European Parks Offer Home Away From Home
Home to some of the oldest amusement parks and zoos in the world, Europe has a long history of providing guests with overnight accommodations. For the majority of visitors, this usually meant staying in a nearby inn or hotel. But in recent years, on-site or nearby holiday homes, cottages, and lodges have become quite popular at many parks and zoos—and for good reasons.
In 2020, West Midland Safari Park in Bewdley, Worcestershire, England, introduced eight new Safari Lodges on-site within the park. The lodges are located directly within the wildlife reserve, with six offering views of elephant habitats and two others providing views of cheetahs. Even amid COVID-19 restrictions, early response to the lodges is strong. As a result, the park is already expanding overnight options by adding two cottages bordering the red panda habitat that are scheduled to open this month—that’s if visitors can nab a reservation.
“Since opening our bookings for Safari Lodges, the demand has been incredible, and we are very grateful to say we’re now sold out until November 2022,” says Rachael Allcock, public relations and events officer at West Midland Safari Park. “We currently offer the only overnight stays with African elephants in the U.K. and the only overnight cheetah experiences. We firmly believe that this … is what has made them so popular.”
Guests do not enter the animal habitats, rather get close-up views through large windows.
Efteling in Kaatsheuvel, Netherlands, provides 274 holiday homes of varying sizes, some large enough to accommodate 24 people, all owned by Efteling and within walking distance of the park. They offer a wide variety of architectural styles and settings, from woodland houses to lakeside homes and village houses.
“By staying in a holiday house, the group can also enjoy the surrounding nature, a bathhouse, various playing facilities, and complete tranquility, which ensures that they can escape from the everyday grind,” says Koen Sanders, Efteling’s hotels and resorts director and director of commerce, creation, and development at the park. “We’ve noticed that families often rent houses next to each other or group houses in order to really experience the short holiday together. They have free access to the amusement park on all days, even half an hour earlier than regular day visitors.”
Sommerland Sjaelland is a popular park in Nørre Asmindrup, Denmark that continues to grow. While it receives around 200,000 visitors each year (compared to Efteling’s reported 5 million), Sommerland Sjaelland has also witnessed the growing popularity of holiday homes. In 2019, the park added 10 additional units, bringing its total to 29 homes. To capitalize on their growing popularity, the new homes are larger and offer more amenities.
“They are bigger than the model we had before, so now the living room has a big family sofa, and the kitchen is full size,” says Kåre Dyvekær, Sommerland Sjaelland’s co-owner. But the park also offers six smaller, budget-conscious units called Hobbit Huts that lack the amenities of the larger houses. Despite COVID-19 forcing park closures in 2020, Sommerland Sjaelland still experienced strong bookings for its houses, a testament to their popularity with guests.
“It turned out that 2020 was our best year for our cabins. But overall, the 2020 season was not great, and for that reason, we looked for more capacity that was cheaper to install,” says Dyvekær. “That’s why we built four more of the Hobbit Huts but put two units together per family to give more room.” As for the popularity of the houses, Dyvekær says they give families more days to calmly enjoy the park and surroundings with kids.
For the parks, the holiday houses bring the obvious benefit of higher revenue per night than hotel rooms, but the operators say the advantages go far beyond that. “In terms of financial advantages to the park, our offering opens us up to a new customer demographic from much further afield and creates revenue to support improving the facilities for more of the park’s amazing animals,” says Allcock with the West Midland Safari Park. “Not only have we been able to further enhance the visitor experience, but upgrade our animal facilities and many other exhibits in the coming years.”
For Sommerland Sjaelland, as an independent park, the housing provides an incremental way to add accommodations without having to make the significant all-at-once financial and staffing commitment of constructing and operating a hotel. “Building cabins and growing accordingly to our earnings has been the way we felt was right,” says Dyvekær. “A hotel can be a long-term goal, but for now, I think cabins and other smaller accommodations are more right for us.”
From the eclectic collection of housing offered by Efteling to lodges set among animals at West Midland Safari Park, the trend of giving guests captivating holiday homes is set to continue growing in the years ahead.