Exactly six months after the UK went into lockdown, causing mass holiday cancellations, accommodation owners are grappling with another round of lost bookings. The sudden introduction of the rule of six in England two weeks ago led to around 40% of self-catering bookings between now and Christmas being cancelled, according to the chair of the Professional Association of Self-Caterers, Alistair Handyside.
“The word ‘rollercoaster’ has never been more apt,” Handyside said.
The most recent restrictions announced by Boris Johnson on 21 September – such as hospitality venues having to close at 10pm and stricter rules on mask wearing – have no direct impact on self-catering holidays, but local lockdowns and rumours of a national lockdown over half-term have done nothing to restore confidence among holidaymakers.
The result, said Handyside, is that after the brief respite of a busy July and August, the rest of 2020 is very quiet. “Half-term was looking very good, but people are getting nervous. Their holiday options are shrinking before their eyes.”
Next year, however, is a different story. Cottage companies, campsites and glampsites are reporting a surge in bookings for 2021. Popular coastal properties that are usually booked in January have already been snapped up. “We are about six months ahead of the normal booking pattern. People don’t want to miss out like they did this summer,” said Handyside.
In north Devon all eight cottages at North Hayne Farm are booked for 2021; they are also full for Whitsun week in 2022, and a couple of particularly forward-thinking families have put their name down for cottages in 2023. The farm’s location and the fact that it has won several tourism awards means it is always in demand in summer, but owner Cheryl Dixon said the appeal of being somewhere with plenty of outdoor space has made it more popular than ever. “We’re on a farm, so it’s rural, there’s no clubhouse or restaurant, people can keep to themselves. People just want to feel safe,” she said.
Forward bookings for camping collection Cool Camping are up 50% on the same time this year, with smaller coastal sites in Cornwall and Dorset and rural sites within easy reach of London usually the first to go. July weekends in the treehouses at Blackberry Wood in East Sussex are already booked out, for example, with only a few August weekends remaining. The Real Campsite at Park Farm in Oxfordshire, with eight pitches, is another that’s selling fast.
“One thing that has come out of this year’s travel and social restrictions is that people have spent a lot more time outdoors and are really recognising the mental and physical benefits of that, and are clearly factoring it in when booking their holidays for the future,” said Cool Camping editor James Warner Smith.
Under the Thatch, a collection of Welsh holiday cottages, has some properties that have just three weekends unbooked for the whole of 2021.
According to camping platform Pitchup, Cornwall is by far the most popular camping destination for 2021, accounting for 30% of bookings, followed by Devon (14%), Cumbria (13%) and Pembrokeshire (7%). Cornwall is the favourite location for Classic Cottages’ guests too, with Devon and the Isle of Wight joint second. It means spots such as Coastal Gaze, a collection of pods near Penzance, have very limited availability next year.
The intense demand for places in hotspots like the south-west, the Lakes, the Yorkshire Dales and Pembrokeshire is having a knock-on effect on other destinations, especially areas where coronavirus cases have been relatively low. Mary Sparrow, who runs Hippersons, a collection of floating cabins on the River Waveney, and who is also vice-chair of Visit the Broads, said the east of England had been “creeping up the online searches”. She already has 56 bookings for next year, compared with the usual 13-14.
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There is inevitably an element of self-promotion in accommodation companies urging holidaymakers to book now, but there are other factors at play in the current travel landscape. Holidays abroad, while still possible, are extremely volatile. UK breaks are by no means immune to change – as the rule of six demonstrated – but they are less likely to be disrupted than an overseas trip. The growing appeal of outdoor activities, whatever the weather, is another factor that is driving the UK holiday boom. Brits are being urged to embrace the outdoors in all seasons.
All of these factors combined mean one thing – holidaymakers with their eye on a particular place to stay in a popular location are advised to book sooner rather than later. “People have only got to look at our calendars to see that there is a genuine chance they will miss out, and not get the places that are normally still available in our peak summer booking period [January and February],” said Under the Thatch founder Greg Stevenson. “I’m not saying you won’t get a Welsh cottage for summer 2020 if you leave booking to Easter … but it’s highly unlikely you’ll get one on the beach, with sea views, and dog-friendly.”
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