Could ‘sleighcation’ become East of England tourism’s next holiday frontier?

Pensthorpe Natural Park Christmas Market 2019 Photo: Steve Adams

Is the region ready to embark on a 'sleighcation' drive to lure visitors during the quieter months? - Credit: Steve Adams

East Anglian tourism businesses have seen a steep rise in early bookings for next year — as more holidaymakers take their eyes off far horizons to sample home-grown delights.

But everything now hinges on whether the region can sustain this momentum built up during extraordinary circumstances.

This year, heavy international travel restrictions provided the home-grown tourism industry with a much-needed shot in the arm following pandemic disruptions — and a captive customer base.

The question the industry is asking — and those concerned with the economy as a whole — is whether this new-found love of holidaying at home can be sustained.

Experts seem to think so — but there is work to be done. Tourists of today are demanding and expect a high quality of service and accommodation.

But there are many advantages to promote. “Staycations” — a term some tourism chiefs hate but which is here to stay — present an opportunity to learn more about your own country — and mean you don’t have to worry about long queues at an airport with young children in tow while you fret about whether your vaccination paperwork is in order.

Many hesitant holidaymakers have been more than pleasantly surprised at how enjoyable their UK stay has been.

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And interestingly, even with restrictions easing across tourism destinations around the world, research from Lowestoft-based holiday giant Hoseasons suggests UK holidaymakers are keen to explore more of what the UK has to offer.

It showed that of those who stayed in the East of England, 86% found their staycation met or exceeded their expectations, while a quarter said it improved their mental health.

But it appears there is room for improvement — with a fifth of those who stayed in this region suggesting better wifi was the single biggest thing which would have improved their experience.

More than a third (35%) liked helping local economies on their staycation in the region, and 80% are planning to staycation again in 2022.

Another heartening phenomenon for Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex businesses is that many will be looking to book their breaks during the less popular months.

More than half (54%) say their next staycation will be taken at some point between April and June while 33% saying it will happen in the summer. The figures suggest people are increasingly happy to go on book UK breaks out of peak season.

Their staycations enabled them to relive the simple pleasures — with fish and chips on the beach (36%) and building sandcastles (22%) among their most memorable moments, according to the Hoseasons poll.

The draw of the domestic is music to the ears of the industry, which is always on the lookout for ways to extend its appeal to the “shoulder months”. That brings in more revenue — and crucially, means that it can employ and attract a more permanent workforce.

With fierce competition for recruits, tourism bosses — where possible — need to shed their image as “seasonal-only” employers. 

Could “sleighcation” really become the next frontier for home-grown tourist businesses? 

For those involved in the sector, the signs are good. With one in five Brits surveyed already booking or considering a winter UK break, it appears that the staycation wave is set to continue.

Hoseasons’ parent company Awaze says bookings for summer 2022 are up 82% compared to where they were at this point in 2019 for summer 2020, and up 62% for the whole of 2022.

No wonder that a six-figure marketing campaign including TV ads by Hoseasons over September and October has focused on encouraging guests to “relive the good times”.
Awaze group chief commercial officer Simon Altham said the average Brit was now booking their staycation at least six months in advance to secure the best break and best properties.

The unprecedented demand has also prompted a steep rise in the number of lodge resort and holiday park owners looking to develop their offering and attract more customers. Hoseasons says its portfolio of new properties has more than doubled this year compared to the same point in 2019 as the trend continues.