‘New measures will result in far better Kents Cavern visitor experience’

Kents Cavern director Nick Powe

Kents Cavern director Nick Powe - Credit: Archant

Reopening Kents Cavern is turning out to be 'transformational'.

As the popular Torquay attraction prepares for July 11, director Nick Powe says feels like they have hit the 'reset button'.

He said: 'I feel just like I did 20 years ago when I took over the caves. At first, I feared for the quality of the visit as we reopened but I am confident the new measures will result in a far better visitor experience.

'Despite the catastrophic impact the crisis has had on the heritage and entertainment industry, and the fact we are now saddled with debt we can hardly afford, it has created opportunities to rethink and reinvent what we do.

'In line with current guidance, the upper limit on tours will initially be just 10 people and all tours will need to be pre-booked.

'This is how other UNESCO sites manage visitor flows to protect heritage of international value, using pre-booking to control arrivals, manage conservation and enhance the visitor experience. I have wanted to do this for years, but the opportunity was never right. It is now.

'Spreading visitors more evenly throughout the day is good for visitors, good for the caves and helps keep the business viable.

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'For many, especially those anxious about crowded areas, as we all start to get out and about again, this new way of operating at Kents Cavern offers reassurance that it will be, and feel, less crowded here.'

Visitors to Kents Cavern after July 11 wil experience a more relaxed and personal experience.

'We have changed the arrival process and visitor flow, the layout has been re-jigged to create an airy and spacious reception space, with a new pre-tour briefing area from where our experienced cave tour guides will begin.

'The sheer size of the cave has allowed us to retain access to all underground chambers under the current measures so you will be able to securely enjoy the entire cave system.'

While transformational in the long run, the immediate consequences of Covid-19 means Kents Cavern must remain cautious over the coming months, hence the significantly reduced tour sizes.

'We have also decided to effectively moth ball the newly refurbished restaurant. On July 11, there will be a takeaway 'coffee shop' operation with 'grab-'n'-go' food on offer but our focus on quality and taste of Devon remains.

'We will keep this decision under constant review as guidance on operating restaurants becomes available.

'We have had to cancel special events this year, the underground cave cinema in August and Macbeth Underground in November, and, most regrettable of all, we have delayed Christmas bookings as current social distancing measures make it impossible for Santa to visit. Hopefully, this will change.

'When we reopen, just turning up to buy a ticket will not be possible. All visits must be pre-booked and those who leave it to the morning to buy cave tickets are likely be disappointed, particularly on those wet days over the next three months.

'We would appreciate if everyone could help spread the word that Kents Cavern tours have to be pre-booked. There is also a great opportunity for families and 'family bubbles' to book out an entire tour and enjoy a private tour of the caves.

Tickets for July 11 onwards go on sale at 9am on Saturday, July 4.

'As a business I am confident we will bounce back reasonably quickly, returning to making a significant contribution to the vibrancy of the English Riviera, all year round, something we have been doing successfully for the last 140 years.'

• Next week: Part one of the Powe family's 140-year involvement with Kents Cavern.