STAA vice chair warns of “catastrophic” drop in consumer demand

UK: Representatives from the UK hospitality industry, including the vice chair of the UK Short Term Accommodation Association, Jean-Philippe Monod, have warned peers on the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee of concerning drops in consumer demand after the end of the summer holiday season, particularly in urban destinations.

Speaking in Tuesday’s session alongside UK Hospitality CEO Kate Nicholls and Scottish Tourism Alliance chief executive Marc Crothall, Monod, who is also vice-president of government and corporate affairs at Expedia Group, told the committee that tourism figures indicated there had been a “significant decline in searches and bookings” since the peak holiday season earlier in the summer.

He said: “We’re seeing the demand go down significantly. We see that the peak, that little boost that we’ve had is now over.”

Both Monod and Nicholls acknowledged the state of tourism in urban areas such as London as “catastrophically low for this time of year” due to the lack of an influx of tourists from abroad, commuters, and visitors for large-scale events.

Monod said: “Urban areas have suffered significantly and we’re now seeing the demand go down significantly. There were some good parts, but they were pockets of good, and they were spread in the non-urban areas.”

Nicholls echoed his concerns, saying that while rural, non-urban destinations by the coast had prospered over the summer months, cities had struggled to attract their usual numbers of tourists due to worries of catching the coronavirus and strict social distancing measures.

She said: “There was a move to the rural, the coastal, the fresh air, and less so the towns and city centres.”

The UK Hospitality CEO cited the government’s Eat Out to Help Out scheme as having been a “boost to consumer confidence” even though positive Covid-19 cases have risen again sharply in recent weeks. However, she said the government had been guilty of “counterbalancing messages” when it came to implementing the “rule of six” [whereby groups of more than six people cannot meet up indoors or outdoors] as this had caused a “dampening down of consumer confidence”.

Similarly, Monod called on the government to be transparent and forward with the British public when it came to implementing more measures and restoring consumer confidence once again.

He said: “That is a point I’d like to stress; the traveller confidence that we’re seeing, that has gone down. The evidence in our system is that bookings are pretty much all made in the zero to 21 day timeframe, which means that consumers don’t have that confidence.”

In order to allow the market to stabilise, Monod urged the government to halt blanket quarantine requirements from other countries, and instead provide more clarity on testing and safe lanes into the UK for the foreseeable future.

In the meantime, Nicholls told Travel Pulse Canada that although the mood in UK hospitality was “relatively buoyant”, industry officials were not expecting tourism to return to pre-pandemic levels from 2019 until 2022 or even 2023.

In August, the STAA warned that despite the positive response it had had to bookings this summer, since reopening on 4 July, that in itself would not rescue the sector from the severe threat of closures as the high season came to a close when children returned to school.

A week prior to that, figures published by the Office for National Statistics [ONS] showed that the hospitality sector was hit worse than any other sector by the Covid-19 pandemic, which coincided with the UK falling into recession for the first time since the 2008 financial crash.