The holiday-at-home boom is over, tourism chiefs said, blaming “stay fatigue” for the drop in bookings in even the UK’s most popular destinations.
Covid restrictions on international travel meant that the past year, in particular, was a bumper year for hotspots like Cornwall, which were bursting into 2021.
But with restrictions now lifted, British tourists are heading abroad in large numbers, thanks to pent-up demand for travel to foreign climes among “backlogged consumers”.
Even the prospect of airport delays and flight cancellations has not stopped people from going abroad, leaving visitor numbers to UK destinations falling below pre-pandemic levels.
Travel agents are reporting a sharp rise in the popularity of vacation packages, while domestic businesses said they still have openings for this month.
All parts of the travel industry, however, are concerned that the full impact of the cost-of-living crisis is yet to come, with many people booking vacations before they start to feel the pinch.
Malcolm Bell, Chief Executive of Visit Cornwall, said: “We are nowhere near the numbers of last year. Last year we had more customers than we could handle, to be honest. But now we’re back to trying to attract visitors.
“Some places have five or 10% vacancies, whereas normally in August, if people were looking for a last minute booking, there would be none.
“There was a bit of stay fatigue after the last couple of years when people had no choice but to stay in Britain. Now people are deciding to go abroad or are waiting to go abroad as soon as they know if they can afford it.”
Bell said May and June were calmer than expected, while the summer was just below pre-pandemic levels. There are concerns that fall bookings, traditionally reserved for retirees, are weak. “It’s a strong course correction after the last two years,” he added.
The picture is the same in the Lake District, where Cumbria Tourism said 55% of vacation companies report that bookings have dropped in an average year.
Norfolk and Suffolk had waiting lists for cottages this time last year, but now they have openings. In Devon, demand is “well below normal”.
As a result, UK holiday prices have plummeted, with cost-conscious tourists refusing to pay the kind of inflated prices operators charged last year.
Bell said: “Last year, people just called, booked and paid the fee. This year they are asking about the cost before they go any further.”
He said last-minute cancellations were becoming common as people decided they could no longer afford vacations, adding: “The difference in the cost of your energy bills between this year and last year is the vacation cost.”
According to Abta, which represents travel agents, bookings for holidays abroad are close to pre-pandemic levels, although the sector has been much more affected by Covid than domestic holiday trade.
Pre-departure testing for people leaving the UK was only scrapped in mid-March, and some countries maintained Covid restrictions after that. But pent-up demand for overseas holidays was shown in the number of people going abroad this summer.
Young people in particular are desperate to make up for lost time and have been described as “backlog consumers” by travel bosses.
Many are turning to package holidays because they want the safety net of being able to change their vacation plans with a phone call if they get Covid or there is a problem at the destination.
Airbnb also posted record profits thanks to the return of overseas vacations, with a 58% increase in the second quarter of this year compared to the same period last year.
Mark Tanzer, chief executive of Abta, said: “Since the beginning of the year, the constant removal of travel restrictions in the UK and around the world has made traveling much easier and has triggered a huge pent-up demand from foreigners. breaks.
“Abta members have seen big bookings for this year and next, and our own research also shows that travel appetite is approaching 2019 levels.”