A small company with bags of integrity

Rockley is one of the smaller players amongst the schools activity trip providers; our roots are in teaching watersports, especially sailing and this is where the company started back in 1976 as a sailing school on the shores of Poole Harbour. Over the years Rockley has grown and developed into an outdoor activity provider to schools, opening centres in the south west of France alongside continuing to deliver our highly respected and internationally recognised watersports training and vocational education programmes.

In 2020 we were looking forward to welcoming nearly 5000 youngsters, together with their teachers, to one of our centres for what would have been a season of fun and learning in the outdoors. Sadly, this was not to be, as, along with the rest of the world, our schools were unable to travel to their outdoor adventure due to the ongoing pandemic.

Our loyalty to our customers and their loyalty to Rockley

Like many other businesses have struggled with the consequences of lockdown and the resulting loss of business. As our bookings are made in advance, we have had to navigate cancellations, insurance, European Travel Regulations and the disappointment of our customers not being able to visit us in 2020 as they had planned.

We understood that our schools were in a difficult position, so, our approach was that of a smaller, more personal business whose customers are our partners and friends and have been so for decades. With most of the team furloughed it fell to Rockley Owner and Director, Peter Gordon to speak to all our schools and work out with them the best course of action. In doing this he was reminded of the reasons many schools have continued to book their residential activity trips with Rockley. The outpouring of loyalty and support for Rockley was widely apparent and at times overwhelming. Peter’s approach was ‘to do the right thing’.

Not a single UK school were forced to lose any money

Our schools fell into two groups; those that had paid their final balance and those that had paid their deposits but had decided not to pay their balance, for understandable reasons. Our process had to follow the European Travel Regulations, to protect the business, but, just as importantly, to “do the right thing” by our groups. So Peter phoned nearly every school 10 days before their departure date to explain that, sadly, but not surprisingly, their scheduled trip was not happening. He then explained to each school what their options were, depending on their payments.

This meant that not a single UK school was forced to lose any money and for those that had fully paid, they were given the following options:

  • Full refund within 14 days
  • Partial refund and keep the deposit to count as a discount towards next year’s trip

The surprise from the Group Leaders was palpable and lovely to hear. They had been expecting the worst, which is why we were keen to get their refunds back to them ASAP so that our Group Leaders could relax, trusting us 'do the right thing'.

Then there were those that had only paid their deposits but had not, for totally understandable reasons, chosen to pay their balance. Under normal circumstances this technically would be classed as a cancellation, with groups forfeiting all monies paid, however Peter explained that instead of treating the deposits as a cancellation fee and keeping it all, we would treat the deposit as a discount for next year’s trip.

Again, further surprise from the Group Leaders……, they had been expecting the worst, that their money was lost.

A word from Peter

"Why did we take this approach? Because we have been around since 1976 and intend to be around for many years to come, and because it was the right thing to do.

"It means that we have taken a hit financially, but we are fortunate to have a strong business that we have run within our means over the last 44 years and more importantly than all of this, we have happy Group Leaders that are looking forward to travelling with us in 2021.

"We know that we do not get everything right, however we work really hard to ensure that we do everything we can to give our schools and groups the best level of service possible and, when we make mistakes, it is always our intention to learn from them and be even better next time. This has certainly been the case this year and we are so grateful for your support and understanding as we have negotiated the challenges that 2020 has brought all of us."

What does 2021 hold in store for us?

Well, Rockley's booking sheet is looking pretty buoyant with quite a few schools booking a double trip and we have exciting plans to make it super special for our groups and Group Leaders.

The hot topic within the travel industry has been the refunding of balances and deposits paid and there was certainly a grey area over the legality of claiming refunds for incomplete booking contracts and who cancelled the trip. Rockley’s approach was to try to ensure no school lost money and that ‘we did the right thing’.

"As a team we are very proud of how we have handled this unparalleled situation and it has strengthened the relationships that we have with our Group Leaders as we have all heard some of the horror stories out there. This has given us the opportunity to show that not all school activity trip providers are the same.

"Together we can come out of this stronger. We are passionate about the benefits of learning in the outdoors and working with young people to broaden their horizons and now more than ever this will be important for all our futures."

Good luck for the new school year

As you embark on a new, very different school year with your students we know that things may be very hectic for you, and that planning a school trip may not be at the forefront of your mind! However, if and when you are ready, we hope that you keep Rockley in mind. The importance of being outdoors and embracing our natural environment seems more important than ever right now, so whether you are looking for a trip to France or the UK, we are always available for a chat on the phone or in our 'new normal', via Zoom!


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