Center Parcs UK’s Martin Robinson: "Stick to your guns to build success"

By Emma Eversham contact

- Last updated on GMT

Martin Robinson spoke about building success at Center Parcs and in the casual dining sector at the Arena Savoy Lecture
Martin Robinson spoke about building success at Center Parcs and in the casual dining sector at the Arena Savoy Lecture

Related tags: Private equity

Sticking to Dutch founder Piet Derksen’s original idea to create an environmentally and family-friendly holiday park and refusing to make drastic changes at the request of private equity companies has helped Center Parcs UK become the success it is today, according to chairman and chief executive Martin Robinson.

Robinson, chairman of Center Parcs UK since 1999 and chairman of Casual Dining Group (formerly Tragus), said the Blackstone-owned company, which now operates across five sites in the UK, constantly innovated, but only in a small way which he believes helped keep the company’s occupancy levels at 97 per cent and consistently make a healthy profit.

He said: “The main reason for our success is the sheer genius of the original idea and perhaps the fact that we have stuck with that idea.”

Speaking to members of the hospitality industry at Arena’s Savoy Lecture yesterday (23 March), Robinson said despite being taken over by venture capitalists with strong ideas for directions for the business twice in his 16 year reign, very little had changed.

“We’ve stuck to our guns every time we’ve been taken over and always tried to stick to our CAPEX programme which I think has helped maintain our success,” he said.

"Innovation can be lots of small things, it doesn’t have to be about the big bang” 


Robinson, who said the business kept revenue management at the heart of its business and charged 'as much as we can do for each stay', rubbished claims that the business was benefiting from the staycation trend and instead said British families remained holidaying at home, because it was easier, particularly with young children. 

“We are helped at Center Parcs by relatively poor provision of things like tennis clubs and squash courts in the UK, plus the fact we are on an island and have a lack of airport provision,” he said.

“I don’t think anybody is promoting the staycation I actually think it’s because of the difficulties going abroad.”

The business chief also said planning restrictions helped stifle competition in the market.

“It took us 10 years to get planning for Woburn despite having all the right contacts, so planning restrictions also prevent others from coming into the market.” 

Casual dining

Asked to comment on the casual dining market, Robinson said its projected growth was down to the success of the market adapting to 'changing consumer demand'. 

He said the industry would continue to follow the US and see further 'blurring' of the lines between the casual dining sector and the QSR market, but warned that brands without a point of difference would suffer.

"The blurring between different categories is prevalent, but actually definition is key," he said. "For example, in the Italian casual dining market where there are five or six well-known operators, three or four of them are reasonably differentiated from the others, while a couple of them are less differentiated and those will be the ones who will suffer. You have to make sure you own part of the market." 

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