Cooped-up Brits desperate for a break after three months of lockdown rushed to book holiday accommodation after Boris Johnson gave the official go ahead for hotels, holiday apartments, caravan parks and campsites to open in England on 4 July.
Coolcamping.com, a collection of 700 sites in the UK and Europe, 420 of them in England, saw an instant fourfold increase in bookings compared with before the announcement and reported bookings up 750% on the same time last year.
Martin Smith of Campsites.co.uk said of the announcement: “It’s fantastic news and, not surprisingly, traffic to our website spiked immediately. Campers can finally book with confidence and look forward to a summer under canvas, so I’m delighted.”
The glamping specialists Canopy and Stars saw a 230% uplift in traffic to the site in the hour after Johnson’s speech. The surge follows its best booking week in its 10-year history.
Mike Bevens, Canopy & Stars managing director, said: “We are seeing exceptionally high demand and availability is now evaporating. People need to book quickly if they want a holiday in the UK this summer.”
Hotels also reported a boom in bookings. Best Western, which operates 300 hotels in the UK, saw “a massive spike in website users yesterday after the announcement” with a 575% increase in bookings in 24 hours.
Head of hotels, Andrew Denton, said: “I would describe yesterday as crazy and exciting at the same time. The number of people on the site was above the same date last year when the world was open and we hadn’t heard of Covid.”
Coolcamping founder Jonathan Knight said as well as popular destinations such as Devon, Cornwall and the Lakes, people were also searching for less-explored rural spots like Herefordshire, Shropshire, Yorkshire and Wiltshire. Remote accommodation is also proving popular.
We are seeing exceptionally high demand and availability is now evaporating. People need to book quickly if they want a holiday in the UK this summer”
Log House Holiday, a collection of eight Finnish-style cabins set on 53 hectares in the Cotswolds, took two bookings while Johnson was still making his announcement.
“We’ve always ranked well on Google for secluded cabins and I’m sure people are searching on that now. It’s so safe here – the cabins are 400-500 metres apart, guests arrive by car and let themselves in; apart from a brief visit from me they don’t have to have any other interaction with people,” said owner James Edmondson who added that he was relieved to have had the opening date confirmed.
“Our only issue is where we have more than two families staying with each other. We need to understand the requirements for that.”
In the Scilly Isles, James Francis, co-owner of the Star Castle hotel on the main island St Mary’s, said phones had been ringing “non-stop all through yesterday evening and starting again this morning”. The Scilly Isles, which have had no recorded cases of Covid-19, have been completely cut off from the mainland with both the air and ferry services operating for essential travel only. Lockdown has hit the islands particularly hard. The local economy depends on holiday bookings and many tourism business owners didn’t qualify for any government help. Francis said the restarting of tourism was “a wonderful dilemma to have” with so much demand but reduced capacity within the hotel.
He added that the islands would be particularly quiet this summer as the Skybus flights and Scillonian ferry would both be running a reduced service. “The islands never get crowded – unlike many places on the mainland – even in the height of summer, but this year, we are expecting July to look like spring, in terms of visitor numbers.
In a survey of 2,000 people conducted by the hospitality jobs platform Caterer.com, 38% said they were seeking more remote destinations, with the Scottish Highlands proving one of the most popular. Scotland’s tourism sector is expected to reopen on 15 July.
Northern Ireland will be the first to allow self-catering to reopen on 26 June, followed by hotels on 3 July. Wales is taking a staggered approach to reopening tourism businesses, with self-contained self-catering getting the green light first and set to start accepting guests from 13 July. That means cottages and caravan parks can open but not accommodation with shared facilities such as hotels and campsites.
Although hoteliers, campsite owners and self-catering businesses in England expressed relief at being able to reopen on4 July, one hospitality body sounded a note of caution saying that the measures hotels have to put in place may deter people from staying.
“Without the ancillary services which people expect, such as the restaurant, bar and spa, hotels are going to struggle to attract custom once the novelty of simply getting away post-lockdown wears off,” said Jane Pendlebury, CEO of Hospa, the Hospitality Professionals Association.
The Association of British Travel Agents was also quick to point out that the tourism sector was by no means out of the woods.
“The measures [to] allow people to stay overnight in self-contained accommodation, and take domestic holidays from 4 July, is a step in the right direction on the road to restarting travel in earnest,” said a spokesperson.
“However, the travel sector remains in a perilous state, with redundancies announced each week, and more needs to be done to help the whole sector recover. We need a more comprehensive roadmap as soon as possible that includes timeframes for relaxing international travel restrictions too, so businesses and customers can plan ahead. The process of sending people on holiday is not like turning on a tap; as much advance notice as possible from the government is required for travel companies to restart operations.”