Insight into the travel industry: what it’s like working for the largest holiday park operator in Wales

Nikki Rathie, Head of Operations for Lyons Holiday Parks, shared her knowledge and expertise with crowds at Birmingham’s NEC this week ahead of the group’s expansion set for 2022

“It’s not about taking charge, but about taking care of the people that are in our charge.” That was the leading piece of advice that Nikki Rathie shared to an audience at the Holiday Home & Resort Innovation Show last week.

With over 25 years’ experience within the holiday park and tourism industry, keynote speaker and judge Nikki is considered among her peers as an industry guru. Having successfully ran businesses on holiday parks in Lincolnshire, Devon and North Wales, Nikki’s portfolio also covers general management, conference and banqueting manager, complex management, as well as nationally supporting accommodation and lettings departments to continual improvement. This was all before spying an advert for Thorpe Park in Cleethorpes to join the retail team… and, as Nikki says, “I guess the rest is history.”

In 2020, Nikki decided it was time to venture down a different route, and accepted a leading position at Lyons Holiday Parks, who have 14 holiday parks across North Wales and Cumbria. Although this fifth-generation, family run business has been around for 96 years, the Denbighshire-based tourism giant is makings some significant and innovative developments that have put the company, and North Wales, on the map this year.

So, what was it that veered this corporate connoisseur into the realm of private business and leisure, and what major comparisons can Nikki make between both worlds?

“Holiday parks gets into your blood. I had been lucky enough to lead some very large holiday sales businesses in Cleethorpes, Devon and North Wales, but I decided to leave my corporate employer in January this year and wanted to target my approach in my next career chapter. Having done my research, I was ready to tailor my work to two caravan park companies that I really wanted to join, produced two totally different CV’s and covering letters – only, I never got to send them. A friend sent me a WhatsApp with the head of operations opportunity at Lyons Holiday Parks, a company of which I knew about during my time in North Wales and was very pleasantly surprised at the growth in the company since I had last paid attention.”

After her first job interview in 25 years – which came with some CV revamping – Nikki harkens back to the first thing that Joseph Lyons Mound, one of the company directors, highlighted at their initial face-to-face meeting at Lyons Robin Hood in March 2020.

“He said to me – apart from hello and how was your journey – that: ‘we are a fifth-generation, family-owned business who will never be sold.’ I said OK…where do I sign?”

It was this patriarchal passion, “steely determination” and unparalleled vision that ignited Nikki’s interest in the company. After implementing her visions and incentives over the past 7 months, Nikki was then able to transfer what she had learnt within the family-run business to eager audiences at the NEC last week.

She said about her first day: “I felt excited, nervous, and probably invincible. I knew so much, had so many ideas, and lots of experience. I could change the business for the better. I donned my metaphorical cape and walked into reception – I was the superhero, about to save this business.

“I did see so much opportunity, the low hanging fruit was all around and I wanted the whole tree. Truth is, they didn’t need saving and in fact, I couldn’t have been more wrong. I needed to realise this quickly, find my place, and then the learning started.

“Everyone wants to make their mark in a new business and change the world – it was just where to start. I eventually listened to some good advice: ‘slow down’ someone said. ‘You have to give it at least 90 days for any new adventure to see if it fits and then you can make a difference,’ said another.”

Nikki highlights that the difference between corporate and private worlds is “really all about the people that create the culture.” Although there may be fears among those moving from the corporate world into a family-run business, Nikki said that she has never felt as secure as she does now in a company that’s been running through the same lifeblood for the past near-century.

She said: “There are far fewer policies and levels of management [in private.] There is little red tape to go through or fewer people to upset as you didn’t include them in the email or decision-making process. Seeing a project through from start to finish is more likely to happen in a privately owned company, however, having a team around for support and not being overloaded isn’t a bad thing either. But it really is about preference.

“Being authentic and genuine for me is really important and I have found far less egos in the private business. There’s a real chance to be yourself and there are no work masks removed at the door – we also have lots of fun.

“What I have found is you still have a job to do, still need team to carry out that job and still need resource to pay for the team and the tools that they require to do their job.”

Nikki divides her learnings from both experiences into four categories. The first is the importance of team, and the industry expert says its vital to be inclusive, stretch your team, and learn faster than the world is changing. She also said any private or corporate business should “treat them well enough so they don’t want to leave.”

Communication is the second, with ensuring that all voices are heard and that the team is kept up to date with news, changes, support and more.

“Perspective is vital,” said Nikki. “Go around, go through, go over. There are two ways to see the world – some people see the thing that they want and some people see the thing that prevents them from getting the thing that they want.”

Lastly is empathy, and Nikki said it’s crucial to be authentic and to look at every situation from another person’s perspective before responding as you “never know what goes on behind closed doors.”

She added: “this sounds like a really simple skill but in reality, it can be quite difficult to master. Its not about taking charge but about taking care of the people that are in our charge. Taking the best from each journey has been fun and just because it worked elsewhere, doesn’t mean that it will work here.

“But I maintain that the best minute that you will ever spend is that minute with your team.”

You can listen to Nikki’s full speech here: