UK holiday bookings boom as Britons think twice about trips abroad

Half-term travel chaos and cost of living crisis fuel 30% surge in last-minute inquiries for summer breaks in Britain

British hotels, B&Bs and holiday parks recorded a 20%-30% rise in enquiries following the half term travel chaos as families think twice about heading abroad this summer.

Businesses said a surge in last-minute bookings was providing a much-needed boost as sales had fallen back after the boom in 2020 and 2021, thanks to the removal of restrictions on overseas travel.

The cost of living crisis has also put a dampener on family holiday plans for this summer, with many delaying bookings because of concerns about having spare cash to spend.

a 99 ice-cream and flake
Holidays in the UK have matched pre-Covid levels though they have not drawn close to the boom of the past two summers when foreign travel restrictions were in place. Photograph: Gary Calton/The Observer

Kate Nicholls, the chief executive of the UK Hospitality trade body which represents thousands of accommodation providers, said bookings were generally down on the past two years as foreign travel resumed.

But she said there had been surge in enquiries for late summer and the October half term, particularly city breaks and rural and coastal locations, after airlines were forced to cancel flights.

“We are not sure if this was a direct response to the travel chaos and the difficulty in travelling abroad or the cost of living squeeze or people realising how good the UK is after the platinum jubilee,” she said, adding that as well as strong domestic bookings international visitors are also coming back.

Nicholls said the trend for last-minute bookings, experienced in recent years because of Covid concerns, has continued but businesses are being held back by staff shortages, with hoteliers closing rooms because of too few cleaners or kitchen staff to service them.

Paul Hardingham, managing director of holiday park operator Landal GreenParks UK, which has a string of sites across the UK including Cornwall, Scotland, the Peak District and Yorkshire, revealed a similar pattern. He said bookings were up 20% on pre-pandemic levels in June with strong demand for last-minute breaks but overall summer bookings were currently down on last year.

“We’re anticipating high bookings for summer with breaks being sold last minute, with same day and next day bookings at a record high this year. We’ve seen around 20% of all bookings being for arrivals in the next seven days and nearly 30% for the next 14 days,” he said.

Online camping site Pitch Up said its UK bookings were just over double those it experienced pre-pandemic, with traditional sites doing better than glamping, which had surged when overseas destinations were off limits.

Dan Yates, the founder, said: “The disruptions to foreign travel have definitely played a part in causing more holidaymakers to opt for a UK staycation this year, as people favour certainty and peace of mind post-pandemic.

“The rising cost of living is also a driving factor behind the increase, with many opting for a camping or glamping trip close to home rather than an expensive flight abroad to help their household budgets stretch further.”

However, the group said bookings were slightly down on this time last year when families had fewer holiday options.

Sally Mynard, co-owner of Alpine Park Cottages near Sidmouth in Devon, said the company had seen a 7% boost in bookings over half term as news of the airport chaos came through.

But she said: “We are still down on pre-Covid levels. We have had the worst start to the season for 10 years in terms of advance bookings which are down 20%.”

She said bookings for the school holidays were particularly weak as some families were short of cash and others using up vouchers for overseas trips which had been delayed because of the pandemic.

“People are leaving it late and seeing what money they have got available,” she said. “Because of the price of petrol people are looking at how much it will cost to get down here and whether they can afford to do things when they arrive.”

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Campervan hire group Indie Campers said 39% more Britons were reserving one of its vehicles in the UK this year with a slight increase in the length of trip they were booking.

A spokesperson said: “We are already noticing a shift as people are thinking ahead to the potential chaos of school summer break and reserving their family getaways in advance with a spike in demand this August.”

Visit Cornwall said businesses had enjoyed a strong start to the year as they were able to trade between January and March for the first time in several years. However, May and June had been “sluggish”.

A spokesperson said bookings were on a par with pre-pandemic levels but down on the last two “staycation boom years” for late spring and summer and that some businesses had seen cancellations.


Sarah Butler

The GuardianTramp

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