With some overseas travel opening this week, there are fears within the UK hotel industry that rooms will be cancelled last minute for those tempted by a holiday abroad instead.
Many booking websites and even hotels directly now offer fully flexible rooms to tempt travellers in, meaning they can be cancelled for free often with just 24 hours notice.
For that reason, people may have banked accommodation with the view of potentially ditching it for a trip to a country on a green list instead, as they wait and see how the summer of travel unfolds.
But cancelling bed and breakfast, hotels and other type of accommodation with little notice then makes it hard to fill.
UK hotels are worried there will be a surge in cancellations as travellers rush to head abroad
While holidaymakers are currently holding on to their UK hotel bookings with cancellations rates running at just 4 per cent, far below the usual 30 per cent levels, there are worries this won’t last for long, according to hotel technology provider Avvio.
Michael De Jongh, Avvio’s chief commercial officer, said: ‘Many holidaymakers have booked both a foreign holiday and a UK stay and our data shows they’re often holding on to both.
‘If they decide at the last minute to risk a holiday abroad, a late rush of cancellations in the UK would create chaos across the whole industry as hotels scramble to fill their suddenly vacant rooms.
‘Many of these just won’t be filled, resulting in tens of millions of pounds in lost revenue.’
Avvio says there has also been a growing trend of travellers booking multiple UK hotels for the same dates with the aim of cancelling all but one at the last minute.
De Jongh added: ‘This causes incredible problems for hotels, in the same way as multiple restaurant bookings did during Eat Out To Help Out.
‘If someone does have to cancel for any reason, I’d urge them to always give the hotel as much notice as possible or, better still, move the booking to an alternative date.
‘If they cancel just before they were supposed to check in, even if it’s within the incredibly flexible Covid-related terms, then it’s likely the hotel will lose that revenue altogether as the room now won’t be booked at all.’
Now the Government announced the dozen of countries holidaymakers can travel to without quarantining, and the news this will be reviewed every three weeks, hotels may be concerned they see a sudden rush of cancellations.
To see whether there is widespread concern in the industry or whether firms are already seeing cancellations rise due to more people booking overseas trips, This is Money spoke to some of the major travel companies.
Booking.com said that, similar to 2020, this year looks to be a summer of staycations, in light of international travel potentially remaining more limited.
However, it admitted, as the situation evolves, it may be that people’s travel preferences do too, and the travel landscape remains hard to predict.
A spokesperson said: ‘We anticipate that although some of us will of course want to venture to international shores, domestic travel will continue to be a first choice for many, particularly given the increased certainty in making local bookings.
‘Given the large amount of uncertainty that Covid-19 has placed on our everyday lives, it’s normal for people to make and change plans at the last minute.
‘Due to this, we continue to recommend opting for flexible policies to avoid any disappointment and to help navigate the ever-evolving government guidelines.
Many have booked staycations but there is now a rise in those looking to travel overseas (pictured: York)
Meanwhile, Hoseasons and Cottages.co.uk, both run by Awaze, are not expecting to see many cancellations.
A spokesperson for Awaze said: ‘Nothing in our data, or our conversations with customers leads us to believe we are going to see any significant rise in cancellations as foreign travel starts to open up.
‘People are clearly looking forward to a much-deserved British staycation this summer, while the strength of our bookings for next year suggests people want to lock in more UK breaks regardless of whether they will be able to travel abroad at that point or not.’
Center Parcs also added it is not anticipating that people will cancel their breaks with them.
Haven said it, too, has not seen many cancellations despite the news about foreign holidays potentially opening up again this summer.
A spokesperson said: ‘Certainly, the level of cancellations is low at present, even with the most recent Government announcement our bookings for the summer remain strong.
‘Our guest insight is demonstrating that concerns around coronavirus is still driving people to seek UK holidays this summer, and that our guests are looking for certainty when they book breaks after the issues around the height of the pandemic last year.
‘The continued uncertainty around foreign travel is unsettling so as a result we’ve not seen an increase in cancellations over and above what we’d normally see, and we still expect demand to be high over the coming months.’
Several travel firms have said they haven’t seen an increase in cancellations for this summer
However, Expedia believes the pent up demand for foreign travel will mean a large increase in abroad breaks later in the year.
Cyril Ranque, President at Travel Partners Group, which runs Expedia, said: ‘UK travellers are on their marks and waiting for the starting pistol.
‘There is clearly a lot of pent-up demand – in the past week, we have seen more interest in the last two weeks of May than for the whole month of June, suggesting that travellers have itchy feet and are eager to get away as soon as restrictions are lifted.’
He added the increased interest in foreign travel has been steadily building over recent weeks, but during the week the Government confirmed its plans for May 17, interest went up sharply, with a 55 per cent week on week increase for dates between May 17 and the end of August.
However, in the short-term staycations are still the top choice for UK travellers, with 80 per cent of interest for late May dates being for domestic destinations.
This steadily decreases to 55 per cent in August, suggesting that while there is a thirst for international travel in the summer holidays, consumers are biding their time and waiting for the details of further changes in restrictions.
Ranque added: ‘For travel businesses, this means there is still a lot of uncertainty. Although consumers clearly want to travel, when and where they go is very much undecided and there are still a lot of decisions to be made.
‘The patterns of who is looking for what will continue to change very quickly as new announcements are made so accommodation providers and other travel businesses will need to have a close eye on the data if they are going to be seen by their target guests, attract them and secure their business.
‘Those who do that will recover ahead of the market.’
What to think about if you are booking overseas
There are a number of things travellers need to look out for before booking their trip away.
1. Check if a country is on the green list as this will determine whether you can travel without quarantining.
2. Look at FCO advice to check that you can travel to the country which you want to go to for non-essential travel ie. a holiday.
3. Check that the country wants you to come and will let you in. Australia and New Zealand for example may be on the green list but you may not be welcome or allowed to travel there.
4. Book a package holiday due to its better consumer protections (Package Holiday Regulations and ATOL).
5. Before booking, check the holiday providers’ terms and conditions for changing the holiday and that you are comfortable with them.
The best holiday providers will cancel a holiday if it moves from the green to amber or red status and then you will get your money back if it is a package which you’ve booked.
If the holiday goes to amber and still goes ahead, the best providers will allow you to have a credit voucher so you can use it for a different date.
6. Get insurance: Having travel insurance has never been more important and choosing the right policy is imperative.
Previous research from Defaqto showed just one per cent of policies will cover you for cancellation of a trip if there is another lockdown.
While most products now include cover for Covid-19, there are big differences between what each policy covers so travellers must read through terms and conditions carefully before purchase.
However, the data revealed 96 per cent of products will cover medical expenses should travellers catch coronavirus while on holiday. This is important as there is no free NHS outside the UK.
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