As the UK moves closer to the end of lockdown (preliminarily set for June 21st), many people’s thoughts will be turning to their well-deserved summer holidays. If they haven’t booked them already, that is.
However, despite the optimistic sentiment prevailing in the UK, international travel remains difficult and highly constrained. At the time of writing, the UK’s “green list” of areas to which travel is permitted comprises just 12 countries and territories, many of which are tiny islands or principalities, with only a handful of popular holiday destinations.
As a result, summer 2021 is likely to follow the same trend as summer 2020, when domestic travel or “staycationing” boomed. Last year, Brits flocked to seaside holidays, countryside retreats or city breaks to enjoy the good weather, the reopening of hospitality and generally to blow off some steam after long months of lockdown.
This year, following an even longer lockdown and with consumer sentiment likely to be running even higher due to the success of the UK’s vaccination programme and the planned total lifting of lockdown, staycations are set to be an even bigger market.
This booming trade also means that the domestic travel sector within the UK will offer a range of potentially lucrative acquisition opportunities for those looking to buy into the industry.
International travel – the current picture
If there’s one thing the majority of UK holidaymakers crave, it’s sunshine and hot weather. Even in the summertime, the UK gets precious little of this. However, this year those looking for tropical foreign holidays will find them hard to come by.
In the UK, optimism continues to grow as a result of the success of the vaccination programme, coupled with consistent declines in COVID-19 cases, hospitalisations and deaths. Despite concerns over variants, the UK looks on course to lift lockdown measures in June.
Elsewhere, however, things are different. Many other countries, including some that are among the most popular destinations for UK holidaymakers, are struggling with ongoing or resurgent waves of COVID-19, new variants or stalling vaccination rollouts.
Last year, the fairly free international travel that UK residents enjoyed under the government’s “travel corridor” programme was arguably a contributor to the devastating second wave that began in the autumn. With that in mind, the government seems to be taking a far more cautious approach to travel this summer.
Despite the UK’s erstwhile success, the situation here remains fragile and as a result international travel will continue to be largely prohibited even once lockdown is fully lifted within the country. On the UK’s current green list, Portugal is the only EU nation that could be considered a popular summer holiday destination.
Demand for international travel will still exist of course, and more countries may yet be added to the green list, but large numbers of people are likely to be wary of the risks of travelling abroad.
This situation has had a catastrophic impact on the international travel industry, meaning that M&A in that sector is largely restricted to consolidation and distressed acquisitions, with big industry players snapping up struggling smaller operators as they hope for a return to relative normality next year.
However, these difficulties are also leading directly into the success that domestic travel is experiencing. For acquisitive parties looking to invest in a booming market rather than targeting distressed acquisitions, domestic travel offers an incredibly attractive opportunity.
The UK’s stay-at-home summers
In 2020, the pandemic saw bookings for UK holidays surge and this year looks set for an even bigger boom with the UK due to be fully out of lockdown around a month before the school summer holidays begin.
Sentiment for domestic travel (and wariness of international travel) has likely never been higher – with the UK’s vaccine rollout in particular likely to contribute to an even bigger year for the staycation market.
Early figures are already seeming to confirm this. In February, campervan and motorhome booking site Camplify reported a 209 per cent increase in bookings. Meanwhile, on February 22, the day the Prime Minister announced the UK’s “roadmap” out of lockdown, luxury camping and glamping site Canopy and Stars reported the biggest day for bookings in its ten year history.
This trend has only continued. At the beginning of April, holiday cottage booking firm cottages.com revealed that 80 per cent of its Cornwall properties had already been booked for the summer, driven by increased demand for domestic travel and self-catering accommodation.
Simon Altham, Chief Commercial Officer at cottages.com parent firm Awaze, said: “We’ve definitely seen a marked increase in demand and traffic to our sites over the last week or so as we get nearer to restrictions being lifted and people look to lock in a UK getaway.
“The south-west and traditional honeypot locations are booking up fast for the summer already, with Cornwall more than 80 per cent sold and Devon nearly 70 per cent sold.”
What opportunities does the sector offer?
Even before the pandemic, the domestic travel sector had grown more diverse than ever. The days of a UK holiday calling to mind seaside hotels, stuffy B&Bs and outdated holiday parks are long gone.
These days, holidaymakers within the UK have become both more independent-minded and adventurous. This has resulted in increasing popularity for self-catering accommodation (spurred on by the rise in AirBnB) camping and (for those that are less outdoorsy) glamping or campervan/motorhome hire. These are trends that have only accelerated as a result of the pandemic.
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