Holiday cottages in England enjoyed their busiest day ever for bookings after the prime minister gave the go-ahead for a reopening on 4 July – spurring hopes of a staycation boom for an industry battered by coronavirus.
Cottages.com, which claims to be the UK’s biggest operator of ‘managed’ cottages, and sister company Hoseasons, best known for its boating holidays and lodges on the Norfolk broads, both said they enjoyed record one-day sales in the wake of the reopening announcement on Tuesday, with bookings coming through at one every 11 seconds.
“Year on year sales were up 270% for Hoseasons by the end of the day, with cottages.com reporting a 455% increase as both brands smashed their previous record sales days,” said Simon Altham of parent company Awaze UK.
“We were expecting greater levels of interest, but the surge in demand was still surprising and we certainly hadn’t expected a record day. Government confirmation seems to have just given people an extra level of certainty.”
Another big cottages site, independentcottages.co.uk, representing 1,800 cottages in Britain, said in the immediate aftermath of the reopening announcement “there was a frenzy of booking.”
Steve Jarvis, who runs the site, said: “Over the last 24 hours it has gone crazy”. He warned that not everyone will get the accommodation they want. “There’s much more demand, from people who were cancelled earlier in the year, plus new bookings now, and there are fewer cottages available as some owners have decided that they are not ready to open yet.”
Haven holiday parks said that online bookings had risen 150% compared with the same day last year, making Tuesday its third biggest sales day of the year so far.
Hotels, bed and breakfasts, holiday homes and campsites and caravan parks and boarding houses will be able to reopen in England from 4 July. Campsites will be given guidance on how to be “covid-secure” in shared areas such as shower, toilet and washing-up facilities.
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.”
Northern Ireland will be the first to allow self-catering to reopen on 26 June, followed by hotels on 3 July. Scotland’s hotels, restaurants and pubs are not set to emerge from almost four months of lockdown until 15 July but self-contained holiday accommodation such as cottages and caravan parks can open from 3 July. Wales is reviewing its position on 9 July, with 13 July mooted as a likely reopening date for the hospitality industry.
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.
The Scottish Highlands is one of the remote corners of the UK proving popular. Photograph: Murdo MacLeod/The Guardian
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 for 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 Edmonson.
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. 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 will 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.”
Although hoteliers, campsite owners and self-catering businesses in England expressed relief at being able to reopen on 4 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.”