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Progress: How are the UK’s holiday plans changing post-Covid?

WE’RE all going on a summer holiday… or are we? When even transport minister Grant Shapps has been caught up in quarantine chaos, perhaps it is no surprise that the majority of us are nervous about what Covid-19 could do to our holiday plans.

Continued uncertainty is a disaster for many sectors of the travel industry. Following months of lockdown, holidaymakers are now cancelling trips to France, Spain and further afield due to the possibility of quarantines being put in place.

The situation is bad news for many hotels, cottage owners, airlines and travel agents — but it is creating opportunities elsewhere. This weary nation is desperate for a break, and those firms who can give people what they’re looking for could do very well indeed this summer.

Travel industry veteran Tristan Hamm, who runs US Adventure company Revived Outdoors, (revivedoutdoors.com) quotes Albert Einstein when asked about the issues facing the sector. ’In the middle of every difficulty lies opportunity,’ he says. ‘The opportunity for travel is larger than it has ever been before and, as a small company, you must look into your inner entrepreneur to push past the fear so your vision can be clear to the opportunities that lie before you.’

A Covid-safe summer

The government’s own advertising campaign is already exhorting us to ‘Enjoy Summer Safely’, and research shows us that British travellers are taking the advice seriously.

The recent Travelodge Holiday Index found that only 19 per cent of us are planning a summer holiday abroad this year. It also revealed that only one in ten of us is taking a two-week break in the UK, but that 42 per cent of us are planning more UK short breaks this year rather than go abroad. Travelodge’s Shakila Ahmed says that the survey ‘does show a glimmer of green shoots for our tourism industry with Britons planning to holiday across the length and breadth of the UK this summer’.

As a comparison, two years ago the same survey showed that 43 per cent of us were holidaying abroad.

Tristan adds: ‘Domestic travel is going to blow up this year and if companies don’t take the time now to re-adjust their structure and, more importantly, culture, they will not be ready for the spike in opportunities in the market.’

Grabbing the opportunity

The move towards staycations is ensuring that some travel companies and individuals are attracting a different type of clientele this year.

Gareth Irving is the founder of UKcaravans4hire.com, a website that allows private individuals to hire out their static caravans for holidays.

He says that interest in caravan hire in the UK has been ‘unprecedented’.

‘To start with it was only the more remote sites that were booked, but gradually more amenities have been reopened and there’s more interest in other areas,’ he says.

‘Some of the people who are booking have never considered a static caravan before.’

It’s a similar story for UK campsites. Dan Yates, founder of Pitch Up (pitchup.com), a booking website for campsites in the UK and overseas, says that since the government announced that campsites could open, the response has been ‘absolutely extraordinary’ — with a record 6,100 bookings the day after the Spanish quarantine was announced.

‘It’s been three-and-a-half months of hell, but now this,’ he says. Dan had to furlough his team back in April when lockdown started, but now the company has never been so busy. Prices are up six per cent, with huge demand for sites on the UK coast and other rural areas.

The government’s loosening of planning permissions means it is easier than ever for new campsites to be set up, and Dan says that there are 48 per cent more campsites listed for this July than last, with many land owners turning a field over to camping to take advantage of demand.

UK holiday cottages are also a popular choice this year, although owners have had to ensure they abide by strict Covid-safe guidelines.

Kate Treharne-Jones runs Cornish holiday cottage Edens Horizon (edenshorizon.co.uk) in St Austell. ‘When the shutdown happened I was devastated,’ she says. ‘I had so many questions about what was happening, and the situation changed daily.’

Kate spent her downtime learning about the Covid rules and built a new website as well as making plans for reopening. ‘The cleaning and disinfecting is fairly straightforward, if very time-consuming. Once the initial clean is done we arrive at the house to disinfect and prepare — this includes sealing remote controls with clear plastic and disinfecting all door handles.

‘We found that keeping in close contact with our guests regarding their arrival time has become even more important as we now wait for them in our car or in our garden, anxious not to touch anything.’

Kate’s hard work has been rewarded with a boom in bookings. ‘I could sell July and August three-times over, I am fielding several enquiries a day but booked solid for weeks now.’

City versus country

While country destinations are fully booked, city travel experts report that fewer people want to be in London and other major cities at present.

David Tucker runs London Walks and says that it is ‘much quieter and calmer than I’ve ever seen it’. He urges British people to see this as a positive.

‘This is a unique opportunity to see the capital without the usual crowds. We’ve done a tour of the Tower of London today with a family and they’ve been able to circle three or four times to see the crown jewels. That would be unimaginable in a normal summer.’

Looking further ahead

Although it will be a staycation summer, with most bookings focused on rural areas, many experts believe that customers will venture abroad and on city breaks again this autumn if travel seems safe. ‘It really is the summer that is booked up,’ Karen says. Jo Carroll, of Winchcombe Farm adds that she’s ‘surprised there is so much reluctance to book for the autumn. I guess everyone is just waiting to see.’

Not every business can take advantage of a staycation market — and many are taking the time to refocus, hoping for a 2021 bounce.

Nathan Cable runs clubbing holiday specialist Party Hard Travel, which has seen its 15,000 passengers a year dwindle to fewer than 1,000 as nightclubs are closed and Balearic destinations are quarantined. He says: ‘Through innovations in our business and strategic focus, we’re in a really good position for 2021 holiday bookings.’

Nathan feels the government has treated the travel industry ‘like something of an afterthought’.

He says: ‘The impact of some of the decisions — such as the advice against non-essential travel for all areas of Spain — has been crippling for many travel businesses. Opening up areas with lower infection rates such as the Balearics would be the biggest thing the government could do to help travel businesses right now.’

Like many travel businesses, though, he’s hoping Party Hard Travel will come back stronger. He adds: ‘It’s a good time for businesses to get lean and focused, thinking like a start-up again.’

THE EXPERTS

Tristan Hamm, founder and chief executive of Revived Outdoors

Shakila Ahmed, communications director at Travelodge

Gareth Irving, founder of UKcaravans4hire.com

Dan Yates, founder of Pitchup.com

David Tucker, owner of London Walks

Kate Treharne-Jones, runs Cornish holiday cottage Edens Horizon

‘I can’t see us being more than 50 per cent full for 12 months’

NIC WENN, Managing Director of Point A Hotels (pointahotels.com), says the budget boutique chain has been hit by a desire to get away from the cities since — although rural and coastal properties are booked up — he is still struggling to get customers.

‘Travel confidence is so fragile, and that’s made even worse by the Spanish decision,’ he says. However, he says that bookings have doubled since the government slapped a two-week quarantine on anyone travelling to Spain, with many people choosing a city staycation due to lack of availability elsewhere.

The Point A Hotels chain owns a total of seven hotels in London and one each in Edinburgh and Glasgow, but no rural properties.

As attractions begin to open, Nic (pictured) hopes that even more people will start coming back into the cities, although he thinks that bookings will be nothing like the rate the company is used to, especially with high-end hotels cutting prices so that they encroach into Point A’s price range. ‘I can’t see us being more than 50 per cent full over the next 12-18 months,’ he says. ‘It’s going to be a very long and bloody winter.’

The company has welcomed the VAT cut offered to the hospitality industry, and Nic says they will pass some of it onto customers, but that it isn’t as simple as just doing that, since the company also operates ‘dynamic pricing’ and needs some of the money to survive.

‘I’ve never seen anything like this, it’s crazy’

BESPOKE travel consultant Becki Wallington (bookitbecki.com) says her clients are looking for completely different holidays since Covid hit, and has had to reinvent her offering in response.

‘Where customers were looking for holidays abroad,’ she says, ‘they are now looking for self-catering holidays at home, and availability of this type of holidays is scarce.

‘I’ve been doing this for five years and I’ve never seen anything like this. It’s crazy,’ Becki (above) adds. ‘I’ve had 55 clients since May 29 and only three for abroad, where normally it would be 60 per cent.

‘Since the Spanish quarantine, I’ve had even more people looking for UK holidays because they can’t guarantee whether they will be able to travel abroad.’

Cottages on the coast are commanding huge prices, she says. ‘I understand that people need to make money back after lockdown but some are just silly.’

The good news, Becki says, is that more people are deciding to rent out cottages than usual, adding availability into the market.

‘I’m checking all the sites I use all the time for new availability and taking on three to five new clients a day,’ she says.

‘When Spanish quarantine was announced we took 14 bookings in a day’

Comeback: Steve and Jo. Below: One of their lodges

JO CARROLL and Steve Taylor run holiday lets business Winchcombe Farm (winchcombefarm.co.uk) near Stratford-upon-Avon, with a series of self-contained lodges on a large country site. When lockdown hit, the couple had to close completely. They also stopped building their newest holiday lodge, because they ran out of cash.

‘We were going to build it from cashflow but there wasn’t any,’ Jo explains. ‘I estimate that lockdown has lost us £100,000.’

However, since the company reopened under Covid-safe protocols (below), the phone has been ringing off the hook and building work has restarted.

‘I could fill this place 20 times over, and I’m only sleeping for four hours a night,’ says Jo. ‘When Boris announced the Spanish quarantine we took 14 bookings in a day and we would usually only take two.

‘With the building project, it’s been really hard to get a hot tub — it would be easier to get rocking horse poo — as everyone has been buying them, but I’ve managed to source one now and we will be driving to Lincoln to get it.’

In the meantime, Jo says, the business has been saved by a bounceback loan, rates relief and the VAT cut.