Julie Dalton, managing director of the Gulliver’s Valley attraction in Rotherham, said that an expected boom in staycations in 2021 could help the hospitality sector recover faster from the months of damage suffered during lockdown.
Gulliver’s, which operates sister parks in Warrington, Matlock Bath and Milton Keynes, was in the latter stage of preparing to launch its Rotherham facility last year when the pandemic hit, saw its accommodation fully booked during the recent half-term holiday break.
And now, with an increased desire for flexible working, Ms Dalton said she and her team were exploring hiring additional staff in order to give the family-owned firm’s workforce a better work/life balance.
Ms Dalton told The Yorkshire Post: “We do very much see that this summer could be a really good season.
“There is a requirement for staycation and that is what Gulliver’s can give.
“Rather than seeing all those pounds going to Greece and Turkey, they can go into the UK.
“That is what will rebuild the UK hospitality industry and rebuild it faster.”
Gulliver’s Valley has reopened in line with Government regulations but has yet to be able to operate at full capacity owing to social distancing requirements.
The Government’s road map for reopening stipulates that all restrictions can end on June 21 although there is growing expectations that this will be watered down or delayed, with an announcement due on Monday, June 14.
Ms Dalton said she was not holding out much hope.
“I would love to see everything open up on June 21 but I am not convinced we are.
“I don’t think we have seen the back of social distancing and masks. I think they are all going to be part of our lives for quite a little bit longer.
“We will just have to adapt.”
Ms Dalton, who runs the business alongside her brother Nick, said that the pandemic had changed the way Gulliver’s had operated as a business, with greater flexibility having been built into its operational plans.
“I think for a lot of companies this last year has made us realise our business model needs to be more flexible,” she said.
“That is what we have had to do. There have been a lot of changes but I think we are the better for it.”
When Gulliver’s Valley was preparing to open in Rotherham, Ms Dalton moved into a caravan on the site of the theme park to oversee the final stages.
For her and her team, the process has been, to use her words “a rollercoaster” but one that has brought huge affection for the South Yorkshire town and its citizens.
“We were going flat out and then everyone was sent home,” she said.
“We had a half-finished theme park and three other theme parks that were closed. It wasn’t in the grand masterplan. We had to reposition ourselves.
“Myself, my brother and a very small team just decided to get the park finished. It was a most bizarre time but we got there, that is the main thing.”
When the park finally did reopen this year, Ms Dalton said that the experience for her and her team was “hugely emotional”.
“We do this for the smiling faces. For me it is always the music. The music kicked in at the entrance and I had tears running down my cheeks because that meant we had people coming back in.
“We thrive on people and their smiling faces. You take the people away and it is like chopping off an arm or a leg.”
Ms Dalton said that recruiting the correct personnel for her theme park was made easier by the unique character of people from Yorkshire.
She said: “Yorkshire people are incredibly friendly and just love talking and being with people. When you have that for a starter for 10 it is really easy to train them for this job.”
She added: “You can’t look back. Would anyone in their right mind want to open a theme park in the middle of pandemic? No.
“But, when you have been building it for four years, we were so far into it we could not look back, we just had to look forwards and get this place up and running.”