UK Domestic Tourism has had a rollercoaster year. Deep uncertainty of the first lockdown gave way to elation as summer months and an easing lockdown, combined with international travel restrictions, resulted in the strongest summer the industry has experienced since 2004, based on Google Search Demand data.
This meant despite being closed for many months, holiday letting agencies with agile marketing plans were able to maximise their occupancy all the way through to the October Half Term, putting themselves in a strong year on year position despite months of closure.
Marketing strategies that primed guests for travel post-lockdown were a popular messaging route in the first lockdown that created an elastic band of demand that pinged back as consumer confidence returned as restrictions started to ease. Throughout the summer, gap-filling errant breaks became the best approach to squeeze every last penny of value from property portfolios under strain and agencies with dynamic pricing were able to go further by yield-managing their prices upwards as stock availability diminished.
We find ourselves in the midst of ‘Lockdown 2’, and the Holiday Lets industry is once again planning what comes next. What does this mean for immediate arrivals, Christmas and, of course, 2021?
What’s different this time?
The Duration is More Transparent: Whilst there’s no guarantee the Lockdown will end on 2nd December, or that it won’t revert to the English tiered approach with all areas being in tier 3 (overnight travel prohibited!), there is a sense that this lockdown is more finite than the last.
Consumer Awareness: The first lockdown was a huge knock on consumer confidence. It was a new and worrying experience, with fear driven by the unknown nature and reality of Covid-19. This time, whilst the virus is as worrying as before, the public is arguably a little more used to living with it; it isn’t as new and this means confidence is higher.
We don’t need a Christmas Crystal Ball.
Christmas is the first point of contention. High value bookings are at risk for both Christmas and New Years with a double jeopardy of the ‘Rule of 6’ cutting across larger multi-generational bookings. The continuation of challenging circumstances looks likely.
Agencies leading the way on this are already offering flexibility to guests to move their larger Christmas bookings to next year. They’re confident that there’s plenty of time to introduce lower-occupancy discounts and execute a marketing campaign to fill those houses. It’s a smart move that will allow them to defend revenue and make the best of the situation, whilst protecting their reputation.
What would this look like?
There are multiple executions to help promote last minute Christmas availability for 2020. Here are just a few:
1 – Ensure You’ve Got a Campaign Landing Page. It sounds simple, but it’s one most often missed. Collect the properties that fall into this category together to give you a landing point for traffic interested in this type of stay, and optimise it for Christmas keywords in your area.
2 – Use Your Owned Media. Activate your past-guest database and include this messaging style in your email marketing. Better yet, segment guests that are susceptible to later bookings based on previous booking patterns and target them specifically.
3 – Control Your Messaging (and Spend…). Ensure there are shout-outs to the Campaign Landing Page on any suitable Paid Search campaigns, but make sure you’re not paying for service orientated traffic such as people looking for your Covid-19 policy etc. These people will find you on their own, so don’t pay for them. Keep an eye on low-converting campaigns and pause aggressively.
There’s a Sunny Summer Ahead.
The international travel market is going to be the loser of the second lockdown, with the resurgence of Covid-19 across Europe and further afield. Whilst the Summer domestic travel figures show confidence was there for UK based travel, the level of international trips has nowhere near recovered, with many airlines predicting full recoveries taking as long as 2023 or longer.
This will create the perfect storm of increased domestic demand and strained supply as people spurn flights in 2021 due to a lingering sense of malaise, combined with lower availability in the market. Hot-spot destinations such as Cornwall are already seeing an increase in bookings for 2021 beyond their usual levels, and this will spread over-time to other UK destinations too.
The two challenges facing agencies for Summer 2021 are how to fill your portfolio as cost effectively as possible, protecting against OTA commissions and some of the costlier direct marketing channels, whilst yield managing availability in a way that achieves additional revenue for high-demand times of the year.
So, whilst November might feel a little colder this year, it’s a chance to get yourself ready for a January booking rush. If you’re not sure how, then we’d love to talk.
About the Author:
Laurie Glover is a travel marketer with over a decade experience covering the MyFerryLink project for Groupe Eurotunnel through to leading the marketing team at Mulberry Cottages, an Awaze UK brand. He leads the Marketing Performance & Strategy team at Think One which work with a number of agencies in the holiday letting industry.