I fought the law, but not on holiday 

The law’s a funny thing. Actually, as residents of the UK have been finding this week, it’s not so funny after all, but, it turns out, it doesn’t apply to everyone at the same time, which is something of a twist.

But we’re not here to point out obvious facts about people who make laws possibly needing to also keep them. There are only a few people who would argue this position and if you’re very lucky you don’t know them, can continue to avoid them and will eventually be able to vote them out of office.

But sticking on the lockdown restrictions for just a moment, they weren’t only fun for those who chose to ignore them and eat cake, they were good for the UK and its domestic holiday market (and other countries, but you’ll have to bear with some parochialism today).

For a decent part of two summers, it has been either difficult or impossible to leave the country on holiday, at a time when holidays have been very much required. This led to a jamboree of Sunday colour supplements talking about the rediscovery of fish and chips on the beach, Chanel featuring hiking boots with its bags and an absolute boom in ADR for those willing to pass on long-term customer loyalty.

This we know and this we are seeing pushing a series of deals in the sector. This week Sky News reported that Apollo Global Management was ‘plotting a £2bn takeover of Parkdean Resorts as it seeks a slice of Britain’s staycations boom’, having pipped Bourne Leisure to the post. The same Bourne Leisure which was also sold, along with Roompot and Sandaya, with rumours about Center Parcs and Forest Holidays.

Lack of supply, as well as the demand, is pushing transaction prices up. As Ben Harper, Group Managing Director at Watergate Bay Hotel, Beach Retreats and Another Place, writes here:

“The UK market has not kept pace with the demands of the leisure traveller and it is an inconsistent landscape; there isn’t enough supply, or the brands, to serve them all.

Despite the upsurge in international travel (which I welcome), and the obvious macro headwinds, I think that there is an opportunity to expand, to meet those demands and to raise the level of offering throughout the UK.”

And that brings us back to the law. Unless we are very unlucky indeed with the pandemic, this summer will mean a return to the freedom to get a budget airline wherever we wish. 

Or will it? The Easter break has been marred by images of travellers stuck at airports for 30 hours, with the delays blamed on Border Force staff being cut during the pandemic and not rehired. The pool for this rehiring is significantly smaller because of Brexit. So, as Lucy Moreton, from the Immigration Services Union, told the BBC this week, Border Force is “catastrophically under-staffed” and the summer is looking like more of those 30-hour delays.

Will people look at that and decide to stay at home? It seems more than likely. People really, REALLY want to avoid hassle at the moment. So that’s great for the domestic leisure sector. 

But hotels in the UK cannot live on domestic leisure alone. For the sector to thrive – amidst cost increases, VAT increases, the myriad pressures it faces – it needs to see the return of the corporate market. And the corporate market will not come back if it has to queue for 30 hours at Manchester airport. 

As I write this, Grant Shapps, Secretary of State for Transport, was doing the morning news round. But not talking about how he was going to get transport  – his job – moving again. He was defending his boss. With distractions like this from the real job at hand, it’s going to be another summer of sub-par performance, from hotels and politicians alike. 

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