‘Prices are ridiculous’: UK holiday costs more than Europe as demand grows

Summer travel saga means people are booking up UK cottages and campsites as owners cash in

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When Donna Brunton started looking for a backup UK holiday, fearing her family’s £2,500 all-in trip to a four-star beach hotel in Malta would not go ahead, she almost fell off her chair when she saw the prices.

“A holiday park in north Cornwall was quoting £3,699 for the four of us to stay seven nights, self-catering in what looks like an upmarket caravan. The only sites available were all thousands of pounds. I just couldn’t believe what I was seeing – the prices were just ridiculous,” said Donna, a nurse from Consett, County Durham.

As the on-off-on summer travel saga continues, the prospects for holidaying at home are looking financially ruinous.

Cottage owners, hotels, campsites and Airbnb hosts are cashing in on a captive market as millions scramble for the last remaining vacancies. With prices soaring, holidaymakers are in the grip of a staycation inflation spiral.

Even before the government pulled Portugal from the list of green (non-quarantine) countries it was near impossible to find reasonably priced accommodation in popular resorts. The holiday lets firm Sykes Cottages set the tone for the year when it was accused in February of doubling some charges by the chairman of the south-west Tourism Alliance, Alistair Handyside – himself a cottage owner.

Center Parcs ran into a storm over its summer pricing and was accused of charging more than it would cost for a family of four to visit the Caribbean. However, that hasn’t stopped both companies from largely selling out this summer, such has been the demand from those desperate to get away for their first holiday in two years.

According to the holiday-let data analysts, AirDNA, summer accommodation prices in Cornwall were 30% higher for July this year compared with 2019 – £135 average a night – even before everything sold out.

Those visiting “bracing” Skegness this July will pay an average nightly rate of £120 – £35 a night more than in 2019 – which amounts to a 40% increase. Prices in Pembrokeshire, Wales, are up 27% this year.

Guardian research has found hotels that charged £120 a night in 2019 are now demanding £150-£175, with those in popular destinations having all but sold out for most of the school holidays.

Caravan parks, traditionally the budget end of the market, do have availability but will typically cost £1,800 for a seven-night family-of-four stay in August – even in unfashionable Lowestoft.

The car-hire specialist insurer iCarhireinsurance.com said this week that rental prices have more than doubled at several UK destinations this summer as consumers tried to avoid public transport – adding to the sense of gloom among those stuck at home, but without a booking.

“We are supposed to be flying to Malta on 22 July but being a nurse I can’t afford to isolate when we get back,” said Brunton. “I was also concerned at the cost of the Covid testing, which is going to be £1,200 for the four of us – that was until I saw the prices of staying in the UK.

“I mean, how can it cost over £1,000 more to stay in a self-catering Cornish holiday park than in a four-star hotel beside the beach in Malta – including flights to get there and all the meals thrown in? It would have taken us seven hours to drive to Cornwall and I’d have been cooking and cleaning just as at home. In the end I booked a week in a hotel in Chester and a few other nights in Glasgow and York. However, once a few meals out and other costs are added in I can see it costing about the same as our last decent holiday – to Jamaica. It’s madness,” she said.

But the surge in demand has a silver lining – it has turned some holidaymakers into hosts: an increasing number of people have decided to cash in on their home’s location by advertising it on Airbnb.

In Great Yarmouth, on Norfolk’s east coast, the number of active listings on Airbnb is 43% higher than at the same time last year, and up 34% in Scarborough, according to AirDNA. Landlords in some popular seaside destinations have not been renewing contracts of their long-term tenants, offering their homes on Airbnb instead.

Rory Boland, Which? Travel Editor, says there are UK holidays to be had if you avoid the coast and the other most popular destinations.

“Looking to other parts of the country,” said Boland, “will likely mean finding a cheaper holiday, and more choice over where to stay – you could also find fewer crowds too.”

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