Staycation boom as country house and coastal hotels report near 100% occupancy for August
The promised staycation boom appears to have been realised, with coastal and country house hoteliers reporting near 100% occupancy for the entirety of August.
With quarantine restrictions being introduced at short notice, many who have been hoping an overseas break would have been possible appear to have instead decided to stay closer to home.
Sue Williams, general manager at Whatley Manor and 2017 Hotelier of the Year, said the hotel near Malmesbury, Wiltshire, was at 94% occupancy.
She told The Caterer: "It's really busy, we're doing really well. People seem to plan to use us as a bit of a retreat away from the madding crowd and it's lovely to see. We're getting a lot of three-, four- and seven-night stays."
Simon Maguire, managing director of Luxury Family Hotels, which has properties in locations including the New Forest, Bath and Cornwall, said his five hotels were running at 94%-96% occupancy for the whole of August.
He added: "We're seeing this up until the end of the school holidays, then we have quite strong business for the first two weeks of September before we go back to our familiar booking patterns. I do think a lot of people are waiting to the last minute to book because there's so much uncertainty out there."
The scale of demand is reaching beyond traditionally high-volume areas such as Cornwall and Devon, according to Mike Warren, managing director of the Harbour Hotels group. He explained: "Staycation activity has exceeded what we expected. The coastal properties are practically full throughout August, particularly in the south-west, but what we've noticed is an excess in that wave of demand, particularly from Devon and Cornwall, coming up to the Dorset coastline. In the last week we've seen a surge of interest in Brighton, which we also attribute to that factor."
People are also booking longer breaks and spending more while they are at the property, the hoteliers reported.
Maguire explained: "Last year we were looking at an average length of stay of three nights, now we're looking at five and a half nights and people are eating and drinking at the hotel a lot more than they would have, so the average spend per room is up around £19 to £20 on last year."
The staycation boom is not just a relief after more than three months of government-mandated closure, but an opportunity to promote destinations for years to come. Williams added: "You'd like to think if you can deliver and deliver well, you'll create more regular guests – friends of the house, as I like to call them. They're the ones who always support you in times like this. In our opening week, 40% of the guests were return visitors who just couldn't wait to come and get their Whatley fix, so the more we can squeeze ourselves into people's hearts, that will, of course, be a wonderful opportunity for the future."
However, while the boost in numbers has been hugely welcomed, hoteliers have stressed that the consumer demand seen during August does not mean that those businesses to have benefited are unconcerned about the future and the continued impact of Covid-19.
Maguire added: "In the short term it gives us confidence, but in the long term we're extremely cautious and nervous that this could drop off a cliff at any point. I don't just mean October, I mean it's not inconceivable that a bad outbreak somewhere around one of our hotels could cause a drop-off. So, we're just being very cautious about any longer-term decisions on the back of a busy summer. But I'm certainly more optimistic than I was two months ago."
For Warren the encouraging signs do not offset concerns about the loss of business and event tourism. In Brighton Harbour Hotels would have picked up business from political party and trade conferences, Brighton Pride, corporate events and other large gatherings all of which have been cancelled with no plan yet unveiled for their return.
He added: "We're working hard on how we can replace that with leisure, and bring more leisure into those mid-week markets, but it's going to be challenging because every hotel will be looking to do the same."
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