At 7.40am last Sunday Teleri Hughes received an unexpected call. It was a holiday-maker anxiously enquiring if they could book any of her six holiday cottages in North Wales. Unfortunately for the caller, all the properties were booked.
“There’s been an awful demand for August, but I think it will keep going” said Ms Hughes, who runs a camping field as well as holiday cottages just outside the town of Betws-y-Coed, which is popular with hikers. She added that guests would normally ask for discounts, but now were willing to pay any price.
Across the UK, people desperate to take a holiday after months of lockdown, and put off going abroad by the government’s sudden advice against travelling to Spain, have been rushing to book what is left of the country’s holiday accommodation.
Some 14m adults in Britain intend to take a holiday in the country before the end of September, according to a survey by VisitBritain, the national tourist board, published last week. While this is lower than the 22m holidays by adults in Britain VisitBritain recorded between July and August last year, industry players said it was a very high number considering the public’s nervousness around the pandemic.
Holiday park operators, cottage owners and campsites have been inundated with queries, putting pressure on resources that have been drastically depleted by months of closure due to the pandemic.
TravelSupermarket, the travel search website, said that clicks on UK cottage holidays increased 274 per cent in June, compared to May, and another 235 per cent in July versus June.
“It’s been off the charts,” said Henrik Kjellberg, chief executive of Awaze, which owns Hoseasons and cottages.com, two of the UK’s largest holiday cottage operators. “We are dealing with almost triple levels in terms of bookings of what we would normally have at this time.”
The company has received 1m calls in July. Typically, they would have about 100,000 inquiries. Of the 1,632 cottages they offer in Cornwall, just two were left in August — and one is a yurt.
“All the uncertainty around foreign travel is making people book domestic and we are expecting it to get even stronger this weekend with the heatwave coming,” Mr Kjellberg said.
Such is the demand — and lack of remaining accommodation capacity — that people have taken to pitching tents in lay-bys, fields and national parks.
The National Trust reported that it had cleared 25 tents, 20 camping chairs, six air-beds and several barbecues from Dovedale in the Peak District over the past week, while around Buttermere, in the Lake District, it had recorded 118 illegally parked cars in a single evening.
Chris Millner, a National Trust ranger in the Peak District, said: “The volume of debris left behind is overwhelming and something we’ve not experienced before. After people have finished having fun it’s like they abandon ship.”
Minutes down the road from Ms Hughes’ holiday cottages, the Snowdonia National Park is suffering the same problem.
It has had to recruit 100 volunteers to help park wardens and the combination of a loss of revenues through lockdown and investment in extra signs, litter picking and deep cleaning of toilet facilities has cost it £1.4m, a fifth of its annual budget.
By 7am last Saturday, the main road to Snowdon was blocked with 200 illegally parked cars.
“It’s really positive for [the] tourism business because they have been devastated but this volume of people is insane,” said Helen Pye from the Snowdonia National Park Authority.
She added that dispersing visitors to less well known areas with fewer facilities was counterproductive: “When an area is well visited you need lots of infrastructure for it to not be a total disaster . . . In the past few weeks we have started having problems with people going to the toilet absolutely everywhere.”
Prices have rocketed as demand has grown. Mr Kjellberg said that rates for August bookings had increased by an average of 16 per cent as the company’s dynamic pricing system meant that prices rose as more people booked.
Others have warned of holiday fraud. Mike Bevens, managing director of the glamping company Canopy & Stars, said that he had noticed some of its most popular locations, already booked for August, being advertised via “what look like scam social accounts” and warned customers to be vigilant.
Extra pressure on space has come from people moving bookings from earlier in the summer, when lockdowns were in place, as well as those who have cancelled trips abroad.
Operators hope that the surge in demand will help them to recoup some of the £37bn that VisitBritain is forecasting the domestic tourism sector will lose in revenues this year.
In 2019, UK consumers made 93.1m trips overseas and spent £62.3bn on foreign travel, according to the Office for National Statistics figures.
“Even if the UK is set to capture just 10 per cent of trips [abroad] that’s a pretty material surge in demand for staycations,” said Joe Stather, associate director of hotels at the real estate firm CBRE. “It could lead to some regeneration and redevelopment in some of the UK destinations that have fallen on hard times in past decades.”
Ms Pye warned that parks and destinations would need significantly more funding if the staycation trend was to continue: “In the past 10 years tourism numbers have doubled, but National Park budgets have halved . . . Long term there is a big question: yes, tourism is beneficial to the local economy and it is reliant on tourism but there are unseen costs to that we are not accounting for at the minute.”
But Peter Moralles, who owns 13 cottages in Northumberland, questioned whether the staycation “bonanza” would last into next year and beyond.
“It might work the other way that all the international spaces are open next year and people thought ‘I couldn’t go last year. I’ll try it now’,” he said.
Additional reporting by Chris Tighe