European hotel operators are refusing British bookings over fears that last-minute changes to the UK government’s travel rules will lead to cancellations, according to an industry leader.
“Hoteliers are turning away bookings from the UK in August because they don’t trust us – and European travellers are taking our beds and availability,” Noel Josephides, director of Aito, the Specialist Travel Association, and chairman of tour operator Sunvil, told the Telegraph.
Continued uncertainty around the government’s traffic light system for travel has undermined consumer confidence, with holidaymakers wary of booking foreign holidays.
As a result, there have been a number of cases where European hotels have refused to honour agreements that allocate rooms in advance to British operators, instead releasing them to competitors or the local market.
“Where we have commitments, they’ve said, ‘We’re not getting enough bookings, we’ll have to cancel the commitment’,” Josephides told the Independent.
“They take back ownership of the rooms and we have to request them [as our bookings come through].”
Even in the majority of cases, in which European hotels are willing honour those commitments, British operators unable to fill the rooms are having to release them anyway.
“People have become more and more nervous because of the mixed messages from government,” said Josephides.
As a result, whatever the outcomes of the UK government’s traffic light update on Thursday, it will be too late for many Brits hoping to holiday in Europe this August.
There are currently five categories into which countries can be placed – green, green watchlist, amber, amber plus, and red – and countries can be moved between categories at very short notice, leading to confusion over the rules among consumers.
Even if the government were to simplify the rules tomorrow and strip back the system to three categories, as has been suggested by government sources, there’s little tour operators can do as far as August bookings are concerned, said Josephides.
“Those beds are gone,” he said. “The hotels cannot wait for the UK market, the hoteliers don’t hang around, they’ve given up waiting. We’re the last in the queue.”
The situation is particularly acute for specialist tour operators, Josephides said, because they tend to send customers to smaller hotels.
As independent businesses who are themselves suffering from the financial challenges caused by the pandemic, these hotels cannot afford to keep rooms for British operators at the expense of confirmed bookings from elsewhere.
British operators are left with no option but to “scrabble around trying to place a booking because we need to send people [on holiday]. It’s very scrappy, it’s very difficult,” said Josephides.
It’s not just uncertainty in the UK that’s to blame – with local consumers in European destinations also wary of foreign travel, hotels on the continent are seeing an influx in domestic bookings.
While British tour operators might find it difficult to secure accommodation for customers this summer, independent travellers booking directly with hotels shouldn’t be too affected by these availability issues, said Josephides: “An independent traveller is unlikely to have a problem because they tend to pay more and hotels are taking deposits in advance.”
For the tour operators whose livelihoods depend on British consumers taking to the skies this summer, every day of uncertainty “costs thousands of bookings,” he added. “This is the most fast moving and dynamic industry and it’s based on the public’s confidence to travel.
“People are waiting for the Thursday announcement.”