservation gold award (21 times) and Green Tourism Gold Award.

"Sandy Balls complements our strategy of providing our existing customer base with a range of very different types of holidays, avoiding the chainlike feel of our major competitors. We now have parks that meet the needs of a wide variety of guests, whether they are seeking a lakeside retreat, a coastal experience, a holiday packed full of entertainment, an outdoor adventure break situated in remote areas of outstanding natural beauty, or a peaceful escape within a short drive from London. And now with Sandy Balls we have a park that is forest-based with extensive central facilities.

"Customer loyalty is important to us, and we want to encourage our guests to take multiple holidays with us each year; but we are keen to give them unique and varied experiences at our different parks, although the quality of product, customer service and company ethos will always be of the same, high quality," adds Carl.

Away Resorts launched in 2008 with the purchase of Whitecliff Bay Holiday Park on the Isle of Wight. The acquisition of Tattershall Lakes followed in 2009 and Mill Rythe in 2010, before Barmouth Bay was purchased in 2013. In 2016 the business commenced a £17m refurbishment and expansion project across its sites, particularly Tattersall Lakes and Whitecliff Bay. It also acquired Mersea Island at this time, with additional funding from LDC provided to support both the existing site expansions and this new site acquisition. The business has been supported with new debt facilities provided by Permira Debt Managers (Dan Hatcher and Tom Boden). LDC was advised by Freeths (Lee Clifford) and Clearwater International (Chris Smith and Gareth Iley). Financial Due Diligence was undertaken by PwC (Helen Ward), with Commercial Due Diligence completed by CiL 


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