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  • Writer's pictureKarl Gleave

The Rise of the Great British Staycation

It’s been a year since inews held the UK’s only National Staycation awards in London in 2019. Since then what’s changed?

Saltburn Clift Lift, Saltburn-by-the-sea, North Yorkshire.

Well at the risk of answering this question straight away, everything has changed! From November 2019 to November 2020 our world has been turned into chaos by a global pandemic. Although staycations were on a slow rise in years, they were nothing like their glory days before low cost air travel was available to the masses. Now however, staycations are the popular topic of discussion and all Brits talk about. As the nation goes through its second lockdown all I can think of is what I’m going to do, or where I want to go, when I get out again.

It’s worth noting that Britain has a tourism spending deficit when compared to other countries in Europe. In other words, foreign visitors spend less on tourism in the UK than Britons spend abroad. This is because more of us Brits travel out of the UK to destinations like Greece, Spain and Portugal, to spend our hard-earned holiday savings.

So, a staycation boom could be very welcome to the economy but could create stark winners and losers. Many say rural destinations and seaside towns will be boosted by people returning to holidaying domestically, however the likes of cities like London and Edinburgh will be hurt by the flow of foreign visitors which is expected to drop significantly post COVID-19. This is mainly due to business travellers and companies realising during a lockdown world, they don’t always need to travel to do business. They’ve saved considerable money in travel during this time and relied on technology to fill the gap. This means that the thousands of hotel rooms that where once full in our cities are now surplus to requirement and are in need of new guests to survive. Whilst the business model and customer base may have changed dramatically for UK hotels it hasn’t disappeared. The corporate business and events will still be there, or are assumed to return in the future. But there is no denying that it will be smaller in scale than before, and replaced by the growing leisure and tour segments.

Following being locked in our homes and being restricted on where we can go and what we can do, there has been a huge rise in interest for domestic travel. Just getting out and seeing what’s in our own back garden and the great British countryside which some had forgotten was so beautiful. In brief moments of lockdown liberation people have seen that they don’t need to spend a day travelling to another country or fly across the world for a holiday. Mini breaks, road trips, camping, and general staycations in the UK are on the rise. Google search trends show that “staycation” has been searched 10 times more this November compared with November 2019. During March 2020 and April 2020, an average of 8,100 searches per month were made for ‘Staycation’. An average that continues to grow and is the highest in the last 10 years. This indicates that staycations are still on the rise in popularity, and we can assume that the 2020 pandemic will only give further boost to this statistic.

In the UK, the majority of hotels cater to a corporate midscale market and actually have very little to distinguish themselves. Take any two moderately priced hotels in any two cities, look at what they offer, and you’ll see their facilities are generally the same; bar, restaurant, Wi-Fi, parking, room service, and business centre (or a PC and printer in the corner of the lobby). Maybe if you’re looking on the higher end or an upgraded establishment, you’ll find some boast a pool, air-conditioned rooms, and even an outdoor bar/restaurant space. But generally, there’s little differences between them except their location and price.

When we travel for our annual holidays, we look for popular locations and elaborate resorts that have something to entertain the whole family; multiple pools, lavish spas, varied dining options, family sized bedrooms, evening entertainment, and excursions or access to local attractions. Whilst I don’t think UK hotels will be able to reinvent themselves to this Algarve resort type accommodation, they don’t actually need to. Large outlandish resorts arguably wouldn’t be where consumers would stay in a post COVID-19 world anyhow. In fact, smaller hotels in the UK have appeared to weather the storm much better as they have been able to streamline their costs and offer a more private experience to conscious guests.

UK accommodation providers now need to cater to a new leisure markets to survive. These could be specifically, couples, families, groups, individual explorers, or all of them combined. By focusing on what they can uniquely offer to any of these segments and differentiating themselves from the competition they can attract new guests. I don’t believe that a hotel or business has to be located next to the seaside to successfully attract the leisure market. Whilst its advantageous yes, it’s still the UK and the summer months are short, but staycations are an all year-round business!

Providers don’t have to be uniquely located to a specific area, town or city, they just need to hone in on what makes them or their area unique. A small bed & breakfast in the middle of the countryside, with no amenities or attractions within a 10-20-mile radius could itself, still be an idyllic retreat or escape when marketed in the right way and geared up with the right amenities. Or a box shaped city centre hotel with empty event spaces could offer unique themed experiences sold as packaged breaks or family getaways. Every hotel has its own USPs, some with fantastic history or stories which haven’t been fully told. As hoteliers are forced to branch out to new markets, they must explore what experiences they want to sell and how the hotel will adapt to cater to their new guests. It might mean some investment to diversify and cater to guests differently, but then it might also mean the difference between survival and closure.

At the time of writing, with vaccines not yet in distribution, it remains to be seen if the once rising giants like Airbnb will emerge from the pandemic in the same form as before. Will the UK holidaymaker prefer to book smaller and independent hotels (who still make up over 50% of the UK accommodation market), which offer a more personal and private experience? Or, perhaps the branded hotels with their multimillion-pound marketing campaigns of heighten cleaning measures, which was been created to boast consumer confidence, will be the accommodation of choice for travellers moving forward…?

So, what’s changed...? Well no doubt the UK hospitality market will be reinventing itself over the next few years and many operators will rise and fall. However, it’s likely that those who respond to the shift in market and adapt to customers’ needs will fare best.

Let me know your thoughts; what do you think will happen to the UK hospitality market? Will staycations be the new popular choice and transform the UK industry? Or will we all be rushing off on planes to faraway lands in a bid to break free.

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