Simon Altham, managing director, Wyndham Vacation Rentals reveals how perceptions of domestic breaks have undergone a transformation since the economic crash of 2008
Ten years ago Gordon Brown was Prime Minister, the last Woolworths closed and we officially entered a recession for the first time since 1991.
It’s easy to think of this period as a dark time for tourism. After all we’d been through a credit crunch and that usually means only one thing – trouble.
But what actually happened to the UK domestic holiday market was something very different and in 2009 we became the staycation nation.
The fact that people had always holidayed in the UK was irrelevant to everyone. We’d rediscovered Britain, and it turned out to be pretty amazing.
Suddenly everyone was talking about their break in Cornwall or an undiscovered walk in the Peak District. People wanted to holiday at home and it was no longer about how much it cost, or how far you went, but about that hidden gem you’d uncovered and how little time you’d spent on a plane.
UK tourism was quick to seize this opportunity and the UK became ‘the’ place to be seen in 2009.
But simply getting publicity wasn’t enough, as the product and experience had to match the new-found enthusiasm.
At Hoseasons we’d recognised customers wanted something different from a UK holiday, and in response created Autograph Lodge Holidays. This was our first ‘specialist’ product and offered lodge holidays at inland locations, giving couples a luxury break in quiet surroundings. It was the start of things to come for us.
But it wasn’t just our business that identified the opportunity. Restaurants, farmers markets, cottage companies and campsites all suddenly become cool and more relevant to people’s modern lives – something that encouraged investment.
This helped build even greater momentum as companies (rightly) strove to impress the customer with new and exciting innovation. Suddenly the possibilities for domestic holidays seemed endless.
Like everything the trend stopped being newsworthy eventually. But this shot in the arm had done its job, and gave the sector a reason to be proud again. Importantly when the coverage slowed the people didn’t, and neither did the innovation and passion.
So what’s the impact been? Overall the sector remains strong and demand high, with 47.2m holiday trips taken in England in 2017 – 6% higher than in 2016 – according to most recent VisitEngland survey.
Secondly, we’ve seen a big shift in expectation of quality, and the market has had to refine its offer and provide scale to meet demand. When we launched Autograph we offered Wi-Fi, hot tubs and flat screen TVs. This was unique in the marketplace, and only available in a few sites around the UK. Ten years on hot tubs have become the most searched for property feature on our website, flat screen TVs are the norm and people want accommodation which surpasses what they have at home.
Thirdly, the length of holiday has changed. In 2009 week-long breaks were our top seller, but by 2015 four-night stays were the most popular. Fast forward to 2017 and we took over 10,000 bookings for two nights or less. The frequency of these holidays has also changed, as people now travel more often for shorter periods, essentially ‘snacking’ on an increasing number of short breaks, rather than blowing out on one big trip. Industry data also supports our experience, with 31.4 million short breaks of 1-3 nights accounting for two-thirds of English holidays in 2017.
Finally, and possibly most importantly, thanks to innovation within the industry we’ve changed perceptions of what a UK holiday offers – something the whole sector should be exceptionally proud of.
What does the next ten years hold? More innovation of course, partly driven by technology, better customer service and unique experiences for time-poor customers who want to be wowed. For us this is supported by the launch of Landal GreenParks into the UK last year where we brought together our 10 years of experience in developing domestic holidays to offer outdoor living, wonderful settings, real hostmanship and unexpected touches, like stargazing pods.
Our job is to continue to give people more reasons to holiday in the UK and build on the last 10 years by inspiring customers through innovation and product development. If we manage this then the next 10 years can be just as successful as the last, as a growing domestic tourism sector is good for the industry, good for customers and good for the economy.
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