The great thing about living in a seaside town like Skegness is watching all the preparations in readiness for the new season. The town gradually changes from small sleepy back water with a population of a few thousand into a mass of people of well over 100,000 in just a few short weeks. It all start’s very slowly, you begin to see a few workmen about applying a new coat of paint to the shelters and railings along the front and before you know it the hot dog stalls and Fish and chips shops proprietors and the hoteliers are all out making small repairs and applying another coat of paint. Nearer Easter the gardeners will be out refilling the flower beds with fresh new plants and new light bulbs will replace those damaged during winter storms along the arcade fronts and on the rides in the pleasure beach. Everything will look bright and clean but is that all that is needed to keep the punters happy.
Our seaside tourism industry is relatively new. Less than 140 years ago Skegness was just a small fishing community with just the odd hotel that catered for the few visitors that could afford to travel and enjoy the sea air. Then with the growth of the railways the then Earl of Scarborough saw the potential of cheap travel to bring the masses to the coast and the profit that could be made from it. Before very long a new town had sprung up, a pleasure Pier had been built to cater for the needs of the visitors. The pleasure gardens with its new pavilion were soon to follow and the people flocked to Skegness in there thousands. New bathing machines were installed along the beach. A small fair and a ship turned into a museum appeared on the beach and theatre's began to open to cater for the needs of the visitors. In the 1920-30s paid holidays were introduced and coach loads of visitors came to Skegness from the many factories in the midlands and Yorkshire towns, many of these brought there local town bands along with them and they would play daily in the band stand of the pleasure gardens soon to be known as the Tower gardens whilst the children enjoyed the daily Punch and Judy shows. It was about this town that Billy Butlin turned up in the town and opened up the first proper fun Fair. He was perhaps to become the most influential person in Skegness's short history. He brought the first Dodgem cars to be seen out of Europe to Skegness and it was during the 1930s that he opened the first of is Holiday Camps here in Skegness.
Then the war came and everything halted for a while. After the war Billy re-opened is camp and spent big money improving and expanding. Big changes were made in Skegness too in the 1960s. The Natureland Seal Sanctuary was opened and Bottons took over the Pleasure Beach and brought new and exciting rides for our enjoyment and once again the crowds poured back to our town.
Then in the 1980s came the slump in the British seaside tourism. Thousands took advantage of cheap package holidays to Europe and mostly to Spain where the hot weather could be guaranteed all week long and the booze was very cheep.
Now due to the collapse of the Euro and the cost of fuel the days of affordable package holidays are receding and the people are starting to return to holidays at home, times have changed though, many now stay in caravans instead of the traditional bed and breakfast and more come for short breaks rather than for the customary week stay. But they are returning, many of them have not visited for many years and notice that during there absence nothing much has changed and that’s what worries me.
We need moor entrepreneurs of the likes of Billy Butlin to take an interest in the town, We need the hotel chains like Premier and Holiday Inns to run alongside the traditional seaside B&B’s to cater for the needs of those who come on short stays and are used to the kind of hospitality that these kind of hotels have to offer. But above all we need new attractions for the 21st century.
How much longer will we get away with just adding a new lick of paint and a good spring clean before the punters desert us for more modern looking resort? Butlins are spending vast amounts on the Leisure complexes as they call them now and Skegness needs to do the same if it wishes to remain one of the countries premier resorts.