Since March 2020, market research specialist Market Measures has been running its own Covid-19 tracker survey to monitor the evolving mood of the nation throughout the pandemic. Charting the attitudes of the population toward the hospitality and tourism industry from March 2020 through to February 21, 2021, Market Measures notes that holiday breaks are in high demand and a domestic tourism boom could offset some of the losses from the previous year. Meanwhile, with the extent to which we miss restaurants, pubs and coffee shops growing through lockdown, it is hoped that the pent-up demand could be enough to save businesses in the hospitality sector, but a decline in our comfort visiting such venues and a growing appetite to work from home may see some venues suffer.
As of February 21, one day prior to Prime Minister Boris Johnson revealing his roadmap out of lockdown, 28 per cent of UK households had a holiday booked for 2021 according to the survey, with a near even split between those planning to remain in the UK for their breaks [15 per cent] and those hoping to go abroad.
A total 51 per cent of all households either have their holiday book or are planning to book one this year, and an even split persists between those wishing to remain in the UK and venture overseas. When probing attitudes toward taking a holiday in 2021, 75 per cent of households earmarked a holiday break as a top priority, either in the UK or abroad.
Commenting on these findings, Market Measures CEO John Gurd told The Leaders Council: “Of course with regards to these findings, time will tell how strict the travel and quarantine rules will be and whether international travel and holidays return to anything like the levels seen pre-coronavirus. Despite all of the optimism of a June 21 UK exit from all restrictions, this does seem unlikely in the short to medium term because we must consider the state of play in other countries.
“Therefore, we are potentially seeing an opportunity for a huge boost in domestic tourism, which could enjoy a bumper 2021 to offset the losses of the previous year.”
The numbers certainly appear to support Gurd’s assertion. 74 per cent of households as of February 21 reported that they “don’t like the idea of leaving the UK” at the present time, while a further 66 per cent added that they felt “there’s no point even thinking about an overseas holiday this year”. 55 per cent responded that they are perfectly happy to keep their holiday break within the UK.
With an upsurge in domestic tourism likely when restrictions do come to be relaxed, there will be much hope among the hospitality industry that the pent-up demand to attend venues like pubs, restaurants and coffee shops will see the sector cash-in on the enthusiasm to “holiday at home”. However, while most people miss frequenting hospitality venues, keenness and comfort when visiting have nosedived since the first lockdown.
After the first lockdown [which occurred from March 23, 2020 to May 10, 2020], 83 per cent of respondents told Market Measures that they were keen to visit a hospitality venue. By the end of the second national lockdown [which ran from November 1 last year to December 2], that number had dropped to 51 per cent. That figure remained unmoved by February 21, 2021, after the third lockdown which began on January 4.
As keenness to visit hospitality venues declined, the level of comfort fell in correlation with it. Following the first lockdown, 59 per cent of respondents reported that they would feel comfortable attending a hospitality venue. This tailed off to 40 per cent as of December 2, and 33 per cent by February 21.
Yet, as the weeks of lockdown weigh upon the extent to which the population misses such venues, Gurd remains optimistic that by the time they are allowed to reopen, some demand will have built up which will enable them to benefit from a domestic holiday boost.
Gurd said: “We also found that during the third lockdown, 51 per cent of people missed casual dining restaurants, 49 per cent missed coffee shops, pubs and bars, and a further 36 per cent fast food restaurants. We can deduce, therefore, that there is still some keenness out there that the industry can benefit from by the time restrictions are lifted.”
Highlighting the low number of respondents especially looking forward to visiting fast food venues, Gurd suggested that a rising number of families purchasing takeaway meals may offset demand when restrictions are eased.
“According to the tracker survey, the nation has reluctantly gotten used to not going out, with takeaway meals seeing a significant and continuing rise in popularity since the start of the pandemic. The percentage of households ordering takeaways frequently has gone up from 42 per cent during the first lockdown, to 60 per cent during the second and third lockdowns.”
As well as potentially depending on domestic tourists for some much-needed respite, Gurd added that what becomes of local office workers may also prove to be a crucial factor in how well hospitality can bounce back.
“The majority of office workers do not expect to be back in workplaces any time soon with three in four office workers saying they want to work from home at least on a part-time basis post-pandemic. Younger office workers in the 16 to 34 age range believe they are the least likely to return with 80 per cent expressing a preference to work from home, compared to 71 per cent aged 35-54 and 74 per cent of over 55s.
“Furthermore, more people in the south of England prefer home-working to attending physical offices. 82 per cent of southern office workers said they would prefer to work from home, compared to 66 per cent in the Midlands and 68 per cent in the north of the country. Higher income workers are also more inclined to work from home, with 79 per cent expressing it as their preference.
“So, it could be uncertain times for many city and town centre outlets and in the immediate future, there will remain tough times ahead as hospitality will remain closed until April for outdoor operators, and May for the rest.”