The changing British holiday

4th January 2021
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The rise of staycations? It’s still happening. While 2020 gave travel operators an unparalleled shock, and the state of the industry remains complicated, domestic travel will see a sustained bump from the COVID-19 pandemic. Liam McGuinness, partner and consumer lead at CIL Management Consultants, discusses what consumers are looking for and how operators will need to react to stay competitive


Following years of continued growth in the UK domestic tourism industry, VisitBritain recently released its latest forecast, predicting a 49% decline in domestic tourism spend in 2020. This is equal to a £44.9 billion loss to the UK economy. Devasting, but a reflection of the COVID-19 spring and summer lockdown that affected all types of business. However, what this data doesn’t show is the quick and unprecedented rebound in demand that occurred as restrictions lifted in July and August, and likely long-term opportunities to take share of consumer spend. In simple terms, as quarantine rules and restrictions remain in place, domestic travel provides a more financially secure and attractive option for holidaymakers.

Where to?
With restrictions on international travel, holidaymakers are looking to explore the UK with coastal towns and areas of natural beauty set to benefit from the boom. Devon, Cornwall and the Lake District rank highest among these desired locations, although it’s fair to say interest in doing something outside of the norm is increasingly front of mind. High-quality accommodation in a remote but beautiful setting can be equally attractive as holidaymakers seek a break from the mundane work from home lifestyle.

While consumers are keen to use up their annual leave that wasn’t taken during lockdown, concerns remain around sharing facilities with other guests. Accommodation that offers an outdoor focus and private areas will see increased demand. Camping stays, caravan parks and private holiday homes are highly sort after and may demand a premium; but hotels, B&Bs and theme parks may struggle considering current consumer concerns and regulations.

A recent CIL survey showed that overseas holidays are a top priority for younger consumers once restrictions lift. There is obvious and understandable pent-up demand for international travel, with booking platforms showing an increase in searches for exotic locations like the Maldives and Bali. But, as regulations and quarantining rules can change rapidly, consumer confidence is low. Search interest will come back, but the level of demand depends on how quickly confidence can be restored. Operators will need to flex with the consumer mood to reboot holiday demand.

Business travel on the rocks
Hotels, particularly those based in city centres, face another risk: the decline in business travel for the long term. The almost instant mass transition to home working across every industry has proved the effectiveness of video conferencing. As a result, companies already under pressure to cut costs are unlikely to fund business travel any time soon.

Yet, as business trips wind down, we may see a rise of a new kind of travel: the working holiday. As working from home looks to become the norm, we may see a rise in extended breaks for home workers looking for a change of scenery – workers can maintain office hours online and explore new cities and countries in their spare time.

Long-term outlook
What does all this mean for travel operators in the long-term? Operators must adapt and bring facilities and assets in line with consumer preferences to remain competitive. CIL believes this falls into three categories:

  1. Flexibility
    Restrictions can seem ever-changing and are certainly unpredictable. Consumers want peace of mind when booking in advance. Giving consumers the option to pay nearer the time and allowing free cancellation will reassure the more nervous traveller.
  2. Cleanliness
    Consumers want a clean, safe environment. Offering enhanced cleaning services is essential. Operators that fall short of these standards will be held accountable and could face significant reputational issues.
  3. Sustainability
    Now, more than ever, people care about low impact travel. Sustainable and environmentally friendly options should be front and centre.

Despite a turbulent year, demand for staycations remains strong with a clear opportunity to take a further share in the near-term. However, operators must react to changing consumer behaviour to attract travellers. Those that do not put flexibility and cleanliness at the heart of their offering risk significant reputational damage, but for those that create stress-free, safe and flexible holiday options there is plenty of opportunity.

Get in touch

Liam McGuinness
Liam leads CIL’s consumer practice and heads our advanced analytics practice.

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