While it’s certainly not the biggest of questions we’re all facing right now, as summer approaches, it’s one many people are asking – when can I safely book a hotel or a holiday in 2020? Who would have thought that it would even be a consideration just a few weeks ago, but hopefully here’s a few answers and things to consider as we all plan for the ‘new normal’, post-COVID-19.
Each country is moving at its own pace as the implications of the coronavirus and how we safely ease ourselves out of the lockdown play themselves out. So, here’s a couple of obvious points to kick-off with…
The UK has outlined its plan to open up the hospitality industry from 4th July and hotels are preparing to dip their toe in the water. Premier Inn in the UK, for example, has had some post-lockdown room rates published for some time and likes of the UK Bed & Breakfast Association and Lastminute.com have reported a significant rise in bookings for July dates and beyond (albeit against a very low starting point). Likewise, around Europe, governments are opening things up in time for the Summer.
Again, not a surprise, but how countries ease these restrictions will need to be monitored closely by the would-be traveller. At present, for whichever country you really care to mention, some social distancing rules will still apply, with most shops and services operating at a reduced capacity so that they comply. International travel is still advised to be for essential journeys only (UK Govt.).
Clearly, the situation is changing rapidly wherever you are in the world, so here are some tips for booking a hotel for dates in July and beyond.
The Stay-cation is likely to be the number one option in 2020 – currently most new 'extended-stay' bookings are for destinations within 90 mins of home (according to one of the largest hotel platform providers, Siteminder). If you're considering any kind of break somewhere in the UK, best get booking right now.
Meanwhile, all is not lost for those desperate to get somewhere hot. It's expected that so-called 'air bridges' - agreements between countries not to impose quarantine on passengers travelling between those countries - will be announced in July. In the UK this is likely to mean agreements with a number of European nations including France, Italy, Spain, Greece and Germany in first instance, with other countries to follow. Clearly, there is still a risk in booking a trip abroad (a surge in new COVID-19 cases - the dreaded 'second spike' - could cause a localised lockdown at your intended destination), but it's looking a lot more possible now.
The advice within the sector is not to drop headline room rates. This is not because the hotels don’t care about affordability, it’s because safety is the primary concern for guests potentially looking to travel, not the cost. With hotel businesses already on a knife-edge, dropping their prices too much could end them quickly, well before they reach a point where the number of guests staying becomes sustainable again.
So, when you find a hotel you like, don’t wait to see if prices come down - why not just contact them directly and make them offer on the room for your preferred dates? They may pleasantly surprise you. Otherwise, see what additional extras you can get thrown in for free – the hotel wants you to come and have a great stay.
Very important. When the lockdown first occurred most online travel agents like booking.com and Expedia declared a period of ‘force majeure’, meaning the standard booking terms & conditions (“T&Cs”) were suspended and refunds were given to all because travel became impossible.
That period is now over and, depending on whom you book through, you are less likely to get a refund on a new booking purely because of COVID-19 issues (for example, with booking.com, that means any new bookings since 6thApril).
Nevertheless, hotels are looking to offer more flexible terms where they can and the likes of Expedia has automatically extended a 24hr cancellation policy to all future bookings until further notice (the hotel has to manually opt out of that policy if they don’t want it to apply).
Hotels need guests and want to be helpful, so double-check with the hotel if you can – the situation is continually changing and online details may not be up to date.
Social distancing and other safety measures at your hotel might mean you doing more for yourself while you are occupying your room to avoid unnecessary contact. It could potentially be making your own bed or limitations on housekeeping or room-service.
Do specific checks on your intended method of travel / country / destination to understand what rules need to be observed. For example, wearing masks is currently obligatory on Eurostar’s service from London to Paris and Brussels, and if you’re flying, there may soon be additional checks and other requirements to be complied with pre-flight. Basically, don’t get caught out for want of a bit of research.
It could be because of a return to more restrictions if the lockdown relaxation doesn’t work, or because the travel business you booked with has gone out of business, but some kind of back-stop to help you get your money back is obvious if the worst does happen.
Check your insurance policy – most new policies being issued now won’t cover the impact caused by the Coronavirus.
Look for industry association protection (ATOL/ABTA in the UK) and also check with your credit card company which may provide insurance for these types purchases.
For UK travellers, this is a useful guide.
Bookings are happening now. Hotels in the UK can take paying guests from 4th July and tourism businesses have been told they can take bookings from 13th July. Here's a list of what is now possible under the new rules in the UK.
The message is clear - you can expect a rush of bookings for your intended hotel from here on, so have your choice(s) lined up and be ready to book as soon as possible.
Hotels need guests desperately and many will be struggling to survive – a smile and some understanding from both sides will help ensure your stay is a great one and, its own way, unlike any other.
Stay safe everyone!