Here, Grant Seaton, Senior Business Lending Manager at The Cumberland, discusses what the next 12 months might look like for the UK’s travel sector.
Our recent research found that 71% of British holidaymakers were intending to take a UK holiday in 2021.
And while many flights remain grounded for the foreseeable future, Brits will undoubtedly turn to the UK when planning their next holiday.
So what trends should the UK’s travel sector expect to see in 2021? And how will this impact holiday let owners? Below we have listed our top eight predictions for the year ahead.
- An increased desire to book last minute stays
With fluctuating restrictions brought about by Covid-19, there is a clear and heightened risk of enforced cancellations or a requirement to modify holiday arrangements. As such, it is hardly surprising that Brits are taking a much shorter-term approach to booking a break. According to Joby Mussell, Chief Commercial Officer at holidaycottages.co.uk, last minute demand has remained very high since July, resulting in the holiday season extending all the way up to the start of the November lockdown. And in October, the firm saw a 97% year-on-year increase in bookings with a lead time within three weeks.
Since the government announcement on 26th November confirming the revised regional tiers, holidaycottages.co.uk has seen another sharp increase in near-term demand for December and Christmas breaks, as Joby explains: “Bookings within three weeks are up more than 250% year-on-year.”
While last minute booking is common for trips abroad, it has not been a trend typically seen in the holiday let sector. We expect to see this new trend for holiday let booking continue well into next year. A point supported by Joby, who believes the long-term outlook for the staycation market is extremely positive: “We are predicting record occupancy levels in 2021. Forward bookings are also up 88% on last year, providing greater security of long-term earnings and recovery to owners.”
To capitalise on this trend, holiday let owners should consider what instant booking capabilities and facilities they offer and whether they are in a position to respond with speed to a request. They should also consider making last minute availability more prominent.
- Offering flexible and transparent cancellation policies
As we know, last minute cancellations due to local restrictions are dampening some people’s desire to book far in advance. Uncertainty around personal finances may also be bearing an impact on holiday bookings, whether that be people on furlough or more generally concerned about economic upheaval. As such, people need extra reassurance that if they do need to cancel due to Covid restrictions, they will not lose out financially.
Joby Mussell confirms it is important to give people confidence to book safe in the knowledge that if their holiday is unable to go ahead due to legal restrictions they will be reimbursed: “We established a clear set of principles early on and have continued to communicate both with owners and guests affected by the changing restrictions, whilst also updating our website FAQs to reflect these as the situation evolves. Where a property has been legally closed, or guests were unable to travel due to legal restrictions, we have offered customers a full refund with confidence we would be able to re-let the property – during the peak season, we were able to re-let 96% of such bookings.”
Accepting payments as late as possible and having flexible refund policies will help owners to overcome these concerns and convert more bookings.
We expect to see owners becoming even more proactive next year. Keeping in touch with customers to ensure they’re still coming will help to limit the number of very late notice cancellations, enabling owners to replace bookings where required. This is especially important if customers are coming from places where new local lockdowns are predicted.
- Proliferation of new and emerging markets ‘Flexcations’
Working from home has grown exponentially and is a trend that is predicted to continue into 2021 and beyond. This presents a new opportunity for holiday let owners to target a new type of visitor.
Firstly, those who want a change of scenery from their dining room table and may choose to work from a holiday rental, which perhaps offers more inspiring views and comforts. Important here, is whether your accommodation has the relevant facilities such as high speed wifi or a convenient working space.
Secondly, those who have moved out of urban areas in search of more outdoor space, but who are still required to be in the city for part of their working week. These visitors may seek short-term rentals in city centre locations for a couple of nights a week.
First-time holiday let users
With many of the world’s flights and cruises grounded, trips abroad remain a distant dream for many. This presents the perfect opportunity to target those who might always have gone abroad in the past with your British alternative.
Holiday let owners could capitalise on this next year by finding new and innovative ways to promote their properties and areas in a way that appeals to this new audience. How about swapping Lake Guarda for Lake Windermere, or a Barcelona break for a staycation in Edinburgh?
- An increased focus on health and safety
As people seek extra reassurance that their UK break will be Covid-safe, we predict 2021 will see a continued high number of holiday let owners evidencing their health and safety policies as a key part of their property marketing.
Gaining accreditation such as the ‘Good to Go’ scheme, demonstrating additional cleaning measures via property imagery and descriptions and encouraging guests to comment on the cleanliness of the accommodation within their reviews are all great ways to show new customers that you’re on top of your Covid cleaning regime.
- Reprioritising accommodation facilities
Whereas in previous years, a holiday let property may have been regarded more as a base for exploring the local area, certainly for the first quarter of 2021, there’s the possibility that guests will spend more time in their accommodation than usual. For example, depending on what local restrictions are in place at the time, guests may eat out less, so good kitchen facilities will become a priority. And if it’s raining, guests may opt to stay in the property rather than visit local indoor attractions, so a comfortable living and entertaining space would also be key.
Over the next few months, we therefore expect holiday let owners to emphasise features like a well-appointed kitchen, or facilities such as a Smart TV or games room in their marketing. Perhaps even providing extra outdoors equipment like bicycles may become a bigger selling point than in the past.
Guests are increasingly looking for the whole package, so owners should provide lots of information and advice on what there is to do in the area and around the property, whether there are restrictions in place or not. For example, promote local takeaways as well as restaurants. Showing people that there a broad range of options in the area will help potential guests to make their booking decision.
- Growing focus on offering services aligned to wellness in body and mind
Health and wellbeing has been a hot topic in the travel industry for some time and as a result of Covid, is now even more top of mind. How can holiday let owners incorporate health and wellness into their offerings? It could be as simple as re-framing what you already offer – helping people to reconnect with their families, address their work-life balance, or discover new ways to keep active in the great outdoors. Partnering with other local businesses to offer add-on experiences such as private yoga classes at the property can also make your proposition stand out from the crowd.
- Growth in importance of ‘keeping it local’
2020 has really emphasised the importance of supporting local businesses, and we expect this to play a big role in 2021. Holiday let owners have a unique opportunity to partner with local businesses and share marketing efforts for example, including a welcome gift sourced from a local deli or cross-selling additional extras such as a local hamper. It’s a great win-win, supporting the local business community, while offering guests a real taste of the region.
- More expansive dog friendly offerings
Offering your property as pet-friendly has always been important, enabling owners to target a much bigger market. However, with 2020 seeing more people than ever welcoming ‘lockdown’ puppies into their families, there has never been a better time to revisit this. We expect that being dog-friendly will be a key piece of search criteria for many potential guests in 2021. If your property is dog-friendly, how can you emphasise this in your listing to make it stand out? Think about what dog-owners are looking for that your property can offer, such as a safe, enclosed garden, and make sure you showcase any such features in your property description and imagery.