Center Parcs, the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II and the pitfalls of the performative “token of respect”

Of all the many uniformed and feathered soldiers, somber-faced clergymen, stoic princes and shining steeds, who would have thought that Center Parcs, a favorite for middle-class holidays, would be on the first day of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II in the state?

They didn’t have to be involved at all, of course. But someone at the helm of the company – who may have seen everyone from panty-seller Ann Summers to doughball legends Pizza Express lower their metaphorical flags to half-staff – felt that Britain’s family-friendly woodland retreats should join such PDMs ( public expressions of grief).

So Center Parcs said something. Not only was it offering its condolences to the royal family, or feeling genuine sympathy for its customers at this sad time… but it would be kicking out guests all day and night of the Queen’s funeral.

On Tuesday morning, she released a statement saying all guests would have to leave their parks by 10am on the morning of the funeral, Monday September 19, and would not be allowed to return until 10am the following day.

This decision was “made as a sign of respect and to enable as many of our colleagues as possible to participate in this historic moment”.

“We hope our guests will understand our decision to support our Queen on her last journey,” the unfortunate communications professional typed in farewell. The brand said it would email booked guests to consider a small discount on their trip price.

Ireland’s Center Parcs Longford Forest was and is unaffected.

Needless to say, British holidaymakers were more than a little annoyed. Center Parcs attracts mostly families and large groups – the people who can least afford to be flexible and last-minute with their travel plans.

“Very angry about this – we don’t travel direct to you so we’re stranded halfway across the country for a night with no accommodation. Thirty percent [discount] offered is not nearly enough to cover the additional costs,” wrote a guest on Twitter.

“When will we get a refund for the activities we had to cancel for Monday/Tuesday morning?” wrote another. “Ours are over £300 as we booked the spa for my friend’s birthday. That’s not a little money.”

“You shut your locations out of respect at very short notice while showing very little respect for your customers,” summed up an angry patron on the group’s Facebook page.

Thousands of astonished replies later, on Tuesday night, Center Parcs frantically backed down, writing: “We know it’s an inconvenience to leave the village for a night… we have listened and made the decision to allow guests to come out on Monday in to stay in the village, but the village remains closed”.

Customers understandably still had questions about how a Center Parcs could be open to guests but closed at the same time. Undoubtedly no one intended to hold a memorial service in their forest cabin or expect a sumptuous champagne luncheon at the moment the late monarch was buried in the ground.

But many were puzzled as to why a quick dip in one of the park’s much-vaunted pools was so disrespectful. And where did the parks draw the line? Her Majesty might be turning in her grave at the Wild Water Rapids, but how about a celebratory rowing across the local lake?

Can they use facilities? Without Huck’s American Bar and Grill, would they have to hunt for mushrooms and nettles in the woods? The prospect of a stay with only overnight accommodation seemed increasingly nonsensical.

Nevertheless, the faux pas might not have escalated into a full-fledged “Center Parcs Gate” if another mistake had not been made by an employee. In responding to one such customer request, a member of staff, who signed off as Amy, wrote: “We know it’s an inconvenience to leave the village for a night, we listened and made the decision to allow guests to stay in the village on Monday.” to stay but the village will still be closed so guests will have to stay in their lodges.”

remain in their lodges? Social media exploded with jokes and memes about the Black Mirror episode, which would unfold if CP guests were placed under house arrest. How would that be handled by the police? What would happen if, in the midst of grief, you went outside for some fresh air?

After several social media users accused Center Parcs of creating a hostage situation, Amy was quick to correct the misstep, writing in a follow-up reply, “Sorry for my phrasing, you are allowed to walk around the village but the facilities will be closed.”

As a sign of respect, we are allowed to walk through the village.

What a fun vacation.

For most holidaymakers in 2022, it makes sense to close certain London locations while a huge state funeral is taking place. Closing supermarkets makes… a little less sense. But canceling day-long holiday bookings — some of which have been extended before and after the funeral date — is certainly nothing short of performative madness.

Incorporating leisure travel into the wave of closures and cancellations with less than a week’s notice to paying customers is a quick way to sink in the esteem of loyal and new customers alike.

Although nine-to-five companies that can afford to give their employees time off for the day on Monday are offering a friendly option, service industries like travel and hospitality (much like the media) cannot afford to shut down tools entirely.

It may not be peak season for Center Parcs, but holidaymakers — young families, partying groups of friends, those who’ve waited out the price-boosting weeks of midsummer for an affordable September getaway — are no less entitled to a hassle-free trip than guests in busy times.

Center Parcs, which is vying to become an official staycation partner of The Queen’s Funeral, is a sad but clear example of how showing how serious, sad and British a brand is can backfire terribly.

Many people reading the car crash announcements surrounding this closure then reopening and then apparent house arrest situation will never have thought of booking a stay at Center Parcs.

Now they may never do it. Center Parcs, the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II and the pitfalls of the performative “token of respect”

Fry Electronics Team

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