Holiday firms see surge in staycation bookings but confusion remains
Holiday parks and campsites in East Anglia are seeing a rise in demand as people look closer to home for a post-lockdown break.
As the government eases restrictions – signalling the hospitality sector could return to business as early as July 4 – self-catering and camping bookings locally are already on the increase.
But some confusion remains over exactly when and how resorts could reopen.
Bosses in firms across the spectrum from huge tour operators down to small local campsite owners say the advice on reopening from Downing Street has been vague. But they are all welcoming the sudden rise in bookings as people plan to holiday in Norfolk and Suffolk.
Hoseasons, based in Lowestoft, is reporting online lodge holiday bookings up 20pc this week compared to last week, while its cottage holiday sales are up 35% over the same period and more than double what they were two weeks ago.
The firm is also seeing Norfolk Broads bookings up 28% year-on-year. Internet searches for lodges in Norfolk have increased by 21% and in Suffolk by 30% since the government eased certain restrictions.
The news that Saturday, July 4 could see hospitality open for business again in England has come after weeks of waiting. Some firms have been frustrated at the fact people have not been allowed to holiday in a location offering more of an open space their own homes.
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Such was the concern in the holiday park industry, which normally sees business at its peak in the summer months and provides employment for many casual workers.
Bosses from Parkdean Resorts and Haven Holidays – with venues in Norfolk and Suffolk – recently united to write to MPs.
They urged the government to make a decision on them reopening, setting out the procedures in place to make them safe. In response, the culture secretary Oliver Dowden expressed his hope that self-contained, self-catering accommodation would be at the “front of the queue”.
Although the government has still to alter its current advice on staying away from home in lockdown, many holiday firms are now taking bookings from July 4, promising that if there is a delay, they will refund customers.
Simon Altham, chief commercial officer at Awaze UK, parent company of Hoseasons, said: “Everything we are seeing points to an increasing appetite for UK breaks. The recent easing of some lockdown restrictions has clearly boosted people’s confidence that they’ll be able to enjoy a summer break and it seems that Norfolk and Suffolk will be as popular as ever when the government gives the green light for UK holidays.”
He said they had invested in a £1.5m television and digital advertising campaign aimed at kick-starting the summer focusing on places people can visit on their doorsteps.
Smaller businesses are also seeing a real boost in takings going forward. Jo Sindall, who runs Canal Camping, in Dilham, near North Walsham, said some weekends next month were already fully booked.
“We are working on a July 4 reopening and camping has been very popular,” she said.
Ros Pritchard, director-general of the British Holiday and Home Parks Association, said he anticipated holiday parks, touring parks and campsites in England should be opening on July 4, subject to any changes in the R value and government’s scientific advice on coronavirus.
“It is not only the park owners who are anxious to welcome their customers back, as many rural and coastal communities live by tourism, and those customers are also needed to sustain local shops and services, from the pub to the post office,” he said.
A spokesman from Parkdean Resorts, with venues such as Vauxhall Holiday Park in Yarmouth and Heacham Beach near King’s Lynn, said the official go-ahead was eagerly awaited.
“The wheels are in motion, we have 2,000-3,000 holiday property owners with a huge appetite to get back, with wide open spaces ideally suited for social distancing. For people who live in apartments, it’s actually easier to social distance on holiday than in your main residence ... you are getting people sitting on a busy beach with no toilet yet not allowed to sit on a veranda on holiday overlooking that same beach.”
Gerard Tempest, director of guest and proposition at Haven Holidays, with parks across Norfolk including in Caister and Yarmouth, said: “We have already cancelled thousands of breaks during coronavirus and we know that there are plenty of families across the country who are keen to be able to holiday on the Great British coast.”