European operators must capitalise on the staycation

All the evidence points towards 2021 being a strong season for a European staycation

Let’s get the bad news out of the way first — it looks increasingly likely that international travel will not return this summer. The risk to vaccination programmes from inoculation-proof Covid variants will simply be too high. The good news is that governments are now beginning to talk in public about reopening again. In Europe, that means staycations are a go, as they already are in Asia, Australia and New Zealand.

The 2021 season will follow a similar path to 2020

Summer 2021 would see “hotels and restaurants open," Leo Varadkar said — Dawid / Adobe Stock covid staycation
Summer 2021 would see “hotels and restaurants open,” Leo Varadkar said — Dawid / Adobe Stock

On Tuesday, Leo Varadkar, the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise in Ireland, said that the country would follow a similar path out of lockdown to that in 2020. He said summer 2021 would see “hotels and restaurants open, that’s kind of where I think we’ll be”. Portugal looks like it will attempt to follow a similar path.

This stands in contrast to the UK, which has just left much of Britain’s international tourist industry staring down the barrel of a gun. This week they unveiled hotel quarantines, at a cost of £1,750 to the traveller, and threats of up to 10 years in jail for breaches. Grant Shapps, the Secretary of State for Transport, went on to describe international travel as “illegal”. Downing Street later attempted to walk this statement back.

However, the British government does plan to announce its path out of lockdown later this month. And it also expects to follow the route of 2020.

That means the tours, experiences and activities industry has a model to follow — last year’s — and a rough idea of when to put it into action. 

Tours, experiences and activities should be poised to capture domestic pent-up demand

Visit Cornwall are reporting that accommodation bookings are 50 to 100 per cent up— Valeryegorov / Adobe Stock staycation covid
Visit Cornwall are reporting that accommodation bookings are 50 to 100 per cent up — Valeryegorov / Adobe Stock

As a sector, tours, experiences and activities will be buffeted less by the restrictions than anyone working directly in international travel. Indeed, it might be able to expect relatively high levels of interest as all that pent-up demand will be directed to domestic staycations.

Yesterday, Skift published a piece on how this may work (€). “From Connemara cottages to Berlin houseboats, Sweden’s ski slopes to UK activity parks, holiday accommodation is being snapped up by cautious domestic tourists already resigned to another staycation summer,” Jason Clampet wrote.

One Irish holiday home operator told Clampet he expects an 80 to 90 per cent occupancy rate in the coming season. Airbnb are reporting significant increases in demand for staycations in the UK and Ireland. Visit Cornwall says that accommodation bookings are 50 to 100 per cent up when compared to normal.

This demand is pushing up prices and bringing an end to Covid discounts. After spending forever trapped within the same four walls and with savings rates at a high, people are splashing out on their holidays, according to TUI. They report that their average price has risen by 20 per cent (€).

How do we know this will work — look east

— Anekoho / Adobe Stock staycation covid
Eastern countries, such as South Korea, have seen a boom in domestic travel — Anekoho / Adobe Stock

A fair bit of print has been spilt on the growing battle between Klook and KKday to gather up tours, experiences and activities operators in East Asia. They’re able to do this because many markets in Asia are thriving under domestic demand.

Having successfully followed an elimination strategy, places like South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Vietnam are seeing strong growth in their domestic tourism markets. China too — have you seen the parties they’re throwing? New Zealand and Australia are also seeing surges in domestic travel.

The huge advances in technology gives operators a new advantage. Distribution is no longer limited to agencies, who may be struggling, and partners. Full connectivity with the wide range of OTAs is now a simple process and helps operators reach their customers at the time of inspiration. Restech has also moved quickly over the past year to implement features to help operators bring in Covid-secure measures. These include managing occupancy through timed entry to help with social distancing.

For European tours, experiences and activities operators, summer 2021 will be significantly stronger than last year. They also have a much better idea of when and how everything will open up. That leaves them in a much better position than their international counterparts, and they must be ready to capitalise on the staycation opportunity.

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