Alex Cheatle, founder and CEO of Ten Lifestyle Group, writes for City A.M. on why he thinks ‘staycations’ are for too many a risky business this summer
Tempted to holiday in the UK this summer? There are two things you need to know about the ‘staycation’ to discover why much of the British travel industry isn’t up to the job.
Summer has arrived, borders (within Europe at least) are finally opening up, and thoughts turn to eagerly-awaited holidays. Except that COVID-19 keeps raging on around the world, meaning that health concerns continue to be a major issue and just the thought of getting on a plane to reach your destination can make some people break out in a cold sweat.
Which is why the thought of a staycation in the UK might suddenly appear rather appealing. You are not alone – at Ten Lifestyle Group it is our job and passion to organise holidays for our members, and we know that many people will be holidaying at home in 2020, often for the first time in years.
So you’d think that organising a holiday in your own backyard would be a piece of cake, done and dusted within a couple of hours – except that it can end up being far more frustrating than trying to plan a month-long trip through Southeast Asia. Which seems odd but will make sense once you know what is going on behind the scenes.
Domestic tourism is a substantial industry (£20bn annually) and travel within the UK regularly outperforms overseas travel in terms of volume of trips. But while overseas travel used to require a travel agent to help pull the trip together, with domestic travel there is a historic leaning towards a DIY approach, from just turning up at a hotel with a vacancy sign, to selecting your own property from a guidebook in the past, to now booking online. Which is fine for one night in a B&B in a ‘normal’ year, but when your UK trip is as special as, and costs as much as, your overseas holiday, you need to be able to secure the right accommodation, safe in the knowledge that you are getting the best possible value.
Which is where things start to get surprisingly complicated.
Have you noticed for example that there are travel companies falling over themselves trying to book you onto a gorilla trek in Rwanda, a beach holiday in Dubai, or the Inca Trail in Peru – but that the offers to help seem to disappear into thin air as soon as you mention ‘UK country house’ or ‘weekend break 3-hours’ drive from home’? Why?
Simply put, travel agencies feel it’s not worth their while because they live on commissions. The average stay in a UK hotel is around 2.4 nights, while most travel agents have a minimum 5-night target stay. And there is more. The travel industry loves long haul, packaged tours and trips as it allows them to mask high commissions (up to 30%), while guides, tours and transfers in exotic destinations can generate 50% profit margins for the agency. Typically, it’s easier for the travel industry to make the high margins they need, the further someone is from home.
Not every firm is like this. At Ten,we get paid, not in commissions,but for service delivered, so we want to always ‘do the right thing’ and keep customers coming back time after time. Anything we organise this year, for customers of private banks as well as our own members, has to keep them happy enough they come back next year; Cornwall in 2020, the Caribbean in 2021.
The other major issue with travel agencies is that they lack expertise when it comes to their home country. They’ll be able to reel off the best game lodges in Botswana or the most thrilling dive spots in the Maldives in their sleep – but chances are you’ll be met with blank stares when you enquire about the most beautiful hidden cottages in the Cotswolds or a long weekend in Devon.
Some travel agencies are now – belatedly – trying to jump on the bandwagon, launching their first UK itineraries. But their consultants are having to be trained in a destination – the UK – that they’ve never had any experience in.
And so that one holiday you’ve been aching to go on? Things can go awry: the promised ‘vintage’ cottage turns out to be just plain old, the plush castle interior ends up being stuffy instead of grand, and cleanliness at the self-catering cottage leaves a whole lot to be desired – a nightmare in our pandemic-stricken environment.
You need experts to book a holiday in the UK. You need experts with experience in the UK travel industry and, preferably, people who know the charming boltholes because they’ve been booking them for 20 years. And you need to be confident that they’re experts with inside knowledge of the best restaurants in the area, those places that make a good holiday, great: hidden gems, little shacks on the beach serving Michelin-quality seafood, tiny spots perfect for social distancing, or those with incredible takeout menus.
Staycations are definitely the thing this year but beware of putting your one holiday in the hands of someone who’d be more comfortable booking Cancún rather than the Cotswolds.
City A.M.’s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.