Britons stick with staycations even as flight bookings surge

Britons’ enthusiasm for staycations shows no sign of abating this summer, UK holiday operators have said, despite a surge in flight bookings after the end of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Some 44 per cent of hotel rooms in Cumbria, home to the picturesque Lake District, are already booked until the end of August, up from 36 per cent this time last year, according to analytics group STR, which compiles data covering three-fifths of UK hotel rooms.

In Devon and Cornwall, both hotspots for beachgoers, 55 per cent of rooms have been reserved, up from 52 per cent in 2022.

Sykes Holiday Cottages, one of the UK’s leading holiday rental agencies, has increased its listings of holiday lets by 15 per cent to more than 21,000 this summer in anticipation of extra demand. But the company, which also operates in Ireland, expects occupancy to remain steady compared with last year, peaking at about 90 per cent in July, when most schools in England are closed.

Other hotel groups and holiday parks are eschewing big price rises — and in some cases offering cut-price deals — in an effort to convince people eager to go abroad to consider staying in the UK instead, or to take a second, smaller domestic break over summer.

“For a lot of people, it’s not a holiday unless they are at the airport. But more and more people, especially families, are at least entertaining the idea of a staycation,” said Malcolm Bell, chair of Visit Cornwall, the local tourism board. He added that the ease of budgeting and hotter weather helped sway customers towards holidaying at home.

Bar chart of Proportion anticipating going on any overnight UK trips (%) showing Domestic trips are set to outnumber last year

Paul Flaum, chief executive of holiday park operator Bourne Leisure, said the cost of living crisis meant “guests don’t just want value for money, they want certainty and to make sure every penny spent is worth it”. He expects to host 3mn people this year across the company’s 39 Haven Holiday caravan parks nationwide, up from 2.5mn last year.

“One trend that the pandemic has cemented is that people have realised how important it is to get away, and therefore they are doing everything that they can to protect their holiday, but also to have more holidays,” added Flaum.

Yet with even more international flight routes open this summer and little indication of the chaos that gripped airports struggling to restart normal operations last year, the UK tourism sector faces stiffer competition from overseas destinations.

Outbound flight bookings between June and August are up 9 per cent on last year and just 6 per cent below the pre-pandemic benchmark of 2019, according to flight data aggregator ForwardKeys. In the peak summer period, low-cost airline easyJet will have 28 per cent more capacity on its flights than in 2019.

“We don’t have a captive audience as there was before,” said Tom Jenkins, chair of the Tourism Alliance, an industry body. “We are still looking at an oscillating pattern of demand and supply . . . If there are people who realised, ‘Actually we preferred going to [the UK seaside town of] Mablethorpe rather than the Costa del Sol’, that takes time to filter through.”

Despite renting out a record number of properties, Sykes Cottages expects to generate about 10 per cent less revenue per holiday home this summer compared with 2022, in order to stay competitive on pricing.

Bar chart of Confirmed summer bookings (%) showing Popular destinations are experiencing healthy bookings

Almost two-fifths of Britons are more likely to take a domestic holiday in the next six months compared with the past year, according to a survey of 1,755 holidaymakers by official tourist board VisitBritain in May.

Of those planning a domestic break before the end of 2023, 56 per cent said it was because UK holidays were easier to plan, 46 per cent because they involved less travel and 45 per cent because a staycation was more affordable.

After last year’s travel chaos, Jenkins suggested that the prospect of 31 days of strikes by thousands of security staff at Heathrow, the UK’s main hub airport, between late June and the end of August could also deter people from booking overseas getaways.

Wherever they go, however, Britons are cutting back on extra spending on hospitality, shopping and holiday-related activities. Bell of Visit Cornwall said that whereas “during the Covid years, people thought ‘I want and by the way what’s the price?’, now they are looking down the price column” first.

Last month, cleaning staff working across holiday operator Classic Cottages’ 1,400 properties, mainly in Cornwall, reported having to clean more ovens than usual — an indication that guests taking advantage of the half-term school break opted not to dine out, according to managing director Dan Harrison.

His comments were echoed by Gill Haigh, managing director of Cumbria Tourism, who said visitors “were not going all out in terms of three-course meals and coffees” but “choosing self-catering, or if they are going to restaurants . . . being a bit more selective”.

Harrison also pointed to guests booking with less notice than before, probably in an effort to maximise flexibility and hunt for last-minute deals — a trend also seen by Sykes Cottages, which said one-third of half-term bookings had been made within four weeks of departure, compared with just one-fifth in 2019.

Padstow harbour in Cornwall. Fifty-five per cent of rooms have been reserved in Devon and Cornwall this summer © Eye35/Alamy

But with a nationwide heatwave predicted for June, holiday operators believe the biggest boost for the UK tourism sector this summer will be continued high temperatures.

“When the weather is good, domestic travel does well,” said Graham Donoghue, Sykes Cottages’ chief executive. “We’re pretty simple us Brits: when it’s sunny, we look out the window and think ‘Aha, it’s time to book a holiday’.”

Additional reporting by Robert Wright and Alan Smith in London


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