Fears over Britons double-booking a Staycation AND a foreign holiday

Hotel and holiday let bosses fear Britons have double-booked a staycation AND a foreign break… and will CANCEL at last minute if ‘green list’ rules change

  • Experts report growing trend to book rooms at multiple hotels before cancelling all but one at last minute  
  • Customers are taking advantage of generous flexibility being offered by hotels amid continued uncertainty
  • Some families are known to have booked a foreign holiday which they will cancel if travel abroad is banned
  • Cancellation rates for UK’s hotels are running at ‘scarily low’ levels of just 4%, well below the normal 30% 

Hoteliers and self-catering company bosses across the UK raised fears today over Britons double booking a summer staycation and holiday abroad at the same time, with the intention of cancelling one.

Industry experts have reported a growing trend to book rooms at multiple hotels before cancelling all but one at the last minute to take advantage of generous flexibility being offered for customers amid continued uncertainty.

Some families are known to have booked a foreign holiday which they will cancel if travel to their destination is not permitted – but the flipside is that this could also see them cancel a UK booking if they are allowed to fly abroad.

Bookings software provider Avvio said cancellation rates for Britain’s hotels are running at ‘scarily low’ levels of just 4 per cent, well below the normal 30 per cent, because consumers are making multiple reservations.

With the pandemic leading to uncertainty and shutdowns for UK and overseas travel over the past year, holiday firms have been forced into offering customers an option to cancel for free with as little as 24 hours’ notice.

For that reason, many 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.  

Kate Allen, who owns Salcombe Finest, a luxury holiday lettings agency which manages 35 high-end properties in Devon, said she changed the company’s booking policy to avoid owners being out of pocket from last-minute cancellations

Salcombe Finest manages 35 properties in the upmarket Devon seaside resort, ranging in value from £1million to £5million

Salcombe Finest advises customers to take out holiday insurance to cover them for the full cost of their stay

But cancelling bed and breakfast, hotels and other type of accommodation with little notice then makes it hard to fill – raising fears that the bumper summer many businesses are hoping for could be left in ruins.

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.

Luxury holiday lettings agency changes its booking policy to avoid last-minute cancellations

The owner of a luxury holiday lettings agency who manages 35 high-end properties in Devon said she changed the company’s booking policy to avoid owners being out of pocket from last-minute cancellations.

Kate Allen, who owns Salcombe Finest, said the company used to allow guests to cancel with no financial penalty up to 12 weeks before their holiday.

But she has changed this policy during the pandemic to avoid customers cancelling at the last minute and going abroad instead. Now, on cancellation of a confirmed booking, Salcombe Finest will retain a non-refundable booking deposit and the customer will remain responsible for payment of the total cost.

The firm therefore advises customers to take out holiday insurance to cover them for the full cost of their stay.

Ms Allen told MailOnline: ‘We haven’t got awareness that any of our guests are double booking, but then it’s not in their interests to tell us. But we’ve tightened up our cancellation policy. We used to let our guests cancel with no financial penalty up to 12 weeks before their holiday. But now we say as soon as they have paid their deposit, then you’re liable to the full cost.’

She continued: ‘We did that during the pandemic in the knowledge that there could be some really tricky customers further down the line who could cancel and go abroad. We’ve got owners with multi-million pound properties and we have to look after their income, so we’re protecting ourselves.’

Ms Allen added that a refund will be provided to anyone who tests positive for coronavirus, as long as supporting documentation from a medical professional is provided.

She said: ‘We’re a kind and fairly small company, so if we can try and rebook a holiday and fill a space and give someone a refund, we will try to do that as well. 

‘We don’t actively want to upset anybody, but if we can’t find someone to replace it, then someone has to pay unfortunately.’

The company manages 35 properties in the Salcombe area, ranging in value from £1million to £5million.

‘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.

Mr 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 has announced the dozen of countries holidaymakers can travel to without quarantining, and the news that this will be reviewed every three weeks, hotels may be concerned they see a sudden rush of cancellations. 

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 that as the situation evolves, it may be that people’s travel preferences do to – and the travel landscape remains hard to predict.

A spokesman 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.

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 has not seen many cancellations despite the news about foreign holidays potentially opening up again this summer. 

Peter Banks, managing director of Rudding Park in Harrogate, said that it will be ‘in trouble’ if guests cancel at the last minute

Rudding Park in Harrogate has 90 bedrooms and suites along with 300 acres of landscaped gardens and woodland

Rudding Park in Harrogate is currently at 98 per cent occupancy for June and July, but there are concerns over cancellations

A spokesman said: ‘Certainly, the level of cancellations is low at present, even with the most recent Government announcement our bookings for the summer remain strong.

‘If guests cancel at the last minute, we are in trouble’, says hotel boss 

The boss of a luxury hotel in North Yorkshire has warned that it will be ‘in trouble’ if guests cancel at the last minute.

Rudding Park in Harrogate, which has 90 bedrooms and suites along with 300 acres of landscaped gardens and woodland, is currently at 98 per cent occupancy for June and July.

Its managing director Peter Banks said: ‘If our guests cancel at the last minute, we are in trouble.

‘We will have employed staff, purchased food and beverage and turned away other guests on a false promise.

‘If this happens on a large scale then we will be seriously financially impacted and it could ultimately threaten jobs.’

The hotel, which features two restaurants, a private cinema and two golf courses, has a cancellation policy that means guests will get a refund as long as they give five days’ notice.

And Mr Banks added: ‘I implore guests, if they are to cancel, cancel early.

‘But hopefully they won’t cancel at all, and they will enjoy all that the UK has to offer and make full use of our wonderful hospitality industry.’

‘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.’

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.

Mr 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.’

Adrian Ingoldby, owner of Whitstable Holidays, said cancellations are a ‘bit of a nightmare’ in terms of administration, but he is hopeful that they would be snapped up fast because there is so much demand for properties in the Kent seaside town

Whitstable Holidays own six self-catering cottages in the town and trust that their guests ‘aren’t mucking us around’

The chain has six properties in Whistable, and Mr Ingoldby said they had changed their cancellation policy to ensure that anyone who has to cancel because of a Covid-19 outbreak will get a full refund

It comes as the traffic light policy for foreign holidays descended into farce last night with ministers accused of sowing ‘mass confusion’.

We trust guests ‘aren’t mucking us around’ but can quickly refill cottages if cancelled, says firm

The owner of a self-catering cottages company in Kent is hopeful that his business would be able to ‘very quickly’ fill any properties that are cancelled.

Adrian Ingoldby, owner of Whitstable Holidays, said cancellations are a ‘bit of a nightmare’ in terms of administration, but he is hopeful that its cottages would be snapped up fast.

He admitted they don’t know what other holidays their guests might have booked, but is hopeful that a good relationship with their customer base means he can ‘trust them that they’re not mucking us around’.

Mr Ingoldby told MailOnline today: ‘For us it’s a difficult one because when we’re talking with our guests we don’t know where else they’ve booked, but a lot of our business is repeat business. We’ve been operating for about 11 years now, and we’ve built up a really nice relationship with a lot of the guests who stay, so we recognise the names, we know when they book again.

‘A lot of the time we’ve got people booking as soon as the holiday ends for next year. We’ve built up this rapport with them, so we have to trust them that they’re not mucking us around.’

The chain has six properties in Whistable, and Mr Ingoldby said they had changed their cancellation policy to ensure that anyone who has to cancel because of a Covid-19 outbreak will get a full refund.

He said: ‘We trust our customers to be honest with us. It’s strict in that obviously we don’t want people cancelling willy-nilly, but we understand the current climate, especially last summer we didn’t know what was going to happen. If someone does cancel, it’s going to fill up very quickly – it’s like gold dust in Whistable. 

‘Even if people did cancel, it would be disappointing and it’s a bit of a nightmare in terms of admin-wise, but those properties don’t stay empty for long.’

On a chaotic day, George Eustice first suggested trips to ‘amber’ countries to see friends and family were acceptable.

Yet hours later Boris Johnson over-ruled his Environment Secretary by insisting such travel was off limits.

That was followed by health minister Lord Bethell claiming holidays anywhere abroad were ‘dangerous’ with foreign trips ‘not for this year’.

The peer even failed to rebuff the idea that returning holidaymakers should be electronically tagged in quarantine.

Welsh Secretary Simon Hart further heightened the confusion last night by saying ‘some people might think a holiday is essential’ and they should use their ‘common sense’.

The contradictory messages left beleaguered travel chiefs begging for clarity. Hundreds of flights to amber countries have already left the UK and demand for foreign breaks has gone through the roof. Conservative MPs have demanded an end to the shambles.

Huw Merriman, chairman of the Commons transport committee, said: ‘I’m afraid it’s a case of confusion reigns. What’s the point in bringing in a traffic light mechanism, labelling amber countries as ‘moderate risk’ and then, by implication, shading them red by telling passengers they shouldn’t go?’

Another senior Tory described Lord Bethell’s comments as ‘idiotic’, adding: ‘If the Government is saying all travel is dangerous, then why has it just introduced a green list? The confusion around the amber list is bad enough without adding to it.’

On Monday the outright ban on foreign travel was replaced by a green, amber and red traffic light system grading different countries by their Covid risk level. 

But amid concern over foreign variants, ministers then announced that no one should holiday in an amber country even if they quarantined on their return.

To add to the uncertainty, the EU is expected to announce today that its member states will welcome fully-vaccinated Britons this summer without the need for virus tests or quarantine.

And in another twist last night it emerged that more than 100 direct flights have arrived from India since the country was placed on a banned list last month. This means that up to 8,000 travellers have flown in from the sub-continent despite concern over an Indian Covid variant that threatens to undermine the easing of lockdown.

The mayhem began yesterday morning when Mr Eustice said there might be ‘reasons’ for going abroad, such as visiting family and friends – and people could travel as long as they observed quarantine rules on their return.

Asked why, despite the travel advice, more than 150 aircraft left the UK yesterday for amber countries, he told Today on BBC Radio 4: ‘We don’t want to stop travel altogether and the reason … that we have the amber list is there will be reasons why people feel they need to travel either to visit family or indeed to visit friends.’

Spain and Greece want islands on the green list 

Spanish and Greek tourism chiefs yesterday urged the UK to move their islands on to the green list for travel.

Fourteen-day infection rates in the Balearics have dropped below an average of 50 cases per 100,000, the second lowest level among Spain’s 17 regions. 

Majorca has an infection rate of 42.74 per 100,000, Ibiza 25.69 and Formentera 16.51. Menorca’s is 76.02.

However, the islands are lumped in with ‘amber’ mainland Spain where rates are higher. Portugal, which is on the green list, has a rate of around 49 per 100,000, according to the data from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. 

Iago Negueruela, tourism minister for the Balearic Islands, urged UK ministers to ‘regionalise’ its green list to reopen quarantine-free holidays. ‘The Spanish government shares our strategy that the islands are considered separately,’ he said.

‘We’re asking for it because we’ve maintained controls at ports and airports for our national travellers. The UK can have the tranquillity that we are controlling the access of those travellers when they enter the Balearic Islands.

‘That means for instance that someone coming from Andalusia would need to show a negative PCR test to come to Majorca.

‘With such a low accumulated incidence of coronavirus, the fact we’ve retained control over ports and airports, and our ability to detect and control new strains, the security is much higher than many of the countries that have received a green light rating.’

Ministers have pledged to review the travel green list every three weeks and have not ruled out treating islands separately.

Officials in Greece say infection rates on their islands have been falling while vaccination rates have ramped up. On Kos, Crete and Mykonos more than a third of inhabitants have received at least one dose.

Vicky Loizou, the Greek government’s tourism chief, said she believed UK ministers ‘will change their decision’ not to treat the islands separately. She said British tourists were important to her country.

Within hours, he appeared to have been over-ruled by the Prime Minister, who insisted amber countries were off limits for holidays.

‘It’s very important for people to grasp what an amber-list country is: it is not somewhere where you should be going on holiday,’ Mr Johnson said.

‘And if people do go to an amber-list country – they absolutely have to for some pressing family or urgent business reason.

‘You will have to self-isolate, you’ll have to take tests and do your passenger locator form and all the rest of it, but you also have to self-isolate for ten days when you get back. And that period of self-isolation, that period of quarantine, will be enforced with fines of up to £10,000, so I think it’s important for you to understand what an amber-list country is.’

Then in the most forthright statement so far Lord Bethell told fellow peers: ‘Travelling is dangerous. That is not news to us or to the people who get on those planes in the first place. Please stay in this country.’

When Baroness Watkins of Tavistock called for consideration of the use of electronic quarantine tagging – as has been used in South Korea – the health minister said he was grateful for the suggestion.

Labour’s Yvette Cooper, chairman of the Commons home affairs committee, said the fiasco showed ministers ‘haven’t got a proper grip’.

EasyJet chief Johan Lundgren said: ‘Having set up a framework for international travel the Government seems to be single-handedly dismantling it and causing mass confusion with mixed messages and complex testing requirements.

‘Let’s face it – in this version of a traffic light system – green doesn’t mean green with all its testing restrictions and now amber, according to some ministers, actually means red. No wonder the British public is confused.

‘And in the meantime Europe moves forward with sensible travel frameworks which enable people to safely travel again while the UK tries to close down travel to all but a couple of countries.’

Tim Alderslade of the trade body Airlines UK said: ‘The messaging around amber is a total mess. It’s ridiculous for ministers to now come out and needlessly cause confusion by advising against travel.’

The Prime Minister’s spokesman yesterday said people ‘should not travel’ to amber countries for holidays. The EU’s plan for jab passports would mean vaccinated holidaymakers on the Continent could sidestep all testing and quarantine requirements when travelling within Europe. Low-risk countries, such as the UK, are expected to be included.

It will increase calls for the Government to ease restrictions for vaccinated Britons who return to the UK after a holiday and to relax the advice not to travel.

Analysis by the Mail found 151 flights took off from eight major UK airports to amber countries yesterday. Of these, 95 were to European countries ranked amber, including 21 to Spain and 7 to Greece.

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