Last year was a period of great holiday uncertainty, with some managing to fly away, others cancelling trips, and many racing to return to the UK before their travel corridor slammed shut. So in 2020, the UK staycation was embraced – from glamping in yurts and country-house breaks to slow travel on a canal-boat trip. This year, long-haul or even short-haul holidays may be unlikely for many until the early autumn, with those unwilling to book a currently-much-cheaper-than-usual overseas trip with a clear postponement policy to go on later in the year (traditionally, big family breaks are booked in January and February), instead wanting to wait it out or else cut their losses and book big-budget adventures for 2022.
The government is being cautious about any sort of travel right now, with Grant Shapps saying no domestic holidays should be booked yet, although one former minister responded by saying ‘Holidays within the UK are likely by the summer, but the government can’t make a hard and fast statement to this effect at this stage. If you book, you do so at your own risk.’ So, many are pinning their hopes on a staycation: the South Downs rather than South of France, the sweeping plains of Northumberland instead of the Serengeti, the Dorset Riviera… Some may even want to pop some Specials on the car playlist and check out Coventry’s claim on City of Culture 2021. We spoke to insiders in the hotel and travel industry to find out how UK staycations are shaping up – here are the key things we learnt.
SOME UK TOUR OPERATORS ARE EXPERIENCING FOUR TIMES AS MANY BOOKINGS
According to Visit England, less than a third of domestic trips that have been planned are actually being booked. So many people are taking a wait-and-see approach, however many tour operators are experiencing a surge in booking – around 400 per cent higher than last year in some cases. In a survey for Visit Britain, around a quarter of people were confident of taking a domestic overnight trip in May, rising to 38 per cent in June and 54 per cent from July to September. When it comes to booking holidays, no prizes for guessing that July and August are the most popular months. ‘There is now limited availability for summer holidays in many destinations,’ says Oliver Bell, co-founder of luxe holiday-rental outfit Oliver’s Travels.
FOR SLIGHTLY LESS OBVIOUS CHOICES, IT’S WORTH LOOKING AT SOME OF OUR BEST BUCOLIC CITIES – OXFORD, CAMBRIDGE, BATH
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BOOK FUTURE HOLIDAYS IN COUNTRYSIDE OR COASTAL REGIONS AS SOON AS YOU CAN
‘For beach destinations like Cornwall and Devon it is already very difficult to find a property with any availability during peak season,’ according to Oliver Bell of Oliver’s Travels. ‘Cornwall and Devon are the most popular search terms on the site,’ confirms Mike Bevens of glamping champion Canopy & Stars.
CITY HOTELS ARE OFFERING BETTER DEALS THAN USUAL
The idea of a close-to-home staycation appeals, especially with many city hotels reducing their rates. ‘Last year, around 45 per cent of bookings came from staycations,’ says Amar Lalvani, CEO of the group that owns The Standard, London. ‘And we’re starting to see bookings pick up for April and June this year, which is promising.’ ‘In 2020 following the first lockdown, we received a huge amount of one-night bookings as Londoners sought a short escape from home,’ says Rebecca Masri, founder of private-members hotel club Little Emperors. ‘Spending the weekend in a hotel, where someone else makes your breakfast, makes your bed… I wouldn’t be surprised if this trend returns.’ Mr and Mrs Smith’s head of hotels, Aimee Hodgkin, says: ‘For slightly less obvious choices, it’s worth looking at some of our best bucolic cities – Oxford, Cambridge, Bath – where many hotels have slashed prices, enabling customers to book more luxurious stays in higher category rooms. They won’t be playing host to the normal number of tourists and still offer plenty of nature and escapism. Plus, ‘Searches for “England” were up by 40 per cent in early February, suggesting that guests are open to the exact area they’d like to visit,’ says Canopy & Stars’ Mike Bevens.
WITH ITS FAR-REACHING MOORS, MOUNTAINS AND LOCHS, AND RELATIVELY FEW PEOPLE ROAMING AMONG THEM, SCOTLAND HAS NEVER LOOKED MORE APPEALING
LESS OBVIOUS UK DESTINATIONS STILL HAVE GOOD AVAILABILITY
‘Great alternatives to popular hotspots include remote areas such as the Scottish Highlands, Loch Lomond, Somerset and the Malvern Hills,’ says Oliver Bell of Oliver’s Travels, while Canopy & Stars suggests looking at Northumberland, Sussex or Suffolk. ‘Unsurprisingly, we’re seeing a big demand for coastal properties, so we think that being away from the seaside might be a bonus this coming year,’ says James Treacy of luxury tailor-made travel expert Abercrombie & Kent. ‘Being somewhere like the Peak District offers more chance for social distancing and to stay away from the crowds that are likely to influx the coast this summer.’
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SCOTLAND IS PROVING WILDLY POPULAR…
With its far-reaching moors, mountains and lochs, and relatively few people roaming among them, Scotland has never looked more appealing. The Preferred Hotels group reports strong demand for its Scottish hotels such as Sopwell House and Old Course Hotel, while hotelier Gordon Campbell Gray, founder of The Wee Hotel Company, says, ‘We are seeing real enthusiasm again for holidays and escapes to the open spaces of the Highlands. One of the things I have enjoyed seeing is families returning to what I call good old-fashioned holidays, where children discover nature and various outdoor activities, from climbing and cycling to fishing and kayaking, and understanding about food sourcing.’
BUT SO IS YORKSHIRE
‘Last summer, 91 per cent of traffic to our website came from visitors who hadn’t visited yorkshire.com – suggesting we were a “new” destination for many,’ says Welcome to Yorkshire’s James Mason. ‘We would expect the same again this summer, with destinations such as Scarborough, Whitby and the Yorkshire Dales all doing well, along with many places that people have seen on TV programmes, such as Castle Howard (Bridgerton) and Grassington and Thirsk (All Creatures Great and Small).’
PEOPLE ARE DEFINITELY LOOKING AT LONGER STAYS IN SUCH PLACES, TO REALLY MAKE THE MOST OF A CHANGE OF SCENERY
CLEVER CAMPERS AND GLAMPERS WILL BE PITCHING IN THE SOUTH-EAST OF ENGLAND
Access to fresh air and open landscapes drew hundreds of thousands to spend a few days under canvas last year – sometimes to the detriment of the places they were visiting, with the Lake District in particular suffering. So follow the country code and the advice of insiders such as James Warner Smith, editor of the Cool Camping guides and booking website. ‘The real honeypot areas – the Lake District, Cornwall, Devon – are always going to be popular,’ he says. ‘Places in the eastern Lake District get booked fast because of how accessible it is to the M6, so campsites on the west could be a nice option. And surprisingly, it’s some of the most immediate spots (for Londoners) in the South-east that are quieter. Kent, for example, which offers a lot of potential. And areas such as Worcestershire and Shropshire are lower down for booking numbers, but offer some really incredible places, and should not be overlooked.’
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THINK ABOUT BOOKING A LONGER HOLIDAY THAN USUAL
Rather than several smaller breaks – and therefore more stress if they’re cancelled – people are considering going away for longer, particularly during school holidays. ‘It’s no shock that Cornwall, the Cotswolds and coastal hideaways are very much in demand,’ says Mr and Mrs Smith’s head of hotels, Aimee Hodgkin, ‘but people are definitely looking at longer stays in such places, to really make the most of a change of scenery.’ And canal-boat operator Kate Boats reports that many bookings are for two weeks, with some couples booking six weeks for a special, slow-travel trip drifting along the waters.
CONSIDER A CANAL-BOAT ESCAPE FOR 2021
Canal boat trips are self-contained breaks for families and clusters of friends, steering clear of too much social contact but offering ever-changing surroundings. Drifters Waterway Holidays, which gathers together small, often family-based outfits around the country, points to ABC Boat Hire, which says, ‘Our bookings are up 40 per cent from last year – though we’ve lost overseas reservations. The most popular waterways are the Kennet and Avon Canal in the south of Britain and Wales’s Llangollen Canal, but ones that are slower to book up include Kings Orchard Marina on the Coventry Canal.’
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THINK ABOUT BOOKING A WORKATION
‘With the uncertainty and restrictions on international travel, our UK-based members are seeking alternative ways to connect, work and manage remote schooling,’ says Niki Christian Nutsch of leading house-swap service ThirdHome. ‘There’s a greater demand for drive-to destinations such as Suffolk and Cornwall. Those who are not able to travel abroad or are concerned with large crowds prefer access to a private home that provides a socially distanced experience and the ability to combine work and holiday.’
BOOK YOUR MULTIGENERATIONAL GETAWAY AS SOON AS YOU CAN
Hotelier Gordon Campbell Gray says, ‘We are seeing a surge in three-generational breaks as families who haven’t been able to see each other are planning get-togethers – often a grandparent’s treat.’ A&K’s James Treacy agrees: ‘There’s big interest in houses that can cater for multigenerational families, with grandparents booking places big enough for their children and grandchildren. So larger properties are getting harder to find as we edge closer to summer.’
LOTS OF ACCOMMODATION IS GOING TO BE EXTRA CLEAN
Aside from the actual destination, UK staycationers are obviously looking for high standards of cleanliness, along with assurances such as free cancellations and incentives. Last year VisitBritain introduced its We’re Good to Go industry standard, adopted by thousands of businesses to reassure guests that hygiene and social-distancing regulations are being adhered to, along with the Know Before You Go campaign, ensuring up-to-date and reliable information on destinations around the UK.