We all have questions about what will happen when lockdown is lifted – we take a look at what motorcaravanners can expect over the next few months.
When will campsites open?
Under the UK government’s guidelines issued on 11 May, it looks as if businesses offering accommodation will not be allowed to reopen in England until the beginning of July, and even then only if the government’s strategy for containing Covid-19 appears to be working. But there is a strong possibility reopening times will differ in different parts of the UK.
While the Scottish Government is to start lifting its restrictions from next week (28 May), it looks as if tourism businesses such as caravan parks will not be allowed to reopen until the third of its four planned phases, which currently looks like some time in mid-August.
Northern Ireland has adopted a similar phased system to Scotland, with no dates (although caravan parks in the Irish Republic have provisionally been told that they can open on 20 July).
Wales is introducing a traffic light system, with different business sectors possibly being allowed to resume at different times, although there is as yet no formal date for when caravan parks can reopen.
Certainly the two main caravanning clubs, the Caravan and Motorhome Club and the Camping and Caravanning Club, say they are currently working towards early July as a time when there might be limited opening on some sites.
How will campsites open?
The clubs say they are still waiting for briefing documents from the government before they can assess exactly how their sites can reopen. Certainly social distancing rules will still have to be in place, so how this might affect such things as campsite events or rallies remains to be seen.
A spokesman for the British Holiday and Home Parks Association (BH&HPA) said it believed that parks would be more likely to open for static home residents only first, because their units are more self-contained. Communal areas such as washrooms, he said, would be likely to remain closed for much longer. So you may have to rely on the washroom facilities within your motorhome.
Haven Holidays, one of the UK’s biggest operators, is keeping all its sites closed until 2 July, but for the rest of this year will only be reopening them as Haven Hideaways – with the takeaway, launderette and shop opened, but the bar and restaurant closed and not activities or entertainment.
What about smaller operators? Guy Hodgkin, founder and director of our Top 100 winner, Concierge Camping in West Sussex, says many caravan and motorhome visitors to his park are perfectly capable of self-isolating within their vehicles (even with the superior washrooms he he has at his park) so he will be happy to see motorhomes return. Even still, he has installed hand sanitisers at the entrance to each of his washblocks. “We honestly think that anyone who refuses to use them will be asked to leave,” he says.
Tyddyn Isaf Caravan Park in Anglesey has also installed hand sanitisers, and plans to use them on things like key fobs too. Hayley Mount Leonard from the park thinks monitoring how effectively they are used by people going into a washblock is going to be difficult, and wonders how easy it will be to install social distancing measures in a relatively small caravan park shop.
She thinks mobile homes (which take up much of her site) may open first, although she thinks motorhomes could also come back soon. She doubts if tents will be allowed to return at all this year.
Both parks are offering refunds to customers who may have already booked, but only as a last resort, with credit or vouchers being a preferred option. Concierge Camping is even offering a 10% discount to anyone who is happy to defer their booking for some time later in the next 24 months.
Both parks are also expecting a very busy autumn period this year, particularly around the October half term.
Clachtoll Beach Campsite near Lochinver in northern Scotland is hoping for something similar too. Co-owner Tom Lochhead says they are currently hoping to reopen some time in mid-July, but could extend their opening season until early November – and then, for the first time ever, open up again for a week over the New Year, following hot demand. He is reasonably positive. “We currently have a 99% rebooking rate,” he says.
Over in Northern Ireland, Cathal O’Dolan, of Rushin House Caravan Park in County Fermanagh, is disappointed that caravan parks were not even mentioned in the Northern Ireland Executive’s published routemap out of the lockdown. He can’t see how even when his park is allowed to reopen it will be possible to open the washblocks, but he says customers he has spoken to are quite happy to use their own facilities. And he plans to stay open later than usual this year to make up for what he already knows is going to be increased demand.
When will motorhome dealers open?
According to the government’s routemap for England, non-essential retail (yes, believe it or not, motorhomes do count as non-essential) should start to reopen from the start of June. The Scottish government is allowing “outdoor businesses” to open with sufficient social distancing measures in its second phase. The situation in Northern Ireland looks similar.
A very few English dealers have opened already, however – to a limited extent. Salop Leisure, for example, just outside Shrewsbury, includes a garden centre on its premises known as Love Plants. As garden centres in England have been allowed to open, it is open, and is selling caravan accessories and arranging caravan services – but only for key workers and people who use their caravan or motorhome as their main home. Even then it is on a reduced scale from normal.
All non-garden-centre-related dealers, however, need to wait until at least June.
How will motorhome dealers open?
There could very likely be something of a rush when dealers do reopen because many customers will be looking to reschedule their annual service to fit in with the warranty period that many dealers and manufacturers have already extended. Before you rush, however, it is worth seeing if your manufacturer has extended its warranty period as a result of the lockdown. Almost all of them have – twice over in the case of Bailey, by six months in total.
The NCC is recommending its members follow protocols put together for the whole vehicle industry on how their businesses should operate once they are open again, and that could significantly affect your visit. Recommended measures, for example, include only using every other car park space if two-metre social distancing cannot be achieved, and possibly even staggering arrival times. So you might find a queue to get into your nearest dealer, just as you have probably already experienced at the supermarket.
There are also recommendations on vehicle sanitisation, so it may not be as easy to inspect one vehicle after another as you did before when you were looking to buy. Vehicle handovers, in particular, are likely to take considerably longer than usual.
Brownhills, Britains’ biggest single site motorhome dealer, has already fitted screens at its counters and introduced a one-way system in readiness for opening on 1 June. Chief executive Steve Cullen said, “We’ve more than doubled in size our service customer waiting area so everyone has their own space and for those service customers we will be going as paperless as possible and ensuring keys are sterilised and passed safely.”
He also warns customers to expect to see far more valeters in action.
SMC, just up the road from Brownhills in Newark, is introducing similar social distancing measures, with strict appointment times. It is also warning anyone who arrives with a motorhome to sell that where they might once have expected to be allowed to sit in a waiting room to consider options, they may now have to do all such considerations in their own motorhome.
The company is also offering virtual handover video demos. But director Alistair Briggs-Price says there is a silver lining here. “Customers say it is actually better than trying to take it all in on the day of collection. They have a video forever to refer back to,” he says.
Erwin Hymer Centre Travelworld, meanwhile, is maintaining virtual tours of its existing stock online. The Stafford company will reopen at the start of June, but only for pre-booked appointments.
When will motorhome manufacturers open?
Although one Hull-based static home manufacturer has restarted production already, most motorhome manufacturers seem to be working towards restarting at the beginning of June. By that time base vehicle suppliers should also be up and running and dealers should be ready to receive finished vans.
How will motorhome manufacturers reopen?
Clearly all will be introducing social distancing measures, which will inevitably have an impact on production. But there is the trickier matter of how to make up for the backlog that the lockdown will inevitably have created.
Auto-Trail, for example, is working towards restarting on 1 June. It says it has rearranged production so that it will initially only be concentrating on producing vans that customers have already ordered through a dealer, to reduce any delay.
Bailey says it cannot yet give a definite date for when it is likely to resume production, because it needs to make sure that all elements of the supply chain are in place.
Then there is the even trickier question of what to do about launching the new 2021 season’s models. These are traditionally unveiled in late June and July, but this is most unlikely to happen this year because of the delay.
In any case, given the backlog of 2020 models that still need to be sold, manufacturers may be reluctant to release much information about the new season for fear that customers might be encouraged to hang on and wait.
Auto-Trail will only say that it is currently working on 2021 models. Bailey – one of the only mass manufacturers that does not stick strictly to the seasonal launch timetable – says it still has “a number of exciting product launches” scheduled for 2020 but cannot say yet when they will happen.
Van converters, who perhaps put less focus on the seasonal cycle, seem to see things more optimistically.
Wellhouse Leisure says it had its best ever day in 18 years of business one day last week, selling seven campervans in one day.
Steve Wood, managing director of Auto Campers, says he has used the lockdown to set up more contactless handover procedures, install hand sanitisers and improve his company’s digital presence. When Auto Campers reopens at the start of June it will also be offering conversions on used vans for the first time.
But, given the likelihood of few people being allowed to take holidays overseas this year, he is confident about the camper van hire side of the business. “We think hiring is going to be particularly dramatic this year, as is the small camper van market. More people are looking. We have seen a big increase in internet traffic,” he said.
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The two main caravanning clubs, the Caravan and Motorhome Club and the Camping and Caravanning Club, say they are currently working towards early July as a time when there might be limited opening on some sites