“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to holiday … “
The people of the UK—it comprises the largest source market for overseas tourism to the USA—are in a state conflict over the matter of taking their traditional summer holiday. The British government has indicated that it could be permissible, at the moment, for the people of the UK to take an international holiday as soon as May 17th.
There are, however, some significant hurdles for those who would like to do so: First, there is the specter of the COVIG-19 virus and its variants failing to decrease in numbers and making any kind of leisure travel—domestic or international—a risky matter. And second is the outright opposition by the UK government’s own transport minister speaking out against the notion of such travel.
The UK’s holiday maker population is torn. First, even though Brits ache to soak up the sticky summer sun of Florida, those who want to travel recognize the inherent peril of going abroad and sharing space inside an airplane or other modes of travel that involve passengers sitting or standing close together.
However, and this is key as we write this: more and more Britons seem willing to risk traveling overseas as the numbers of people as the number of those receiving at least one COVID-19 vaccination increases. Both the UK and USA populations are at, or have just exceeded the point at which half of its numbers have received at least one coronavirus vaccination.
Following is a quick précis of current discussion points on the issue.
• The go-ahead-and-book-it view. Best stated by Noel Josephides, a director at the Specialist Travel Association (AITO), which has some 100 member operators, he acknowledged in a discussion with the British travel trade publication Travel Weekly that it was “a worry” if agents were “holding back from booking” and warned it could affect capacity.
At the same a number of travel agents have been taking a cautious approach to sales since British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced his government’s “Road to Recovery” on Feb. 22. Some agents are not selling early summer departures at all.
But Josephides stressed: “We have no reason to believe we cannot start (from May 17). It’s OK to book. We [the industry] wanted a roadmap and we got it. It would be remiss not to make use of it. “If we don’t show we are willing, and have the confidence to start booking from May 17, it would be very disappointing. We have been given a date and should act on it. We should look on the bright side and not worry that it will not go ahead,” said Josephides, who is also chairman of the tour operator Sunvil, which specializes in Europe and Latin America product.
He said his own company was encouraging agents to make bookings from May 17, and said doing so could have a “snowball effect” on confidence, suggesting that “If bookings come your way, take them.”
“Bookings made now determine what flights will go and which won’t, and what hotels will open,” he told TW. “If everyone waits until a week before May 17, then it’s too late – capacity will have been set.”
• The wait-and-see then wait-some-more view. Asked early last week on BBC Radio 4’s Today program if it was too early to book a summer holiday, Transport Minister Grant Shapps replied: “Yes.” This is a repeat of the answer given to similar questions ever since Prime Minister Johnson announced his government’s Road to Recovery plan.
• The pain and angst of the I-really-want-to-holiday view. A new surveyed featured in Travel Daily News International tells us that, while just a quarter of people surveyed say they are “very likely” to book a holiday before they’ve had the COVID-19 vaccine, the number more than doubles post-vaccination.
This is just one of the interesting, if not intriguing, numbers one will find in the Travel and Tourism Survey conducted by vacation rental site TravelNest, which measured the impact of the global pandemic on UK holiday plans for this year. The survey interviewed more than 600 people across the UK.
The top findings of the survey include the following:
—More than half of respondents say they will not take a holiday abroad this year.
—Seventy-nine percent of respondents plan to take one or two UK-based “staycations.”
—Rural holidays (at 51percent) are most popular with Brits, followed by beach holidays (43 percent), city breaks (36 percent), road trips (29 percent) and activity holidays (19 percent).
—44 percent plan to holiday in the Summer (June, July, August).
—23 percent plan to vacation in the Autumn (September, October, November).
—Holiday homes (44 percent) are more popular than hotel stays (29 percent).
—Planned breaks of 7 nights or more have doubled in 2021 versus the last 3 months of 2020 and on average customers are booking stays of 5 nights
—Average booking value has increased by around 40% in 2021 versus the last 3 months of 2020
Rebecca Moore, chief operating officer at TravelNest said: “The findings, together with our own booking activity, reveal significant pent-up demand for holidays when restrictions allow, and that the vaccine is affecting decision-making by significantly increasing traveler confidence.”
Then, there’s this: Why UK Travel to the USA is so important. Japan sent just over 5 million visitors to the United States in 2000. Since then, no other nation has achieved the 5-million mark. No other nation, in fact, had even come close to the 5 million market until 2019, when the UK sent nearly 4.8 million visitors to the U.S. It was generally accepted that the UK had a chance at doing so in 2020.
And then came COVI-19 and a global pandemic: The number of UK visitors to the U.S. plummeted by 84.7 percent in 2020. Were that number translated to dollars, it would tell us that British spending on travel to the U.S. fell by $11.28 billion. (Based on data in the U.S. National Travel & Tourism Office Market Profile: United Kingdom.)