50 Years of Highlands End in Dorset – Meet the Owners
2021 marks the 50th anniversary of the Cox Family’s ownership of Highlands End – West Dorset Leisure Holidays flagship holiday park. Over the last 50 years, the park has been transformed from a small clifftop farm to a multi-award-winning holiday park. To celebrate this special anniversary, the Best of British group asked us to contribute to the popular a “Meet the Owners” feature on their website. We have turned this into a blog so you can find out more about Martin and Vanessa Cox and their memories of Highlands End Holiday Park over the years.
Meet the Owners of Highlands End Holiday Park
1. Tell us about the history of Highlands End and the area in which you are based
Highlands End began as a small farm on the Dorset coast, with cow shed, pig sheds and 60 holiday homes and 20 tourers. Over the years the business has expanded and now offers a wide range of accommodation and facilities. The clifftop provides visitors with panoramic views over 99 miles of Dorset and Devon coastline.
In 2001, the coastline here was given UNESCO World Heritage status (known as the Jurassic Coast) and is world-famous for its fossils, spectacular scenery and impressive landmarks such as Chesil Beach, Durdle Door and Lulworth Cove.
The South West Coast Path runs past the park and it’s a short walk to Eype Beach and the fishing village of West Bay, with its towering and iconic golden cliffs. The park and area are popular with walkers, dog owners and young families and locally. There are also some popular attractions and experiences nearby.
2.Please introduce your team
Today, Highlands End is run by two generations of the family – Martin & Vanessa and their sons James and Robert. I (Vanessa) moved to Highlands End in 1971 when my parents (Ken & Pat Butcher) wanted a change from farming in Hertfordshire to run a business in the tourism industry.
Martin became the seventh member of the team in 1984. Over the years we worked hard and invested in the park to gradually improve and expand. Today, our sons James and Robert look after the day-to-day running of the holiday parks in our family-run group.
We have always aimed to keep at the forefront of trends in the industry and have improved our accommodation, facilities and experiences, as customer expectations have grown. We now employ over 100 people in the local area who help us deliver the highest level of customer service and memorable holidays to over 40,000 guests each year.
3. What are the values that are your unique selling point as a holiday park?
We think there are many aspects of Highlands End that make it unique. We have guests that come back year after year! The location is world-class and a great place for families, couples, walkers and dog owners. There are so many things to see and do nearby. We are proud of our personal approach to customer service and looking after our guests and the whole team are knowledgeable, friendly and helpful – real Dorset diamonds as we call them!
Martin’s Bar & Restaurant is a popular facility on the park for both local residents and holiday guests. It is truly unique due to a collection of fire engine memorabilia Martin has built up over the last three decades, with his background working as a Retained Firefighter for 31 years. This includes a magnificently restored 1936 Leyland fire engine and a 1902 Merryweather horse-drawn steam engine.
4. What is life as a park owner like?
I am sure many people think owning a park is like one long holiday as you are living and working on a holiday park. However, anyone who has worked in hospitality will tell you that it is definitely not the case. Daily life is far from a holiday and there is no such thing as work-life balance; particularly when the ethos of your family business is to try and please as many customers as possible!
We are constantly looking back at the experiences of the previous year, managing the current year, and at the same time planning ahead for the next three years. This includes balancing of finances, the development of projects and the challenge of predicting and meeting customer expectations.
However, there is a high level of job satisfaction and the impact of Covid-19 has shown the importance of tourism to our rural and coastal community. It has also shown how much our visitors value the time spent with us.
This was very true before Covid-19 and my most memorable reminder of this was a few years ago, when I walked to the top of Thorncombe Beacon early one morning. I was sitting on the bench admiring the view when a couple walked up from the direction of our park. During a short conversation they told me that they had arrived yesterday on the park and had been waiting 51 weeks since their last visit to walk to the bench and see our Dorset coastline. They never knew the significance of their conversation with a stranger on the clifftop but it made me very proud of our achievements and the service we offer. That is what an owner should feel like….
5. What makes Highlands End a 5 star experience?
There are a number of reasons that make Highlands End a high-quality destination, including the spectacular location, friendly and relaxed atmosphere, clean and modern accommodation and the excellent facilities.
We believe that memorable holidays are as much, if not more, about the local area and what you can see and do while on holiday. In this respect the Jurassic Coast has no equal in our opinion and the opinion of many of our guests!
We have many examples of guests who have been visiting the park for many years, including one who visited as a child in 1955 and still returns to this day with his great grandchildren. There are also holiday home owners who have had a caravan on the park for over 60 years, even before we were here! It’s things like this that make us realise the impact Highlands End has had in their lives and the memories they have made with friends and family over the years.
6. What awards have you won?
We have been lucky enough to win many awards at Highlands End, including a Holiday Park of the Year Gold Award at the Dorset Tourism Awards, a Holiday Park of the Year Silver Award at the South West Tourism Awards, Tripadvisor Certificates of Excellence, an AA 5 star platinum award and 20 consecutive years winning the David Bellamy Conservation Gold Award. We are also proud of our work with the Jurassic Coast Trust and the contribution our guests have made. As of the end of 2021, our guests have raised £100,000 over the last 12 years towards the management of this hugely important coastline. Thank you to all our guests who have helped with this fantastic achievement.
7. What local attractions would you suggest your visitors experience while staying with you?
Our website and app has a ‘Holiday Planner,’ which is a really useful resource for our guests with over 150 beaches, attractions, activities, places to visit and places to eat that we as a team recommend and work with in the local area.
Some of the most popular with our guests include a guided fossil walk on Charmouth Beach with Jurassic Coast Guides, an orchard walk with some adorable alpacas at Little Orchards Alpacas, a trip on a steam engine past Corfe Castle, with Swanage Railway and stargazing from the park or along the coast.
8. How have you made Highlands End a Covid-secure environment?
We are lucky to have plenty of open space and fresh sea air around our holiday parks. Our holiday homes and pitches are spacious– great for privacy, as well as being Covid-secure. Martin’s Bar & Restaurant is one of the most spacious venues around and we have invested in tasteful and themed screening between tables, which will now be a permanent feature.
Regular and thorough cleaning and the safety of our guests continues to be our top priority. Over the course of 2020, our guests ranked us 9.5 out of 10 for our response to Covid.
We also put in place a Covid Guarantee, offering guests a refund, date change or credit note in a variety of Covid-related circumstances. This gives guests peace of mind to book, knowing their money was safe.
As a team, we are looking forward to seeing what the 2021 season brings. We hope we can get back to some sort of normality and that more guests can staycation in the UK. After all, Dorset and the Jurassic Coast has so much to offer!