During the pandemic, we’ve all discovered how wonderful England is: parks nearby, beaches a short drive away, far corners we never knew existed. Even so, when everything reopens in 2022, millions of people rushed to reserve their much-needed summer sun elsewhere.
So what awaits us in 2023? It seems that the cost of living crisis and the travel chaos of the past year have some Britons longing to stay home once again. In January, 70 percent of people interviewed for VisitBritain’s Domestic Sentiment Monitor said they planned to take a vacation to the UK in the coming months.
“I definitely feel renewed optimism for British holidays, which is reflected in the volume of new bookings we are currently receiving,” says Harry Cragoe, owner of The Gallivant, a boutique hotel in Camber, East Sussex. “I recently traveled abroad and the queues never get shorter. More expensive than I could imagine”.
Last summer’s airport chaos wasn’t a great ad for going abroad, and it seems to have had a lasting effect on the British psyche: 40 percent of VisitBritain respondents reported that queues and cancellations would make them think twice. Meanwhile, a British trip is seen as a way to control costs at a time when expenses are skyrocketing. “If you look at what happened when there was a recession last year, people tended to stay at home rather than go overseas,” confirms Patricia Yates, CEO of VisitBritain.
It is not yet clear what the UK holiday will look like in 2023. After inflation hit a 41-year high last year, consumer confidence plummeted as the cost of living crisis began to bite. Almost a quarter of those in VisitBritain’s report said they were “hard hit”. Limiting day trips, dining out, and visits to expensive attractions were seen as valuable cost-cutting exercises, with one-third of respondents expressing their intention to stay in cheaper accommodation.
“We can already see people downgrading their grades,” Yates says. “If they go on vacation, they spend less. If they go to a party, they won’t get the full afternoon tea”.
Hotel, motel or a friend’s house?
As consumers try to save money, it’s not surprising that global interest in three-star hotels has increased by 20 percent, according to data from Hotels.com. In terms of both price and offering, the mid-range is seen by consumers as a safe bet, which may explain why chains like Travelodge have thrived. Recently, the brand has begun opening more outlets in the slums of cities where it can keep room rates low and costly extras like parking are less of an issue.
Aware of the growing number of midweek young guests benefiting from more flexible working policies, Cragoe has also made some concessions in the cost of living crisis. “We’re seeing more people with laptops and we’re encouraging that.
“I have a 26-year-old daughter, and that kind of age, mid-twenties, is probably the age most affected. They are at the beginning of their careers. They don’t have a lot of disposable income. That’s why I launched a ’30 under 30′ offer last year. The idea is that if you’re under 30, you can stay Sunday or Monday night for 30 percent off.” The hotel will soon begin serving simpler, more affordable meals as well (“guilt-free meals on a plate. You can eat it without worrying about spending too much”).
As things come to life at The Gallivant, another type of accommodation seems to be falling out of favor. According to data from VisitBritain, far fewer people plan to stay in a rented home than a year ago, suggesting that the UK’s Airbnb bubble may have burst. One factor is the growing number of people hoping to save money by staying with friends and family, but there could be other reasons as well.
“When Airbnb started, it made a big splash. “People were renting out pretty nice places very cheaply,” says Chris Tate, Head of Hotels and Hospitality at auditing, tax, and consulting firm RSM. “But there’s no guarantee of what you’ll get until you’re there. Meanwhile, in hotels or at holiday parks, there’s a convenience factor to being able to go on Tripadvisor or social media and find out what you need to know”.
Accommodations for the super-rich
Of course, for those who are rich enough, the holidays will continue as they always have. In an effort to keep these people in the UK, some venues and operators have upped their game, ditching the cottage curtains and DIY attitude in favor of a full concierge service alongside lavish interiors more like Bali or Ibiza.
Located in Bosham, Sussex among the new waves of self-catering, Terrarium is a highly impressive mansion that is one of the top scrolling options from luxury self-catering agency Unique Homestays. It looks like a stylish hotel inspired by Thai hot springs and curling around a natural pool surrounded by slippery sun loungers and can be booked with accompanying massages and private catering.
Meanwhile, luxury hotel chain Mandarin Oriental also offers private stays in semi-majestic homes with on-site chefs and helipads. “Luxury has to take care of the guests. It has to be about personal experience,” says Yates. “I think we’re getting better at this.”
Destinations du jour
As the super-rich visit other people’s backwoods, there is more uncertainty about where the rest of us will go. VisitBritain’s research found that fewer people expected to go to London in the first quarter of 2023 than last year, possibly delayed due to cost.
However, another British city is predicted to do better: Edinburgh was cited by Expedia as one of the fastest growing destinations for 2023. Meanwhile, Eurovision will be a big boost for Liverpool after losing its much-publicized Unesco status.
“It feeds the story about British music,” says Yates. And in what could be a boon for wider Northern tourism, “Liverpool won’t have enough accommodation, so people will have to travel”.
However, regional tourism is projected to slow slightly after a strong 2022, according to PWC. Still, some destinations will oppose the trend: Yates cites growing interest in the Peak District, for example. And there is another ever-popular region that is predicted to continue to flourish in 2023. Despite the widely publicized overtourism, the South West remains the region most UK holidaymakers hope to visit.
Will we pay more?
Rising operating costs have so far been mostly borne by hotels, but these may need to be passed on to the consumer in the future. “Hotels have had a really hard time getting staff back in post-pandemic for a number of reasons, so wages in the industry have gone up quite significantly,” Tate says. “But it’s not just salaries, it’s everything else. Hotels used to have the advantage of having fixed long-term energy tariffs, and now those are coming to an end.”
If hotels try to protect their guests from rising costs, visitors may notice minor changes in their experience. One recommendation from PWC is that they lower the room temperature slightly to “barely felt” levels to save on energy bills. Meanwhile, a company spokesperson said that “some hotels are reducing the frequency of guesthouse visits for multi-night stays or forcing them to opt-in.”