Has the staycation made way for the ‘extra-cation’?

When the UK was plunged into financial turmoil following the banking crisis of 2008 and the global economic downturn, it gave rise to a phenomenon known as the ‘staycation’.

Feeling the pinch, UK couples and families were choosing to seek out better value holidays and breaks in the UK, or so the argument went.

In the scramble to make the most of the staycation effect, hoteliers were urged to invest in bringing their properties up to standard and invest more in marketing their wares.

The problem faced by many UK hoteliers at the time was that they struggled to find the finance to invest in hotel refurbishment projects, with lenders becoming risk averse. However, those who did find the money to invest in their product offering have definitely reaped the rewards.

As the economy has recovered, many holidaymakers are again finding the money for those trips to more exotic foreign shores.

The return of the UK holiday

But that’s not to say that UK hoteliers have any reason to be fearful. The number of people choosing a domestic holiday is still rising, according to official figures. So what’s happening here?

From our conversations with the hoteliers we work with, there is much anecdotal evidence to suggest that holidaymakers are choosing to do both.

There appears to be a number of factors at play here. Wages are starting to rise again, inflation has slowed down and borrowing households continue to benefit from record low interest rates. There’s also the political and economic situation in parts of southern Europe to factor in and the inevitable travel and airport security hassle that comes with having more than one foreign holiday each year.

But that’s not the whole story. As one client told me recently: “People have got used to the idea of holidaying in the UK again.”

Another told me how some of his wealthier clientele are now having more holidays, so as well as their two-weeks in the Caribbean and a winter skiing holiday, they’re now taking a third and fourth holiday, perhaps a long-weekend spa break, or an adventure holiday in a National Park.

The extra break

I don’t know if anyone has given a name to this trend yet, but to follow on from the staycation theme I would like to call this the ‘extra-cation’.

In my opinion, UK hoteliers and leisure operators have got wise to the idea that the British holidaymaker is now a more discerning customer. One that seeks a UK break in addition to their main summer holiday, but only after doing extensive online research and finding hotels and holiday lets of the highest quality and value for money.

It’s not just hotels that are benefiting. Through our work with the British Holiday and Home Parks Association (BHHPA), we know that lodge and caravan parks are also attracting more bookings by improving the quality of the accommodation and facilities on offer, including swimming and other indoor leisure facilities to compensate for those inevitable rainy summer days.

That’s not say it’s easy to secure bookings. These businesses still need to have an effective online presence – such as a website that ranks high on search engines and is enabled for online bookings, a well thought-out social media strategy and a proactive approach to responding to customer comments online.

Investing in quality

Above all they must have a quality product in terms of their property and food offering. The latter has become increasingly vital as the UK becomes the kind of food destination is just wasn’t 10 years ago.

Over the last couple of years we’ve worked with many UK hoteliers who are looking to improve their hotels through extension and refurbishment projects.

Some of the projects we’ve completed, or have in the pipeline, have involved adding extra bedrooms, refurbishing existing bedrooms, creating new entrances, adding leisure and spa facilities, adding dining facilities, upgrading kitchens, improving landscaping and adding additional car-parking. These businesses are enjoying higher occupancy and better profitability as a result.

And while there are still challenges ahead for the economic recovery and the nation’s wider financial health, it shows the huge appetite that’s out there for UK holidays and short breaks.

Those that can offer a good customer experience are best placed to continue to take advantage of the staycation and extra-cation trends.

Richard Wooldridge is a RIBA chartered architect and a director of Harrison Pitt Architects. The practice has a sector specialism in hotel and leisure projects, completing a wide array of hotel extension and refurbishment projects.

If you would like to discuss a hotel or leisure project with Richard, call him in 01524 32479.

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