UK holidays: ‘The phone has not stopped ringing’
If you try to call the Trencreek Holiday Park in Newquay, Cornwall this week, you’re likely to find the line engaged.
The holiday park is one of many UK accommodation providers that have seen a surge in bookings over the past 48 hours, since Boris Johnson gave the go ahead for summer holidays from 4 July onwards.
“Literally, as soon as he announced yes to campsites, the phone has not stopped ringing,” says Julliette Hautot, who runs the business with her husband.
Hotels, bed and breakfasts (B&B), camping grounds and rental owners say they’ve been inundated with enquiries from holidaymakers hoping to lock in a “staycation” for July or August.
“The calls have been bonkers [and] then there’s the emails and Facebook Messenger pinging,” says Ms Hautot.
It’s been a similar story for Somerset B&B owner Melanie Cable-Alexander.
“We had a phone call within a minute of the Prime Minister’s speech”, she says.
“We’ve had people writing to us, asking what the plan is, but we don’t know what the guidelines are and that’s all very confusing.”
Ms Cable-Alexander plans to limit the number of guests in her B&B Ellesmere House in Castle Cary and leave breakfasts outside room doors, instead of inviting guests to share the meal at a communal table.
The government has said B&Bs and campsites can open up from 4 July, as long as shared facilities are kept clean.
That news led to campsite booking website coolcamping.com recording one of its largest ever surges in traffic, plus a 750% increase in bookings compared to this time last year.
“On Tuesday afternoon and evening we had a booking every 30 seconds,” says the company’s founder Jonathan Knight.
“It’s a huge relief for campsite operators across the country, who were concerned there might not be any season at all.”
To maximise space between holidaymakers, one of their campsites, Wardley Hill in Norfolk, has reduced the number of pitches on offer this year.
Centre Parcs has announced its opening its five villages in England on 13 July, but swimming pools and water parks at the camps will remain closed until at least 27 July.
The company also plans to reduce the number of guests allowed, to help maintain social distancing.
After months with hardly any interest, hotel bookings have also shot up this week, with hotel chain Best Western reporting that bookings are up 700% since Monday 22 June.
“It’s crazy and exciting,” spokesperson Andrew Denton tells the BBC.
“On the website itself, traffic is back up above 2019 levels – the world hadn’t even heard of the coronavirus then, so it must be pent-up demand.
“There’s a buzz in the office, it’s just a fantastic feeling after so many dark days.”
Industry group UK Hospitality, which represents hotels and other accommodation providers, says its members are also reporting a very welcome increase in bookings since the government announced it was easing lockdown restrictions on holiday accommodations.
“This is a good first step in getting the sector back up and running and a welcome indication that consumer confidence is high,” said chief executive Kate Nicholls.
However, the surge in bookings has sparked a wave of scams, according UK Finance, trade group for the banking industry.
In a report published 19 June, the body highlighted in particular fake caravan and motorhome listings online, as well as criminals impersonating airlines and travel agencies.
UK Finance says customers should ask to see caravans and motorhomes over a live video call before booking, since they can’t view them in person.
The group says customers searching for a UK holiday should pause and think before parting with their money online.
“Always be wary of any requests to pay by bank transfer when buying goods or services online and instead use the secure payment options recommended by reputable websites,” advises UK Finance’s Katy Worobec.
UK Finance has also seen fake websites of villas and apartments offering unusually cheap deals.
“If something is advertised at a rock-bottom price, ask yourself why,” said Ms Worobec.
‘Summer’s back on’
Best Western’s Mr Denton said he could sense the excitement in a WhatsApp group for the firm’s 300 UK hotel owners.
“It just went crazy. People are saying ‘summer’s back on’,” he says.
Scotland, Northumberland, Yorkshire, Cornwall and Norfolk are the most searched for destinations, according to the company, while searches for city breaks and shopping trips in London and Manchester are down.
Luxury hotel and spa provider Harbour Hotels has seen a similar trend. The group, which owns 15 hotels in England, says web traffic over the past few days is up 210% and bookings over the last few days have been particularly strong at coastal locations.
Airbnb hosts also report city dwellers are looking for an escape to the outdoors after lockdown.
Caroline Mann, who rents out her picturesque cottage in Cirencester, has had six enquiries in the past 48 hours, mostly from “people fatigued with city life and dying to get out”.
“Bookings for the summer were basically nonexistent during lockdown, with everybody unsure as to how the situation would unfold,” she says.
“A lot of my existing bookings were from Americans on a road trip of a lifetime. They have all cancelled. New bookings this week are not from abroad, but quick domestic getaways.”
It’s been a similar experience for Hannah Grace Lodge, who runs an Airbnb property in Margate.
She had lots of cancellations for her property, not just for dates during lockdown, but also further into the summer, due to the ongoing uncertainty about coronavirus lockdown measures, but now the property is fully booked for the rest of the summer.
Hannah says her customers are booking much longer stays, whereas last year the demand was for short breaks: “Our guests have messaged about how they are swapping their holiday abroad for a week or two on the coast in the UK.”