Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said he is ‘optimistic’ about the prospects for breaks in the warmer months, a comment that came after Health Secretary Matt Hancock predicted ‘a happy and free Great British summer’.
The UK’s beauty spots will be top of the list for people planning getaways – meaning the Peak District could be fully booked like never before this year.
"We are ready to be absolutely booming,” said Alistair Myers, who is waiting to properly open the new Rafters at Riverside House hotel with co-owner Tom Lawson, and business partners John and Alexandra Hill, when lockdown eases.
The Grade II-listed 14-bedroom venue, at Ashford-in-the-Water near Bakewell, has a restaurant and bar to complement Alistair and Tom’s longstanding Rafters restaurant in Nether Green, Sheffield. A soft launch took place in October, but the latest shutdown has left potential guests ‘a little bit nervous’, Alistair said.
"We've got a few bookings but people have been very cautious about re-booking – we lost lots at Christmas, the diary filled back up, and then the third lockdown was announced,” he said. “This time people seem to be waiting for a bit more government advice.”
Research has indicated that British holidays are becoming increasingly attractive. In November, the UK Travel Intelligence Report found that 29 per cent of the population expect to travel abroad less in future – 68 per cent said Covid-19 had impacted the way in which they will travel generally, while over a third of the UK population will be going on fewer cruise holidays, the study revealed.
“I think people are going to want to stay in the UK, the reaction we've had to having the hotel is really positive,” said Alistair. “Because of the hotel we are – a kind of luxury couples' retreat with a great meal – if they did have restrictions on restaurant sizes and so on we would still be great. I'm predicting we might be able to open some hospitality towards May.”
And the enforced closure has afforded Rafters the chance to fine-tune some aspects of the hotel operation.
“It's given us the opportunity to reflect on it and add little tweaks and quirks that were perhaps in the plan to do later down the line,” said Alistair. “That's a good thing. We can get the menus right, look at how we do breakfast – breakfast is a huge thing that people forget about in a hotel.”
Meanwhile Sue Jackson, who runs Peak District Holiday Cottages which has properties at Chelmorton and Monyash, said she fielded a sudden rush of enquiries on the last weekend of January.
“Having said that, we're quite well booked up already,” said Sue. “One of the reasons is the bookings that didn't happen last year have deferred to this year, we've moved people across. Some of the main holiday dates, and bank holidays, are already filled well in advance. I'm fully booked for Easter if we're open, but who knows at the moment.”
The Peak District, she said, has a timeless ‘great outdoors’ appeal. “There's walking and cycling, and you can bring the dogs to us. But then we've got some nice villages as well for people who want to have a potter around and a drink. I always think there's something for everybody.”
Rental specialist Cottages.com, which sells accommodation in the Peak Park as well as across the UK, had more than 8,000 bookings over the weekend of January 30 and 31, setting consecutive record booking days. Almost half of the holidays sold were for the prime months of July and August.
The firm’s ‘all-time greatest sales day’, on the Sunday, was up nearly 20 per cent on Cottages.com’s previous record set last June when Boris Johnson lifted UK travel restrictions at the end of the first national lockdown.
Simon Altham, group chief operating officer at Cottages.com’s parent company Awaze, said: "These are astonishing figures. We saw a rapid increase in bookings off the back of the tightening of European travel restrictions, and that momentum only gathered pace.
"People clearly want something to look forward to and a future holiday, when it is safe to travel again, is perfect for helping to get through the cold winter months during lockdown. It's no surprise they have reacted to Mr Hancock's comments and rushed to lock in a Great British summer break."
However, Sue Jackson believes it is unlikely domestic holidays could replace foreign travel for good.
“Probably people would have their holiday in the Peak District but still have their holiday abroad anyway. We'd be the long weekend break for them. No matter what, you'll get a percentage of people who are desperate to get on that beach, you'll always get that fraternity.”
Alistair has a similar view, and thinks summer 2021 might imprint Rafters at Riverside House on weekend travellers’ memories in a lasting way.
“That couple from London who might go and have a weekend in Derbyshire... if we play our cards right, we can make that as much a part of their annual holiday experience as having two weeks in Dubai. We've got a really loyal following. Let's be honest, is there a better place in the world to go on a nice walking holiday than in Derbyshire? We've got rooms that have got direct access to our gardens. You can come back muddy and get in your room - then sit down and have a fine dining dinner.”