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Do we have hope of a holiday abroad this year? (Picture: Getty Images/Westend61)
Can we or can’t we have a holiday abroad this summer?
With scientists and government ministers all urging caution due to the slow EU vaccine rollout and the possibility of importing new variants into the UK, it is extremely hard for anyone to plan a summer break.
And particularly hard for the travel industry, which has laboured under confusing and ever-changing restrictions for more than a year now.
The government review into the feasibility of opening England’s borders is not due until April, and companies focused on travel both at home and abroad are wondering how to prepare for the coming summer
Mark Tanzer, chief executive of travel industry association ABTA, says that there still isn’t enough support for struggling travel businesses, with those without retail premises denied grants, a decision that is hitting online travel companies and tour operators.
The sector is one of the worst hit by the pandemic. Even during the brief breathing space allowed for travel during the summer, nine out of ten holidays were cancelled, Mark says.
The possibility of vaccine passports and pre-travel testing regimes provide some glimmers of light to industry players, but as Britain faces a staycation summer with insufficient accommodation available unless overseas restrictions are dropped, businesses at home and abroad are finding circumstances challenging.
Where we are now
At present, leisure travel is not allowed under any circumstances. The travel industry is working towards a series of ‘earliest possible’ dates when it comes to reopening. The first is April 12, when families will be able to stay in England in self-contained, self-catering accommodation. This includes caravan sites, holiday cottages and canal boats, but does not include campsites with communal toilets, hotels or B&Bs. Pubs and restaurants can only serve outside.
The next date is May 17, when hotels, B&Bs and indoor dining areas are allowed to open and it may be possible to travel abroad on holiday. However, travel abroad is likely to be a more complicated decision than UK staycations, and the May date is seen as provisional, waiting on the travel taskforce report due in April.
The rules are different in Scotland and Wales, with travel in mainland Scotland and holiday accommodation reopening to Scottish people on April 26. Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, is hoping that travel between the two nations for holidays will reopen at around the same time.
While some travel companies are taking bookings for travel abroad from May 17, others are more cautious, given the current vaccination issue resulting in tightened lockdowns in many EU countries. UK travel businesses are more confident, with holiday cottage owners and campsites taking huge numbers of bookings.
Staycations still rule (Picture: Getty Images)
Holiday cottages and self-contained accommodation
Many holiday cottages are already fully booked for April and the summer season. Karen Martin, who runs a self-catering cottage business in Noss Mayo, south Devon, says she is feeling more confident than she was last summer.
‘I think the government has given us a clear roadmap out of lockdown, I’m really pleased that we’re allowed to open on April 12 as being a self-catering cottage with self check-in it’s a totally safe option,’ she says.
‘I’m pretty much booked up for the summer. Everything is on a flexible cancellation policy so things could change quickly, but I don’t think I would have too much of a problem getting bookings if people do have to cancel.
‘I’m really pleased that all our three local pubs have survived and will be open again this summer and things like the Regatta are going ahead.’
Jo Carroll and her husband Steve run Winchcombe Farm holidays near Stratford-upon-Avon. She says that although July and August are already pretty much fully booked and that she is expecting a very busy summer, the complexity of the rules in place for April and May have made the next few months very difficult.
‘We have massive surges of bookings whenever there is a government announcement, giving people a light at the end of a very long tunnel,’ she says.
‘However, the complex rules in place about travel between April 12 and June 21 have been a nightmare to work through with our guests, to make sure they and we are compliant.
‘We’ve had to cancel and refund several group stays as they contravene with the Rule of Six or two households rule.
‘Explaining why we can’t host a group of eight teachers in one of our lodges for a weekend when they all work together every day — using the same toilet and kitchen — is tricky. I think it would be fair to say that the general public find the rules baffling — and we do, too, as we welcome guests from Scotland and Wales, both of which have different rules to England!
‘We feel quietly confident about being allowed to reopen on April 12, although we still have a myriad of restrictions in place which make trading difficult.
‘The success of the vaccine rollout, coupled with the uncertainty about foreign travel restrictions, should help the self-catering sector start to make up for some lost ground in the next few months.’
Maybe camping is the way to go (Picture: (Credits: Getty Images/Westend61)
Camping and caravanning
Dan Yates, who runs campsite booking business Pitchup.com, tells us that his sites have taken more than 8,000 bookings for self-contained glamping accommodation and caravans for the month of April, when these are the only types of holiday available across the country.
Dan says it is ‘disappointing’ that established campsites with shared facilities aren’t allowed to open in time to capitalise on demand for spring bank holiday, ‘particularly since similar facilities can be used at attractions and pubs’.
However, he is predicting a ‘bumper’ summer season for campsites, with an extra 500 pop-up sites predicted to run to deal with demand.
Gareth Irving, who runs static caravan site UKcaravans4hire.com, agrees. He says: ‘It is likely we will see record occupancy levels across all our locations this year, with many destinations becoming fully booked before the summer.
‘We are hoping that it is the beginning of a surge in staycation popularity that will last for many years to come,’.
Unlike self-catering accommodation, hotels are not allowed to reopen until May 17. Nic Wenn, who runs hotel chain Point A, says that he hopes that from that date he will be able to ‘build some momentum, unlike 2020’. He adds: ‘Domestic leisure travel will be the first market segment to return and we saw a significant increase in bookings across all our centrally located hotels off the back of the lockdown roadmap announcement.’
However, after 12 months of uncertainty it’s critical for the sector that the roadmap changes are not delayed any further. Proposed changes to the restrictions need to happen throughout April and May if the industry is to grow.
‘The key date we are all looking towards is May 17 where hotels will be able to welcome back leisure guests for the first time this year.
‘We have to hope that once open we will be able to build some momentum, unlike 2020, and that we will see guests coming back to city-centre locations either for leisure or for business.
‘Domestic leisure travel will be the first market segment to return and we saw a significant increase in bookings across all our centrally located hotels off the back of the lockdown roadmap announcement. However, after 12 months of uncertainty, it is critical for the sector that the roadmap changes are not delayed any further.
‘Proposed changes to the restrictions need to happen throughout April and May if the industry is to grow in confidence once again.
‘Given the opportunity — and the fact that cultural events will be happening again — we do feel that there will be desire from guests to start travelling again.
‘However, getting back to the bookings recorded in 2019 will be a long journey with some speed bumps along the way.
‘And if 2020 taught us anything it is that we must remain positive and be resilient.’
Bookings for holidays abroad
While companies are doing their best to persuade people to book holidays abroad, offering everything from ‘peace of mind’ guarantees to insisting that all travellers are vaccinated before they board cruise ships, holiday businesses say the mood is very different when it comes to booking trips overseas.
Becki Wallington of BookitBecki, a bespoke holiday accommodation search service, says ‘I’ve been inundated since early January with enquiries for UK-only stays due to the uncertainty of foreign travel. This mirrors what happened in 2020.’ She says she has only had one booking for a holiday abroad, and it is a French villa for August 2022. ‘I have had a couple of enquiries for holidays to the Maldives for Christmas 2021, but that’s it,’ she adds.
Nathan Cable, who runs overseas clubbing holiday business Party Hard Travel, says that although he has the largest number of bookings since 2019, following the coronavirus roadmap announcement on February 22, he is still nervous.
‘It has been, and continues to be, a really challenging time for the whole industry. There have been no assurances that travel will open up on May 17, and we await a further decision on April 12.
‘We are comfortable that if our guests’ holidays do have to be moved or cancelled due to Covid, they have protection to move their holiday or get a refund.
‘I urge customers to keep booking through travel agents who are offering these assurances and keep the market, and our hopes of a summer holiday, alive.’
The travel industry in numbers:
- 164,000 — Jobs have either been lost or placed at risk in the travel and associated industries due to Covid-19
- 86 per cent — Decline in the economic output of travel agents and tour operators in December 2020 compared to February 2020
- £13.7billion — Contribution to the UK economy from sales of overseas holiday and business travel services has been lost since the start of the pandemic — equivalent to £1.6million every hour.
- 9 in 10 — Holidays were cancelled during last year’s peak summer season
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