UK holiday operators benefit from tighter curbs on foreign travel

Henrik Kjellberg had mixed feelings when the UK government said it would reduce the number of countries deemed safe for residents to travel to on holiday.

The chief executive of vacation rental company Awaze was due a business trip to Denmark, which remains restricted, but he also knew that bookings for his UK cottages would boom.

In the hour after the government announced on Thursday that Portugal would come off its “green list” and no new destinations would be added, demand increased 40 per cent compared to the same day in 2019. He said that he expected July, August and September to soon sell out.

The pattern was similar for holiday parks and accommodation across the UK on Friday, with operators such as Butlins, Parkdean Resorts and Away Resorts reporting similar surges in interest.

Travel website Trainline said bookings for domestic open return tickets for the next two weeks rose 86 per cent on Thursday compared to the previous two days.

Carl Castledine, chief executive of Away Resorts, said vacancies over the peak summer holiday months were now “marginal”. “We are 95 per cent plus full across the piece,” he said. Nick Varney, chief executive of Merlin, which owns attractions such as Legoland and Madame Tussauds, described demand for domestic holidays as “white hot”.

The government’s decision came as a shock to the travel industry and left holidaygoers in Portugal, the only main destination on the list open to UK travellers, rushing to get home before the Tuesday deadline.

The country is now designated “amber”, along with the majority of Europe and the US, which means passengers have to self-isolate for 10 days on their return and take two expensive polymerase chain reaction (PCR) coronavirus tests during that period.

Kjellberg, whose company also operates self-catering accommodation across Europe, said the UK government’s cautious approach to travel “definitely means a staycation this year”. “People are not going anywhere.” he added. “It is just so cumbersome”.

Jet2, one of the UK’s largest tour operators, said it would cancel all foreign holidays until July 1.

In response to panicked travellers wanting to return from Portugal, airlines have laid on extra flights to the country. British Airways said it was planning to operate a Boeing 777, one of its biggest jets normally used on long-haul trips, on a return trip on Monday.

Prices for flights before the green list deadline also rose steeply, with a one-way ticket from Faro in the Algarve to London as much as £559 by Friday afternoon. The average price of a seat on the route rose from £81 to £250 overnight, according to data from Google Flights.

Domestic accommodation rates also jumped, with some holiday lets up by as much as 50 per cent on usual summer holiday prices.

Not all UK tourist businesses have benefited from the boom, however. Varney warned that city centre attractions, particularly in London, were suffering from the lack of international visitors. “London tourism is 80 per cent dependent on foreign tourists. No amount of domestic nights is going to replace that,” he said.

The increased interest in staycations has prompted several operators to invest more in their UK businesses, predicting that consumers may discover a love for British holidays that could outlast the pandemic.

Flixbus, a German challenger in the UK coach market, said it planned to expand its fleet from 27 to 42 coaches by summer, while Merlin has been developing a holiday village at its Legoland Windsor park and plans to expand three of its theme parks in the south east.

Awaze said that it was hiring 70 extra people in Manchester and was spending £35m on technology this year.

In the short term, Castledine of Away Resorts said the company was making its self-catering accommodation more attractive to those who would usually flock to Mediterranean resorts by adding toiletries, towels and bottles of Prosecco to its chalets “for a bit more pizzazz”.

Additional reporting by Harry Dempsey


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