Harris Family Trusts buys Butlin’s for £300m | Mergers and acquisitions

Butlin’s has been bought by one of the holiday camp’s family backers for an estimated £300m.

The seaside resort group, founded in 1936 in Skegness by Billy Butlin, includes sites in Minehead and Bognor Regis, which have played host to generations of entertainers. Recent bookings include Peppa Pig and Mister Maker to Peter Andre, Leo Sayer, Jason Donovan, Fatboy Slim and Sophie Ellis-Bextor.

The brand’s history claims Butlin “felt sorry for families staying in drab guesthouses with nothing much to do” during a trip to Barry Island and aimed to create a “place of color and happiness” where quality activities and entertainment would be provided.

In its heyday, Butlin’s operated from at least eight UK sites, including Barry Island, Clacton-on-Sea and Pwllheli, entertaining one million holidaymakers every year with knobbly knees competitions, overseen by its army of staff known as redcoats. It also owned a camp in Ireland and a string of hotels, stretching as far as the Bahamas and Spain, as well as a revolving restaurant in the BT Tower in London.

The camps were the inspiration for the 1980s BBC sitcom Hi-de-Hi!, but by that time its fortunes were waning as the rise of cheap package holidays led to Brits holidaying abroad. The Butlin family sold out to the Rank Organization entertainment conglomerate in the 1970s and camps in Mosney, Filey, Clacton and Barry Island were sold.

In 2000, Rank sold on Butlin’s, alongside the Haven caravan park operator and Warner Hotels, to a group called Bourne Leisure, backed by the caravan park operators Peter Harris and John Cook.

That group was sold as part of a £3bn deal to a consortium including the US private equity group Blackstone and the Harris, Cook and Allen families in January last year.

Now Butlin’s is being carved out by a fund controlled by the Harris family. The deal does not include Butlin’s property assets that were sold earlier this year to the UK’s biggest private pension fund, the Universities Superannuation Scheme, for about £300m.

Paul Harris, on behalf of Harris Family Trusts, said: “We are delighted to reaffirm our love for Butlin’s and once again be the new owners of this great brand.

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“We look forward to working alongside the Butlin’s leadership team as they strive to deliver their strategic plan for the business and help them accelerate their investment plans to give our Butlin’s guests an even better holiday experience.”

Lionel Assant, European head of private equity at Blackstone, said: “Butlin’s is in a strong position to take advantage of the continued growth in the staycation market, and I have no doubt it will continue to flourish.”

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