May half-term holiday prices soar as Visit Kent reveals county lost £2billion of tourism spending in 2020

Fancy booking a May half-term holiday to celebrate lockdown measures being eased? Then expect to pay the same price as you would during the peak summer months.

The government's roadmap out of lockdown will allow self-catering accommodation for single household families from April 12 - assuming infection rates do not start to rise again.

It's cheaper to stay for a week in August at Haven on Hoo than in the May half-term
It's cheaper to stay for a week in August at Haven on Hoo than in the May half-term

Although that will miss the Easter holidays it does allow families the chance to plan a break during the May half-term - which this year for most schools in the county falls between May 29 to June 6.

But the huge surge in demand has seen prices for many breaks during the week match that of the traditionally top-priced summer months.

If you wanted to book seven nights at Haven's Allhallows holiday park near Hoo - and benefit from the on-site entertainment and swimming pool - then all four-person caravans have sold out for the May half-term. But stretch to a three-bedroom one, capable of accommodating six people arriving on Saturday, May 29 and you'll be looking at paying £1,154.90 for a stay in their standard new model. Compare that with the same accommodation arriving on Saturday, August 7 and you'll be paying £1,060.48 - that's nearly £100 less for a peak summer week.

Looking elsewhere, a two-bed cottage in Eastling, near Faversham, through Mulberry Cottages, will cost £661 for the half-term - the same price as the peak summer months.

Meanwhile, a two-bedroom house near Meopham, booking through, will set a family of four back £815 for the half-term week. That's more than £300 higher than four weeks earlier and just £20 cheaper than the first week of August.

A week at Allhallows for May will cost you £1,154.90
A week at Allhallows for May will cost you £1,154.90

If a week in Tunbridge Wells is more appealing, then Sykes Cottages is offering a one-bedroom ground floor flat for £843 for half-term - but book it for a week on August 21 and it will cost just £780.

While price fluctuations are not unusual, and many venues consider the late May half-term one of the prime getaway slots on the calendar, it will leave many families struggling to afford a break.

It is a trend which has been seen nationwide with one holiday cottage owner saying the holiday firm she dealt with had hiked prices for her property - for which she had no control - from £459 to £1,145.

A spokesman for Sykes Cottages said its pricing system "automatically sets prices based on availability and demand", while Haven admitted prices had risen - but said some claims made on social media about price hikes had been "exaggerated".

Deirdre Wells is chief executive of Visit Kent, the agency which promotes the county to an international and domestic audience.

The same caravan in August is cheaper than the May dates
The same caravan in August is cheaper than the May dates

She said the price hikes were to be expected.

She explained: "It's a supply and demand issue. Prices tend to be higher in peak times and there are deals to be done at other times of the year.

"The key thing is it’s great to see the demand coming back and from a customer perspective, making sure the business has a good cancellation policy is essential so you can book with some confidence."

According to the roadmap, April 12 will also be the earliest date for the reopening of outdoor attractions such as theme parks and zoos. However, they will still be subject to social distancing guidelines - which will mean operating at reduced capacity.

It's certainly been a punishing 12 months for the tourism industry in the county.

Deirdre Wells, CEO of Visit Kent
Deirdre Wells, CEO of Visit Kent

Visit Kent estimates the drop in visitors last year as the world went into lockdown came at enormous cost to the local economy.

She explains: "The last year of normal figures was in 2019 and that was a record year. It saw tourism generate £4.1billion of spending and 66 million visitors.

"We'll be doing a full robust analysis this year, but all the indications are that the footfall and revenue loss was about 50% in 2020. So you're talking about losing £2bn out of the Kent economy last year which is really difficult for businesses.

"They've burnt through most of their reserves, the furlough scheme has kept the industry on life-support for the last few months and collectively we want to see that support sustained."

Remarkably, the county fared better than the national average, which saw tourism figures drop 66%. And the road to recovery isn't going to be fast either.

A Visit Kent tourism poster from an era before the pandemic
A Visit Kent tourism poster from an era before the pandemic

"Our estimate is it will be 2024 before we get back to pre-pandemic levels," the Visit Kent CEO says. "We could get lucky, but that's what we're planning for."

Little wonder, then, that at the first sign of being able to reopen, popular spots are looking to cash in.

Especially as many of us remain cautious about making trips amid continued concerns over the health risk.

Ms Wells added: "Last year the world divided itself into three equal groups; those who would go somewhere the minute they were able to; those who took a wait and see approach; and those who wouldn't go anywhere for about a year.

"Slightly worrying is that recent data from the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions, following a survey in February, revealed now 20% would bust a gut to go somewhere as soon as it opened, 40% were sitting and waiting and 40% were not going anywhere for at least a year.

Dreamland in Margate recently announced it would not reopen until social distancing guidelines were relaxed
Dreamland in Margate recently announced it would not reopen until social distancing guidelines were relaxed

"People are understandably quite nervous, particularly as we had so many stop-starts last year."

But there is a growing sense of optimism, despite the consumer confidence issues. Albeit cautious.

Much has been said of many households sitting on disposable income which they are eager to spend - both domestically and internationally when the opportunity presents itself. And with international travel still experiencing uncertainty due to infection rates abroad and possible quarantine arrangements, it is likely the bulk of holidays this year will be domestic.

The Visit Kent boss added: "As we're on London's doorstep, if people are still feeling nervous about travelling too far, we're here."

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