(Ed. Note: the following article was completed just prior to reports that a new strain of the COVID-19 virus had struck the UK)
The United Kingdom, the top overseas source market for the U.S., seems headed for a spike in bookings early in 2021. Even as the pandemic seems to punish the British disproportionately, they have held on to their holiday hopes. (By mid-December, COVID-19 HAD caused more than 65,000 deaths and had infected 1.9 million people in the UK.)
What a difference a week makes. As the tourism industry in the United Kingdom was set to be the subject of grim forecasts—the British travel trade media is awash with outlooks and prognostications this time of the year—there came December 8th and, almost overnight, hope and confidence were the themes threading themselves throughout the news.
December 8, you see, was the day and University Hospital in Coventry, England was the place when Nurse May Parsons administered a just-approved COVID-19 vaccine into the upper left arm of almost 91-year-old Margaret Keenan. Keenan happily called the early morning procedure (it took place at 6:31 GMT) the “best early birthday present.”
Ms. Keenan’s cheerful assessment of the situation, taking place in the midst of another lockdown brought on by the coronavirus-driven global pandemic, reminded INBOUND of something special about the British character and how it deals with adversity.
Ms. Keenan was a child of 10 and old enough to remember what began on September 7, 1940. That’s when the German Luftwaffe launched a bombing campaign on London that proceeded for 56 out of the following 57 days and nights.
Coventry, Margaret Keenan’s home town, also suffered severe bomb damage during the Second World War. In addition to those day/night bombing runs targeting London, the Luftwaffe, there was an action called Operation Moonlight Sonata that was part of the “Coventry Blitz” on November 14, 1940 and carried on to the morning of November 15, 1940, destroying the historic Coventry Cathedral (built 1095-1102), which would have turned 900 years old in 2102.
It’s more than likely that Ms. Keenen experienced the event, and its memory has been part of who she was and is for the next 80-plus years. And the thing this tells us about the Brits who survived and whose children learned about the London and Coventry bombings is that … they are not to be trifled with. Whether it’s a thunderstorm of bombs, a pandemic or no pandemic, they will survive, persist and carry on. (And they’ll take their holidays, too.)
All of the above, then, reinforces what those in the U.S. inbound tourism have already known for some time, and we salute them for it: Brits want to take their holidays. And some of the survey information we have received this month, and which follows, affirms this want and desire.
Surge in Booking Activity follows announcement of effective COVID-19 vaccines. Within days of the announcement that a vaccine to combat the coronavirus was made and would be distributed in the UK, the British travel trade and business press began referring to a bookings “bounce”—one that continued since. The trade reported two identifiable spikes in demand, for December, and for 2021 and 2022.
According to the UK edition of Travel Weekly (TW), British travel agents reported further week-on-week sales growth due to the vaccine news. Some other TW notes:
—Sales for Barrhead Travel, one of the UK’s largest travel agents, were up 30-40 percent, week on week. One Barrhead official commented, “The vaccine has definitely brought hope to prospective holidaymakers. We hope that as details of the vaccine rollout become clearer, the pent-up demand for travel will follow.”
—Advantage Travel Partnership reported demand for “bucket list” trips in 2021 and 2022 as well as for imminent travel. Sales have continued to rise since an initial 62 percent increase in week-on-week sales in the week after the vaccine announcement. In total, 84 percent of bookings were for 2021.
—Jonathon Woodall, chief operating officer for Hays Travel, noted that “Customers have been waiting for the chance to book a much-needed holiday at the end of what has been a very difficult year for us all.”
—Individual agencies in Tier 3* areas told TW that the market was tough because of tighter restrictions and difficulties getting COVID-19 tests, but bookings were coming through.
—On the other hand, Jill Waite, director of Pole Travel in Failsworth, said that the agency had received “a couple of bookings … but you can’t go anywhere without a test. People are nervous about booking.”
—Said Oliver Broad, joint managing director of RB Collection: “We are feeling more positive this week. We’ve had our best booking day for a long time. In Tier 3 there is no legal basis to stop you going on holiday but it’s a sensitive subject. We have to be delicate with our marketing.”
*The British government has categorized every area in the country according to a three level: Tier 1 communities are on Medium Alert; Tier 2 communities are on High Alert; and Tier 3 communities are on Very High Alert. For a complete list of government restrictions imposed because of the pandemic, visit:
Are we at the “Beginning of the End of Pandemic Restrictions?” Meanwhile, a recent study of winter bookings by firm Adara, a research and marketing firm headquartered in Palo Alto, California and with offices in London, Chicago, New York, Paris, Singapore and Japan. tells us that the UK leads European consumers in willingness to travel internationally. Other info-bytes from their study:
—Travelers across Europe are either booking at the very last minute or far in advance as, overall, COVID-19 continues to create uncertainty.
—Bookings spiked after announcements noting the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines.
—There was a one-day booking surge of nearly 20 percent in the UK after the Pfizer pharmaceutical company’s announcement of its 95-percent effective COVID-19 vaccine.
—There was another 10 percent bump related to Moderna’s vaccine announcement and 28 percent after an announcement by AstraZeneca about its vaccine. AstraZeneca’s announcement also led to a 154 percent week-on-week increase in searches for international holidays,
—Britons make up more than one-fifth (23 percent) of all international bookings from the EMEA region, while France was in second at 12 percent. Germany and Portugal were tied for third at 8 percent; Spain was at 6 percent and Italy 5 percent.
—The UK is also booking “vastly more” overseas holidays than domestic with 81 percent of holiday breaks by UK travelers international (most within Europe) and just 19 percent for in-country.
—Even so, uncertainty over the COVID-19 crisis is still having a “huge impact” on booking behaviors, the Adara study noted, adding, “Customers are either booking and departing almost immediately or are looking at dates in the future when they perhaps believe there will be normality around trave.”.
—The report also pointed out that travel windows for booking travel remain much shorter than in previous years with the 0-14-day window taking 30 percent share of the bookings for winter.
—At the same, time bookings over 90 days in advance are also accounting for 30 percent of bookings as people are hoping that vaccines or effective lockdowns mean they can plan for months out.
“Pre-COVID, said the report, the-last minute booking window accounted for just 18 percent of bookings, adding, “as we approach Christmas and rules are relaxed for the festive period, we can expect to see a last-minute spike in booking activity as people travel home.”
Adara chief marketing officer Carlyn Corda noted, “However, the appetite for booking holidays is still there. We know that the desire to explore is a fundamental human drive, and that travel is set for a big bounce-back as vaccines roll out and people feel more comfortable.”
“We are at the beginning of the end of the pandemic restrictions,” she predicted, “but while we wait for the impact of global vaccine programs, travel-loving Brits will find ways to scratch their holiday itch–if they can do so safely and securely.”
But Stay off the Plane if You Haven’t Been Jabbed: A new poll whose results were released as the first UK patients were inoculated with the COVID-19 vaccine suggests that Britons are happy for air travel to be limited to those who have been vaccinated against the virus.
More than half (about 54 percent) of the 1,700 who took part in a Sky News/YouGov survey agreed it would be acceptable for those who haven’t had the vaccine to be banned from flights. However, it will take several months for the whole of the UK population to be vaccinated and, according to Sky News, almost 30 percent of Brits are still unsure whether they want the vaccine.
Those who do receive the COVID inoculations will receive a card showing the date they were inoculated, but the government insists this is not intended to be used as an “immunity passport.” Even so, an independent booking and healthcare management app, myGP, is planning to add a COVID-19 vaccination status to user profiles.
The new ‘myGP TICKet’ function, due to be launched next February, will show whether the user has received the Covid-19 vaccination with a green tick. The company says this could be used to allow them entry to venues, which would no longer need to put social distancing measures in place.