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10 January 2017

Away Resorts acquires Sandy Balls Holiday Village creating a group valued at over £100m

Hemel Hempstead-based UK holiday park operator Away Resorts has got the new year off to a great start with the acquisition of one of the most well-known holiday parks in the UK.

Away Resorts, which has its head office in Maxted Road, has acquired the luxury Sandy Balls Holiday Village in the New Forest National Park. The deal was supported by additional capital from mid-market private equity firm LDC, and marks a significant step in the strategy of identifying and delivering high quality sites to complement Away Resorts' existing portfolio and increase its share of the UK holiday market.

Sandy Balls is a five-star holiday village in the New Forest National Park, between Godshill and Fordingbridge, and offers accommodation including luxury woodland lodges, static holiday homes, camping pods and safari tents as well as fully serviced touring pitches.

It brings the business's portfolio of parks to six with Sandy Balls joining Tattershall Lakes in Lincolnshire, Whitecliff Bay on the Isle of Wight, Mersea Island in Essex, Barmouth Bay in Wales and Mill Rythe on Hayling Island.

The deal was supported by additional capital from mid-market private equity firm LDC, and marks a significant step in the strategy of identifying and delivering high quality sites to complement Away Resorts' existing portfolio and increase its share of the UK holiday market. The purchase of Sandy Balls is the second acquisition Away Resorts has made since LDC backed the secondary buyout of the business in April 2015.

Away Resorts is passionate about providing memorable and affordable British holidays. 2016 was a record year for the business as overall bookings across its parks rose significantly against 2015's figures. This comes as the number of people taking a holiday in the UK increased from 64% to 71%*, with domestic holidays proving more popular than a trip overseas.

With the addition of Sandy Balls, the business now has an annual turnover of over £40million, and employs 650 staff across its portfolio of sites.

Carl Castledine, Chief Executive Officer at Away Resorts, says: "Over the last eight years, we have built up a strong brand that has really hit the right note with UK holidaymakers. The demand for affordable UK holidays, particularly short breaks, is strong, and growing, as our record bookings for 2016 have shown.

"Sandy Balls has been a family-owned business run with passion and feeling for almost 100 years, so we are very mindful of retaining the heritage and essence of what makes Sandy Balls such a well-loved holiday village. It is in a brilliant location, near to London and with excellent road links to make getting away on holiday relatively painless. The village is also award-winning, having won accolades for its conservation and management of the wooded areas and riverbank, including The David Bellamy conservation gold award (21 times) and Green Tourism Gold Award.

"Sandy Balls complements our strategy of providing our existing customer base with a range of very different types of holidays, avoiding the chainlike feel of our major competitors. We now have parks that meet the needs of a wide variety of guests, whether they are seeking a lakeside retreat, a coastal experience, a holiday packed full of entertainment, an outdoor adventure break situated in remote areas of outstanding natural beauty, or a peaceful escape within a short drive from London. And now with Sandy Balls we have a park that is forest-based with extensive central facilities.

"Customer loyalty is important to us, and we want to encourage our guests to take multiple holidays with us each year; but we are keen to give them unique and varied experiences at our different parks, although the quality of product, customer service and company ethos will always be of the same, high quality.

"Thanks to the financial support of LDC, we have been able to steadily build our portfolio of parks over the past few years, as well as improving, renovating and re-energising existing parks, where needed. We still have plans to invest in the right opportunities, and are always on the lookout for new parks to acquire and to bring into the Away Resorts family."

Richard Whitwell, Investment Director at LDC, said: "Amid a booming 'staycation' market in the UK, the acquisition of Sandy Balls is a real milestone moment for Away Resorts. The site benefits from an enviable position as the largest holiday village in the New Forest, which receives around 20 million visitors a year. Its close proximity to London will help the business reach a wider range of holidaymakers looking for a break closer to home."

Sandy Balls has welcomed hundreds of thousands of guests to the village since opening its doors nearly 100 years ago, its name dating back to the reign of King Henry VII when 'sandyballas', domed sand and gravel outcrops on the site's western boundary, first appeared on historic maps.

Away Resorts launched in 2008 with the purchase of Whitecliff Bay Holiday Park on the Isle of Wight. The acquisition of Tattershall Lakes followed in 2009 and Mill Rythe in 2010, before Barmouth Bay was purchased in 2013.

In 2016 the business commenced a £17m refurbishment and expansion project across its sites, particularly Tattersall Lakes and Whitecliff Bay. It also acquired Mersea Island at this time, with additional funding from LDC provided to support both the existing site expansions and this new site acquisition.



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