The return of the staycation
After months spent in lockdown, British holidaymakers rushed to book an escape as travel measures were lifted at the start of July. Luke Christou asks what this could mean for the domestic hotel industry.
Despite the return of international travel, UK travellers have opted for destinations closer to home. According to data collected by Hotels.com, instead of typical hotspots such as Spain, France and Italy, customers were instead searching for places like London, Bournemouth and Windermere.
“Since opening on 4 July and turning the phone lines back on, the phones have not stopped,” says Jacqui Dallimore, managing director of the Roslin Beach Hotel, Southend-on-Sea.
After months spent closed, and function bookings such as weddings and corporate events still largely on hold, the UK hotel industry hasn’t yet bounced back to pre-Covid-19 levels. Yet, the staycation market is helping the hospitality industry return to some level of normality as it begins its recovery.
“While bookings have started to come in quite quickly, we are starting from zero where we should have 80% already on the books at this time, and the rate is going to be lower as well,” explains Lawrence Huggler, owner of The Club Hotel & Spa, Jersey.
“So much of our accommodation business at Down Hall is associated with a function booking such as a wedding or a conference, which have either been cancelled or postponed to next year,” adds Ken Flockhart, general manager at Down Hall, Hertfordshire.
“As a result, accommodation bookings for September and October are approximately 35% down on this time last year. We are, therefore, focusing all our current sales and marketing efforts on the leisure market in order to capture the staycation traveller.”
Demand for staycations will inevitably decline as passenger confidence in air travel increases. Yet, it is predicted that it could take up to five years for passenger numbers to return to pre-pandemic levels.
“There is a real opportunity for hospitality businesses in the UK to capitalise on the inevitable demand to travel domestically as we ease out of lockdown,” Flockhart adds.
The Roslin Beach Hotel in Southend-on-Sea has seen significant interest in staycations since UK lockdown measures were relaxed. Image: Roslin Beach Hotel
A safe way to get away
The main appeal of staycations, given the current climate, is safety and convenience. In a recent YouGov poll, 58% of respondents said they wouldn’t, or were unsure, whether they would feel safe travelling by airplane. Likewise, 77% said they wouldn’t travel abroad if they had to quarantine upon arrival or return.
Holidaying in the UK removes the risk of coming into contact with the virus in busy airport lounges or tightly packed airplanes.
However, UK destinations must also ensure that health and safety practices are up to new standards to avoid the spread of coronavirus, given outbreaks would undoubtedly diminish confidence in the hospitality sector.
On top of that, hoteliers need to ensure that these changes do not inhibit the sense of escapism and relaxation that guests are looking for.
“We quickly realised that going full out with arrows on the floor, stickers and posters everywhere just wasn’t going to deliver the sense of tranquillity and escapism that our guests were looking for,” Christian Kaberg, group operations director for St Pancras Hotel Group, explains.
Assurances aren’t delivered on a piece of paper; it comes from well-trained team members delivering a safe environment.
Instead, the hotel group has implemented a new ‘ethos’ - Keep Fresh, Keep Clean, Keep Safe, focused on finding discreet solutions to new challenges presented by the pandemic that won’t impact the guest experience.
“Assurances aren’t delivered on a piece of paper, it comes from well-trained team members delivering a safe environment through their actions,” Kaberg explains. “Naturally, we offer full transparency of all measures we have taken, which is reviewed daily by the team and management.”
This sentiment is shared by Flockhart, who agrees that suggestions on how hotels should adapt should come from those who know the establishment best.
“Encourage your teams to think creatively and come up with suggestions as to how your facilities can be adapted to suit new requirements,” Flockhart suggests. “Transform your unused space to create options for your guests, whether that be additional dining or relaxation areas, chill out zones, cinema rooms, indoor play areas or libraries, and make the most of the outdoor space as much as possible whilst weather permits.”
Down Hall has implemented various changes to keep guests safe, from wellness checks to one-way flow throughout the hotel. Image: Down Hall
Can the UK offer a true holiday at home?
“Britain has so much to offer, from the mountains up north to world-class beaches in the south,” says Kaberg. “We quite often resort to flying to warmer countries and forget to celebrate what is on our doorstep.”
Surveys show that much of the UK population has never visited many of its most iconic sights and attractions. According to research carried out by Hertz and YouGov, just 18% have visited the Giant’s Causeway, and 61% have never visited Loch Ness. Approximately half of Britons have never been to Windsor Castle or Brighton Pier.
We quite often resort to flying to warmer countries and forget to celebrate what is on our doorstep.
Likewise, according to research carried out by Leonardo Hotels, 77% admit that they don’t make the most of where they live. In London, some 61% have never travelled on the Thames, for example, and 57% have never seen a performance at the West End — popular activities among those visiting the city from abroad.
The experiences that the UK offers may greatly differ “especially if comparing a two-week all-inclusive holiday at a beach destination to a weekend break in the British countryside”, Flockhart says, just as a trip to the South of France would offer a different experience to New York.
“However, the end outcome is the same; a feeling of relaxation, away from the everyday stresses, and the positive outcome of having spent quality time with your friends and family,” Flockhart adds.
Lawrence Huggler, owner of The Club Hotel & Spa, believes continuing to offer a five-star experience will be key to offering staycations that match up against international trips. Image: The Club Hotel & Spa
Connecting guests with the best the UK has to offer
Given the concerns over international travel, this summer offers an opportunity for UK travellers to tick off many of the attractions close to home and visit parts of the UK that they have yet to explore. In London, for example, David Tucker, owner of leading London walking tour company London Walks, insists that there will “never be another chance to see London like this”, given the expected drop in foreign visitor numbers.
In order to ensure guests make the most of their stay, Flockhart believes that hotels need to work with companies in other areas of the hospitality industry, such as visitor attractions, to create packages that benefit both businesses, as well as guests.
Hotels need to work with companies in other areas of the hospitality industry.
By working with a greater variety of experiences, Tucker believes that hotels can encourage visitors to return, ensuring that staycations remain an attractive option for guests even once the pandemic reaches its conclusion: “By providing information on, or working alongside, a greater variety of experiences in London or their particular city, hotels can encourage repeat visits from their guests.”
The hotel industry has been among the hardest hit by Covid-19. In April, UKHospitality’s quarterly tracker showed that sales in the UK hospitality sector had already declined by 21.3% as a result of coronavirus, despite the lockdown measures having just recently come into effect. While recovery will undoubtedly take time, staycations are extending a lifeline to the industry.
“Remember, Britain is a fantastic destination,” Kaberg insists. “Let’s explore it now.”