After months of inaction, hotel operators are seeing a surge of bookings from holidaymakers looking for a ‘safe' UK break this year. Jennie Milsom reports
VisitBritain's latest tourism impact forecasts for 2020 reveal that inbound tourism spending will drop 63% this year, while domestic tourism in Britain is set to lose £22b in spending across holidays and day visits.
It makes for bleak reading. Yet with holidays to far-flung destinations on ice due to the 14-day quarantine period, hotels and leisure operators are gearing up for a summer of staycationing Brits, reporting a surge in bookings from July onwards.
Ben Danielsen, general manager of the Royal Crescent Hotel & Spa in Bath, which is set to reopen on 10 July, said that initial bookings indicated an uptake in three- to four-night stays and "stays of a more extreme length, such as three to four weeks". He told The Caterer: "This has resulted in a waitlist, as such, whereby we'll be contacting our returning guests first who are eager to return to the hotel."
Danielsen added that the length guests were wishing to stay was "certainly changing drastically" and he believed extended staycations were "going to become more and more popular".
Last week Home Grown Hotels, which plans to reopen all of its Pig hotels on 4 July, told The Caterer that the group took 700 reservations for rooms on the day that lines opened, a figure equating to 100 rooms per hour, and "the amount we would take when launching a hotel".
And Danny Pecorelli, managing director of Exclusive Collection, which is reopening its luxury, rural hotels from 9 July, said that when reservations opened last weekend they took bookings for around 50,000 rooms, "more than they had expected".
He said that bookings were "slightly more August-focused" but went through to November. He attributed the surge in demand to people being keen to return to a sense of normality and a sense of "goodwill" felt by regular customers towards the hospitality sector in general.
Pecorelli added: "The length of stay is going up and we're in absolute prime position because we're in the country and have a lot of space. People are definitely seeking the countryside and safety and we've been very clear on our communication to say ‘you're going to have a great experience, but also a safe experience'."
He agreed that the staycation was a trend this summer "as people haven't got other options" but that its future would be determined by borders reopening and a relaxation of the "killer" quarantine period: "The staycation is on the up, but let's reassess it when the quarantine rules change."
The staycation is on the up, but let's reassess it when the quarantine rules change
Robin Sheppard, chairman of Bespoke Hotels, reported "a good strong number of bookings" in the group's coastal properties from people who had "promised themselves a UK holiday rather than one overseas".
He added: "We have a number of enquiries about availability through this summer on waiting lists, which we will confirm as soon as we have certainty."
Much of the demand, he said, was from repeat customers with the typical length of stay extending by "at least a day" compared with last year.
He predicted the staycation "may well be here to stay as so many hoteliers may find it the only source of trade for this year" and that restrictions had made it "so difficult" for overseas visitors to holiday in the UK.
Meanwhile, budget hotel group Easyhotel recognised that travellers would be on "tight budgets in these uncertain times" and that it is well-placed to offer no-frills-style hotel breaks.
A spokesperson said: "Stay cations will undoubtedly become more popular in the UK in the coming months as international travel options are limited – again, we expect to benefit from this as Easyhotels are mainly in popular city centre locations, perfect for people who are looking to visit somewhere with atmosphere and things to do."
She confirmed the company's central Manchester hotel already had "plenty of bookings from the start of July".
Ros Pritchard, director general of the British Holiday & Home Parks Association, reported a similar surge in bookings and said holidaymakers should not leave it too late to book a summer holiday.
She told The Caterer that when lockdown was announced, customers had postponed holidays booked for Easter to July and August, thereby benefiting from "summer holidays at Easter prices".
Pritchard added: "We've been having an awful lot of bookings. Interest picks up every time there is a government announcement."
Interest picks up every time there is a government announcement
As for the "quarantine saga", she said that tourists typically arriving from Europe would not be able to holiday in the UK this summer, "so that will give us a little more capacity", but was sceptical that supply would meet increased demand from British holidaymakers.
Derek Jones, chief executive of luxury worldwide travel company Kuoni, said that confusion around quarantine plans and continued restrictions on travel this year had led people to rethink their summer holiday plans and opt for UK breaks.
He said: "It's clear from the conversations we're having with customers and booking patterns that many people will opt to stay closer to home UK this year as they see overseas travel as too risky."
Patricia Yates, director of VisitBritain, says that the tourism industry was working "very hard getting prepared" to welcome visitors back: "We are working across the industry and with the UK government to ensure that tourism can recover as quickly as possible once restrictions are lifted, save as much of the valuable summer season as we can and to extend the tourism season into October and beyond.
"And we have also been talking to destination management organisations in England about how they co-ordinate their destinations coming out of lockdown.
"Alongside this, and following UK government guidelines, we would also like to see a major domestic campaign when restrictions are lifted and we can holiday at home again to give reassurance to the public that it is socially responsible to travel."
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