Interview with Gary Fletcher, former MD of Forest Holidays
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On the Forest Holidays website I read this: "We are passionate about delivering extraordinary holidays, matching our guests' needs and putting ourselves in our guests' shoes. So, our team ethos is: Extraordinary Matching Shoes". Having researched the company a little and found out that it was established in 2006, through a public private partnership with the Forestry Commission, with luxury cabins in eight UK woodlands, it was time to meet the man behind this rather special operation and check out his shoes!
Gary Fletcher sounds warm and friendly, with keen sense of what his customers want and deserve, thus the Extraordinary Matching Shoes, known throughout the company as EMS and at the centre of everything Forest Holidays does. On completing his sports degree, he headed off on a working visa to the colonies, for a stint selling soap in the USA and a memorable night on the QE2 in Sydney washing dishes for which he was paid the princely sum of A$10 and a crate of beer! His travel industry career started at the Camping and Caravanning Club (CCC), a not for profit organisation, that was struggling when Gary joined. After 6 years there, Gary left it running at a very healthy profit, having franchised campsites for the first time, with a much improved profile, both of which continue today. Forest Holidays actually grew out of the CCC, when the few cabins at various campsites on Forestry Commission property were separated from the campsites as such different business models apply.
History over and leap forward to 2013 to find out about the various sites, located across the UK, Cornwall to Argyll. All are in beautiful woodland with accommodation ranging from romantic Golden Oak Hideaways for two, practical Copper Beach cabins with disabled access equipment fitted to splendid Golden Oak Tree houses, sleeping up to ten, with a real tree house bedroom. In many cabins, log burning stoves and hot tubs on the deck are standard. The range of activities, walks, cycling and sports, available is surprisingly extensive, canoeing being one of Gary’s personal favourites, with forest rangers providing insights into their work too. At the centre of each forest site is The Retreat providing reception services, a bar, restaurant and shop selling the best of local produce. Don’t be fooled, this is not a holiday camp in the forest, Gary is clear and their research backs him up, people come for tranquillity and to spend time together in relaxing, natural surroundings. You can pre-order fluffy bathrobes, DVDs and gourmet food. So with parking spaces beside each cabin, you could escape and see no-one for the duration of your stay.
Now here’s a funny thing, Gary is allergic to trees, well their sap actually. May, apparently, is a dreadful month for him in this respect! Fortunately, Forest Holidays’ busiest month, at their Derbyshire HQ, is November although we did discuss the fact that 85% of bookings are now taken over the web, which is a huge change to the travel industry in the last few years. And due to hectic lives, people are often looking for a good value short break, booked at almost the last minute. The tradition of booking months in advance is all but gone Gary told me. Perhaps everyone’s become more spontaneous? It’s a possibility. What is certain, is that UK holidays have had a resurgence of late with the desire for quality and service certainly being high. So, with the help of some consultants on a staff brain storming day, EMS was born and is embedded in the Forest Holidays culture. Which can only be good for us, the holidaying public and certainly seems to be good for the continued expansion of those very lovely cabins in the forest.
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