Comment: 2018 and beyond

Graham Donoghue, chief executive of Sykes Holiday Cottages, gives his predictions for the UK travel sector in 2018, including a growth in glamping and experience-craving consumers.

Last year was the year of the British break. We saw bookings to our holiday homes in the UK and Ireland rise by 22% because of factors such as the weak pound and recent airline troubles.

Other longer-term trends are also driving growth – the shift towards Britons taking shorter, more frequent holidays, and the UK’s increasing popularity overseas, as demonstrated by VisitBritain’s figures released earlier this week.

Looking ahead, here are my five predictions for trends that will affect the UK travel sector throughout 2018 and beyond:

Importance of four-legged travelers

People’s pets are a consideration now more than ever before, and four-legged travellers (and their owners) are an important market for staycations.

We served more dogs than children in 2017, and predict a 23% growth in bookings with dogs this year. When you think about the emphasis UK tourism boards, operators and attractions place on selling to families, there is definitely room for the industry to shift some of this focus to promoting the UK’s dog-friendly destinations and credentials.

This could be further reinforced in 2019 if there’s no Brexit deal, as it may make travelling in the EU more difficult with pets.

Growth in unusual accommodation

Glamping is by no means a new phenomenon, but last year we saw a new type of customer book these breaks, with short trips to yurts, log cabins and shepherd’s huts increasing 20% year on year.

I expect this trend to continue throughout 2018 as families and an older demographic cotton on to the experiences available at these more unusual accommodation options, without compromising on comfort.

The supply of quality glamping accommodation is also on the up, as it’s becoming a popular lifestyle business for many entrepreneurs and a diversification option for farmers and landowners.

Families spending on luxury

The family market will drive demand for luxury UK breaks in 2018. As the weak pound is pricing families out of foreign holidays, we’ve seen spend on four-plus person holidays increase across our portfolio.

Hot tubs and swimming pools are holiday features that deliver reasonably-priced luxury that people can’t get at home. In fact, hot tub breaks are the second most searched-for term on our website, behind pet-friendly properties.

Skill and experience-based breaks

Consumers are increasingly craving new experiences, and UK accommodation providers are up against competition from operators offering a whole host of experiences across the globe. This year, staycationers will seek adventure, thanks in part to destinations like Snowdonia upping the ante with new action-packed attractions such as the world’s first inland surf lagoon and Europe’s first four-man zipline.

Travellers will also look to the UK for wellness breaks and to learn a new skill – be it surfing in Cornwall, orienteering in the Scottish Highlands or stargazing in the Brecon Beacons.

Girl power continues

In 2017, 63% of our bookings were made by women – up 10% on the previous year – and I believe this trend will continue. This should make tourism providers think more carefully about how they make their products and messaging more attractive to female bookers.

In terms of popular locations, I’m expecting the Lake District to bear the fruits of its UNESCO listing in 2018. The region has had a huge PR boost in Britain and abroad, which is already translating into an increase in bookings.

With all of the above considered, there’s probably never been a better time for anyone in the business of selling British breaks.