The ban on foreign travel has had a major impact on British holidays over the past 18 months. In the first quarter of 2021, outbound international flights taken by UK tourists were down 94% from a year earlier, while UK cruise passengers fell from nearly 2 million in 2019 to 259,000 in 2020.
However, the effects of these changes are misunderstood. The idea of a “stayation boom” has been heavily publicized in the British media, with claims that large numbers of holidaymakers have “switched” to international destinations for home stays during the pandemic. But this is wrong.
There is a misconception that Britons prefer international trips to vacation in the UK. In fact, domestic tourism has always dominated British holidays. British tourists took about 123 million domestic holidays in 2019, compared to 93 million international trips in the same year. The pandemic didn’t just make British holidays popular – they were already popular.
And in fact, the UK’s national tourism organisation, Visit Britain, estimates that there was a 60% reduction in domestic vacations during 2020. It also predicts that domestic tourism in 2021 will remain well below 2019 levels. Many people are not going on vacation at all, instead of seeing a boom in domestic travel.
Nonetheless, demand for some UK destinations and home holiday types has changed during the pandemic. A report by think-tank The Resolution Foundation shows that while there has been a decline in city leisure, there has been a significant increase in vacations in coastal and rural destinations.
The growing demand for trips to the British coastline and countryside has led to “hypertourism” in some popular destinations. In June 2020, a major incident was announced in Bournemouth when the beach became overcrowded. Tourists were recently urged to “stay away” in Cornwall, as COVID-19 cases increased due to overcrowding. And in August 2021, visitors to Wales queued up for 45 minutes to reach the summit of Mount Snowdon.
The popularity of rural locations has resulted in an increase in the demand for certain types of holiday accommodation. There was a significant increase in campsite bookings during 2021 in popular locations such as the New Forest, Cornwall and the Lake District.
However, self-catering holiday apartments and cottages have been the holiday accommodation of choice. Only over one-fifth of domestic tourists stayed in self-catering holiday rentals during 2021, taking total holiday rental spending to a 10-year high. In contrast, UK hotel sector revenues were down by more than half in 2020. Hotel demand is not expected to return to pre-COVID levels until 2023.
Charm isn’t that alluring?
It is now well established that the risk of COVID-19 transmission is greater indoors, and this has led to a significant shift in priorities for what to do over the holidays.
Unsurprisingly, visitor attractions in England saw a 65% drop in visitors in 2020. Many were closed during the lockdown or were operating at reduced capacity to follow social-distancing guidelines. Indoor attractions such as museums and art galleries saw a 76% drop in visitors, while outdoor attractions such as zoos and gardens performed relatively well. Visits to country parks declined by only 7%.
But, iconic seaside attractions such as the Southend Pier achieved record visitor numbers in the summer of 2021. Similarly, outdoor leisure such as stand-up paddleboarding, cycling and walking holidays have also been popular. With outdoor attractions and activities likely to continue throughout the winter months, 46% of tourism providers on the British coast are now seeking to further develop their outdoor products and experiences.
And it’s not just vacation spots and activities that have changed during the pandemic. As life is surrounded by uncertainty and risk, British tourists increasingly seek the familiar. For some it means going to childhood vacation destinations, for others, taking the faithful family pet on vacation. For example, there has been a huge demand for beach huts, a quintessential piece of British seaside nostalgia.
Are these changes here to stay?
The current demand for domestic holidays is set to continue into 2022. UN research predicts that tourist confidence in international travel will not return to pre-pandemic levels until 2023 at the earliest.
Meanwhile, the UK government has a tourism recovery plan aimed at boosting UK domestic and inbound international tourism in the aftermath of the pandemic. Along with improving transport connectivity, restructuring organizations that manage British tourism and investing in infrastructure, it is focusing on domestic marketing to promote the UK as a holiday destination for British people. .
Nevertheless, when British tourist confidence levels rise again, it is predicted that demand for vacations abroad will decline. Some researchers have suggested that the legacy of the pandemic may be a reduction in international tourism and a move toward more environmentally sustainable forms of vacation such as domestic tourism. But it seems increasingly impossible. When the pandemic is over, it is likely that British tourism and tourists will return to business as usual.