Just when the forecast for the rest of 2020 was starting to look brighter… the rule of six has brought more dark clouds to the UK travel industry, still trying to salvage what it can from the bleakest year in living memory.
Just a couple of months ago at the height of summer, quarantine rules chopping and changing led to huge numbers of Brits abandoning foreign holiday plans and opting to stay at home instead. The UK travel industry sniffed the opportunity and responded brilliantly, with a rise of 74 per cent in domestic bookings as cottages and campsites sold out up and down the country.
There was hope that the traditional holiday season would extend deep into autumn as destinations and resorts re-shaped their offer to appeal to all-weathers and multi-generational parties.
Democracy’s own research at that time – in our travel sector report The Home Front – found a surge of interest in day trips, weekend breaks and longer holidays as the home front opened up as the new vacation battleground. The public had been locked down for so long that we were all desperate to get out and explore again, even if it had to be mostly within our own country.
However, like with so much of 2020, that picture has swiftly changed again – and the question is how the travel industry now responds.
New rules = new challenges
Local lockdowns, the rule of six, 10pm curfews and the prospect of large-scale job losses in the autumn have all dented public confidence that there will be a ‘return to normal’ any time soon.
Travel industry insiders predict it could take up to three years for holidays to return to any sense of normality. The chair of the Professional Association of Self Caterers, Alastair Handyside, even went as far as to describe the situation as ‘carnage’.
However, the reduction in what kind of bookings can be legally taken, how people can mingle and for how long are all just fresh issues for operators of accommodation, hospitality and entertainment to solve.
The public still want to get out, to visit places in their leisure time and make the most of every opportunity to take a break. So opportunities still exist for those who can provide a safe, secure – and legal – environment for visitors.
Communication is key
However, it’s critical that messages are communicated in a timely and up to date way. Spell out how safe and secure accommodation is. Show in video and images how social distancing and other regulations are being followed. Remember that after seven months of living with Covid, people are confused and scared. This calls for maximum reassurance.
National parks, theme parks, beaches, seaside towns and outdoor activity centres all allow for easy social distancing and were top of the list of places people wanted to visit as soon as they were allowed after the first lockdown.
However, as autumn now rolls in, bringing with it the school half term holiday as a traditional window of opportunity, destination operators must act quickly to get their up to date messages out there to all potential visitors.
Private rental accommodation in coastal destinations and the countryside will likely continue to be a more popular draw than hotels in big towns and cities as behaviours shift fundamentally during the pandemic. Back in the summer, Premier Inn reported that their coastal hotels were doing all the post-lockdown business in contrast to popular city break destinations like London, York or Edinburgh.
Fun is still to be had
Now messaging must reflect the most recent restrictions and rules, to show visitors that despite all the curbs on things we can do, there is still fun to be had. Reassurance at every step of the journey will demonstrate that operators are taking the situation seriously and are up to date with all the latest changes to the rules.
The public is set up to keep exploring Britain beyond 2020, this is a trend that will quickly become a new lifestyle for many. Democracy’s summer 2020 research found that 42% of people have prepared for future UK holidaying by splashing out on new gear with 13% having looked into buying a tent, 12% looking at caravans, 9% looking at motorhomes and 8% interested in a campervan.
Additionally, attractions that keep going no matter the weather will also be able to provide reassurance to visitors that they are a safe environment to visit now and into 2021 as bookings for the spring start to be secured.
There is no doubt that the autumn and winter will be tough for UK destinations and attractions, and the tourism industry has changed so much that it’s hard to envisage a return to the normal we once knew.
However, customers still want to come, so the industry will find a way to adapt and appeal to today’s customers who are travelling in a pandemic. Clear, up to date messaging will help build confidence again and ensure that as the face of the traditional holiday continues to change, we still have an industry ready to welcome visitors through the doors.
Democracy’s report from the summer – The Home Front – is a great starting point to identify the opportunities that exist and how to talk to customers at this time. Download it here.