Sue Hollingshead reports on the surge in UK holiday bookings post lockdown...
The Great British public has a new-found love of holidays in the UK and exploring the great outdoors has been high on their agenda. They have come to appreciate the beautiful home locations that are available across the UK, and how relaxing it is to avoid the hassle of airports! The savvy park operator hasn’t missed the opportunity, and many have been hugely busy during lockdown with new marketing plans, new websites, new development phases, even purchasing new parks. Having been given the green light for re-opening holiday parks, the consumer certainly wasting no time! Since the roadmap announcement by Boris Johnson back in February, holiday bookings have soared, with people keen to get their holiday break into the diary. In addition to the normal holiday break, there is also a trend to catch up on the missed family Christmas, special birthday, anniversary, or other lifestyle events. The UK Staycation boom has been a hot topic over the past year, and with the latest travel restrictions for holidays abroad looking set to be in place for some time yet, holidays in the UK are very much in favour.
As we progressively see the vaccine levels increase, we are seeing consumer confidence grow, which has been demonstrated by their actions and confirmed by some latest statistics. For park operators, there has been a flurry of activity to ensure everything is in place and ready for visitors. Laura Miller, Head of Marketing and Insights at Away Resorts, comments “The demand for new bookings is already up 50% year- on-year along with autumn bookings seeing a rise of 31%. When we came out of lockdown last summer, we saw an increase in bookings by 44% year-on- year.” Tony Clish, Director at Park Holidays UK, also confirms that holiday bookings are currently very strong. Tony added: “This must be seen in context with the substantial shortfalls in income suffered last year, as we would normally run at near full capacity during the holiday season. In addition, we will be entertaining many bookings this year which were postponed from last year.” Cool Camping is an Online Travel Booking Agent working with hundreds of campsites throughout the UK. James Warner Smith shared their stats with Holiday Park SCENE. “Across the board, we have witnessed a dramatically higher number of early bookings compared to previous years,” says James. “In February, bookings were up by 525% on last year, with the busiest day falling, perhaps unsurprisingly, the day after Boris Johnson announced the roadmap out of lockdown in England. March, too, is already up by over 400% on 2019,” he adds.
The stats certainly demonstrate that the Staycation is on the rise, and supported by press activity over recent months, with many news articles relating to the UK holiday boom and their predictions for the future. However, what about trends, are we seeing any changes to the holiday habits of the British public? At Cool Camping, they are noticing quite a few trends. Firstly, for the location, with people particularly interested in Cornwall, the Lake District, and the New Forest. They have also witnessed their customers reacting very quickly to positive news from the government. The key date being in February when the road map was announced for England on 23rd February then also forWales, on 12th March. Interestingly there was also a surge of bookings when the vaccine was officially licensed for use in the UK. They have also noticed people booking longer holidays and spending more than in previous years. Similarly, Park Holidays have noticed a demand for top-end holiday accommodation such as luxury lodges, again an indicator of those replacing their holidays abroad. They have also noticed an increase in demand for holiday home sales, which is currently buoyant. Laura, at Away Resorts, says: “Naturally, consumers are responding to Government advice and we are seeing a huge volume of bookings post ‘Step 4’ when all restrictions are expected to lift.” Despite the surge in bookings, it would seem there is availability across the board for this summer, although it is to be expected that places will fill up quite quickly. Park Holidays are seeing bookings close to Christmas and even into 2022. Probably one of the biggest issues that any holiday booking platform has had to contend with and adapt to since COVID restrictions began in Spring 2020, is their cancellation policy. It would be fair to say that a complete revamp of policies had to be undertaken.
Companies now need to offer a Coronavirus Booking Guarantee, with the option to move the break to a new date, or a full refund, when related to COVID. Those not offering this won’t fair well in the market. Park Holidays and Away Resorts certainly offer this guarantee. Laura, at Away Resorts, summed it up nicely: “We recognise that we are all living in uncertain times, so it is important to have something special to look forward to as a family and we want to ensure customers feel safe and confident when booking with us.” Cool Camping being an agent are in a different situation however recruited more staff in their customer service team to handle the enquiries relating to the policy. Generally, the cancellation policy would be with the campsite direct, however Cool Camping took the initiative to introduce a Cool Camping Coronavirus Booking Guarantee which was then offered to campsites to enrol into. This was rolled out with huge success. There is a theory that due to lockdown and Coronavirus Guarantees, prices will rise for 2021, however prices seem to be reasonably static at present. Considering that many bookings for this year are postponed from 2020, and although there is a huge demand, holiday parks do still need to be competitive. In fact, Park Holidays took the initiative to offer a discount to customers who had to postpone from 2020.
From the point of overall support, including financially, most holiday parks seem to have weathered the Coronavirus storm reasonably well considering. Luckily, there are several industry bodies, including The British Holiday & Homes Parks Association, that have worked endlessly with the government to ensure firstly that the government understands the needs of the sector, and secondly, that park owners are provided with the maximum advice and guidance available. Tony, of Park Holidays, agrees: “The government has listened very attentively to our representations throughout the pandemic, and we are very grateful for the guidance received from them and our trade body, as to what steps to take to ensure staff and customers remains safe.” Laura adds “The impact of Coronavirus on this industry has been huge and financial support has been critical to ensuring we protect the business and our staff.”
Tony of Park Holidays, shared their activity with Holiday Park SCENE: “We have remained very busy during the closed months, and have just opened a new section of our website which previews 14 new holiday home developments across our parks. “These offer more than 200 new luxury lodges, villas, and holiday caravans. Visitors can view state-of- the-art images and tour the interiors on our website. “We have also added new indoor pools and entertainment venues to some of our parks as well as acquiring three more parks in recent months”. Laura, Away Resorts, also had investment news to share: “It has still been a busy time behind the scenes with Away Resorts investing in the UK tourism and staycation sector. “We have recently added St Ives Bay to the portfolio ahead of the peak season and recently completed the purchase of Boston West Hotel and Golf Course in Hubbert’s Bridge, Lincolnshire,” says Laura and adds: “Phase one plans have begun at Mill Rythe Coastal Village, on Hayling Island, as it undergoes an exciting £10million transformation.” James, of Cool Camping, said: “It has been fantastic to see the new business in the industry and the speed in which many companies have responded and adapted. “We have also witnessed a growth in new ‘pop-up’ camping and glamping sites, operating under the 28-day planning rule (extended this year in most areas of the UK),” James continues. “Many of these sites are people within the events industry reacting to the cancellation of festivals, utilising the accommodation they would normally provide. “Our success in supporting businesses and bringing in high volumes of bookings over the last year has led to an increase in new businesses joining our platform.” At the end of a long year, it is good to reflect on how key companies in the sector have responded. Companies like Park Holidays, Away Resorts and Cool Camping have risen to the challenge, seen an opportunity in the market, and invested in opportunities.
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