Feet on sand from John Speers 13 May 2021

Time to get on the front foot before it’s too late – Board Member, John Speers, reports on the session with Eva Stewart of YouGov

This week as part of the Tourism Society’s Big Thinkers Big Themes series we had the pleasure of hosting Eva Stewart, YouGov Head of Travel & Tourism, sharing brand new data following last Friday’s government announcement. YouGov have at their fingertips a continuous real-time stream from 150,000 UK individuals, and their Destination Index and Global Travel Profiles are the deepest and most robust strategic planning tools for destinations from 11 million travellers across 55 countries.

To open up, we witnessed an entire year mapping the happiness, stress and frustrations of the UK public correlating with the pandemic, the government’s reaction, and subsequent impact on travel. A sobering reminder and a graph even the most daunting rollercoasters in the world can’t compete with.
Generally, ‘UK apathy’ was at an all-time high in January and February this year – we all felt it didn’t we? But since then, contentment and confidence has been on the rise and it’s great to see the mood of the nation at its happiest right now at 45% – surpassing all of last year’s peaks and troughs as we rode through the storm.

It was also great to confirm what we’ve been hearing this year: that the desire for domestic holiday has been on the rise since February to now almost 6 out of 10 people wanting to commit to a UK staycation.

But there’s a caution here. The latest May figures suggest a slight tailing off as the prospect of travel overseas raises its head slightly over the parapet. There is a fear that a domestic boom may fade as greater confidence in international travel kicks in.

It was also great to see the perception of ‘health risks’ preventing travel recede from 59% of the population in January 2021 to 39% in May. Likewise, the negative impact of travel restrictions is dipping since February – presumably as people become more used to the ‘chop and change’ and ‘holiday roulette’. Now, it appears, is the right time to convince people and convert the pent-up demand. But that needs confidence, commitment and marketing drive from the industry, otherwise a good proportion of the UK public will ‘wait and see’ and sit on the fence – potentially all summer.

A clear talking point was the limited number of countries on the ‘green list’. Eva, with YouGov’s fast polling, had captured the UK’s attitude to these with 76% just not interested in going to the current green destinations. Indeed, with restrictions, testing, cost and general hassle it appears only about a third of the UK think it’s worth going to any green list country.

So, we have a huge opportunity to make sure the UK industry gets the public out and enjoying their own ‘backyard’. It seems whilst many have committed, there’s a significant proportion still waiting to be tipped over the edge, and it’s up to the industry to do so.

It was noted that ‘outstanding natural beauty’ was a key driver to convince people to get out there, but this was tipped by the No.1 travel driver being ‘value for money’. With coverage of UK price hikes, great care is needed not to price the UK out of the market with the increasing probability and now reality of international travel this summer. We have the opportunity to showcase the best of the UK in the best way at the best price, otherwise that Airbnb in Croatia with a different cultural experience at lower cost and more reliable weather will inevitably be more attractive.

Eva also reported younger travellers were significantly keener to holiday internationally, with double the 18-24-year-olds wanting to go to a green list country compared to over-50s. The difference is actually significant between under and over 50, so it comes down (as always) to knowing your customers and targeting the right people in the right ways. An offer to younger travellers to get overseas with value for money and the open spaces they’ve been denied will naturally hit the mark when they’re allowed to travel. Just don’t play the waiting game – get targeting and marketing to get people to commit now and (with flexible terms) they’ll love you for it. You never hear of the fun people have sitting on the fence, do you?

Perhaps we’ve been getting too good at waiting, but now is the time to lead ourselves out. The sentiment towards travel in the broad media seems always too keenly negative. We spoke about the contrast with the US, where greater confidence and a more proactive marketing-led push has, in large part, led to an accelerated travel recovery there. It’s time to get on the front foot in the UK if we are to get our customers to do the same. If the industry wavers, then can we really be surprised if the public does the same?

We have vaccines, we have a beautiful backyard coming into the right season, and we have international travel slowly opening. Now is the time to go hard to get those sitting on the fence to commit. Putting it bluntly, there’s millions of people sitting on billions of saved funds wanting to spend it. We know they can travel, they know they can, so it’s down to us to get them blinking out of lockdown into the sunlight and having fun. It’s what we all need right now, isn’t it?

Report by John Speers, Board Director of The Tourism Society and Owner of wearekemosabe.com.