11 December 2023
On the eve of Searles’ 70th birthday, managing director Paul Searle shares plans for the Hunstanton holiday park’s anniversary, reflects on changes and his vision for the future of ‘the place that makes people happy’.
Hunstanton’s favourite leisure resort, Searles
It was the year rationing ended, Roger Bannister ran a four-minute mile, Queen Elizabeth II headed ‘down under’ as the first monarch to visit Australia and White Christmas topped the box office as the biggest movie. 1954 was also the year that Searles Leisure Resort was established, providing a welcome opportunity for hard-working Brits to escape to the Norfolk coast and enjoy a few days taking in the sea air and paddling in the calm waters of The Wash.
Fast-forward 70 years and Geoffrey Searle, who had grown the family’s Hunstanton boarding house business with boat trips and donkey rides, would be hard-pressed to recognise Searles today. On land bought by his father, William, to accommodate Geoffrey’s donkeys, the family started to sell caravan pitches and the simple pleasures of a stay with a sea view quickly appealed to holiday-makers.
Today, the site has expanded to accommodate 396 caravan holiday homes and 109 lodges, with a further 323 touring pitches, all with access to swimming pools, a gym, an array of dining options and a handy supermarket for provisions, plus play areas for the children, all carefully designed and landscaped to ensure every guest is able to experience a truly relaxing stay in ‘Sunny Hunny’.
Geoffrey’s son Richard took the reins as general manager at Searles in 1966, and grew the business to retain its appeal to holidaymakers, even against the emerging European package tours market of the 70s and 80s.
His son, Paul – the fourth-generation to lead the family owned business – became managing director in 2006 and, as Searles Leisure Resort enters its 70th year, his vision to evolve the site over the next five years will ensure a week or two by the sea is as appealing as it was seven decades ago.
Norfolk’s leading caravan holiday park
Searles’ platinum anniversary is no small achievement and, with an established team of more than 200 employees, the company is creating new apprentice opportunities for the next generation to carry it forward for the next 70 years. While others have come and gone, what is the secret of Searles’ success?
“It comes down to the friendliness of the staff and consistency of our service,” says Paul. “We’ve continuously invested in our facilities, to keep things fresh and appealing for guests. We were one of the first leisure resorts to introduce lodges at the end of the 90s, and at the time it was a controversial move. We’d purchased land and put in planning permission which we won on appeal – I remember the planning inspector commenting that on walking along the sea bank, and looking back at the resort, our sympathetic landscaping had created an attractive environment for our guests to experience.
"We’ve always subscribed to the David Bellamy Conservation Award Scheme, one of the longest running green tourism awards set up by the environmental campaigner in 1996, and this has helped us to improve the biodiversity of the site, leaving hedgerows and areas of long grass to encourage wildlife.
“The environment is one of our core values and my brother Andrew leads our work in this area as estate director. Last year, we invested £100,000 into solar panels and water saving devices and the eco-credentials of our new private ownership and hire fleet are amazing with a fully electric caravan available, which has an impressively low carbon footprint.
“We’ve actually seen a reduction in the number of pitches on resort as the size of units have grown. We all want comfort and privacy, and caravans are now larger than they were 20 years ago, which puts limits on space. Our approach is slightly different as we try to create courtyards with a central lounge area for units, so that there is a sense of community. We’re close to an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and we aim to make the most of the views our location offers.”
Challenges and opportunities – the next five years at Searles
The tourism sector has faced huge challenges in recent years, with the restrictions of the pandemic followed by an unprecedented demand for staycation holidays, and most recently the cost-of-living crisis which has squeezed household incomes. Offering value for money with comfortable family accommodation, leisure facilities and entertainment, Paul says the company continually strives to enhance guests’ experience and maintain the appeal of a Searles holiday.
“There are a number of challenges for the industry at the moment,” continues Paul. “From government regulation with the threat of a tourism tax, a challenging transport infrastructure, which impacts access to our area, to the suggested change to school holidays, these central decisions will shape the future of our business. Alongside this, the challenges surrounding recruitment and the rising cost of wages create pressures on the business, and we try very hard to minimise the effect of these on our customers.
“We have developed a five-year plan which we hope will enable us to redevelop our central facilities with an exciting new design. This would see some of our back-office operations relocated and the piazza developed with retail space, larger arcade and indoor soft play area. Our entertainment space will become more theatre-like with a bar, and the whole area could be used for events.
“Outside, with a new seating area overlooking the pool, we hope to add an outdoor screen and cabanas, and to reimagine the space outside the supermarket. It’s a really exciting vision and, while we need to work through planning, the work over the next five years will bring changes which we believe will maintain the appeal of Searles to our customers and create more happy holidays for all ages.”
2024 special offers at Searles
Having delivered 70 years of memorable stays for generations of families, 2024 will see a host of special events and offers for holidaymakers starting with a Platinum Sale with savings of up to £660 on a stay at Searles. The sale runs until Wednesday 31 January and with availability, early bird bookings are strongly advised!
“We have lots of plans for our 70th year,” says Paul. “There will be a collection of retro merchandise to celebrate Searles’ history and undoubtedly jog the memory of some of our guests who come back here, year after year. We’re planning a 50s weekend and watch out for our display of resort photographs displaying the resort changes through the ages.
“We’re inviting anyone who is celebrating their 70th birthday to celebrate with us and we have some special giveaways and gifts planned throughout the year, so keep watching for announcements and come along to join in the fun – it’s going to be a wonderful moment and we look forward to welcoming our guests to enjoy it with us.”