The United Kingdom is a spectacle of history and culture, tradition and possibility. Its beauty stretches from southern white cliffs to the untamed northern Highlands, ancient stone monoliths to dramatic medieval castles. Small but influential, regal and bursting with historical influence, the United Kingdom defies a single definition.
Not surprisingly, interest in the UK has continued throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, and we wanted to continue our Stories in the Field series by sharing a conversation we recently had with one of our Zicasso partners.
Based in Pembrokeshire, Wales, Neil and his wife Zoe have spent decades in the travel industry as hoteliers, restaurateurs, and now with their own boutique travel agency. Along with one of their travel specialists, Alex, Neil joined our Zicasso office team for a conversation over Zoom. From unexpected countryside charms to the emergence of winemaking, there is much in this conversation that might surprise you!
With the recent announcement of a path to re-opening for England to domestic travel, there is hope that international travelers will soon be welcomed. If the number of Trip Requests coming into Zicasso is any indication, the United Kingdom is sure to come out of lockdown into incredibly high demand from travelers all over the world.
“There is a lot of optimism across the venues, and bookings are extraordinary,” Neil shared.
As citizens of England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales begin to look ahead to future plans, properties and attractions are already preparing. And with them, so are local travelers.
“Domestic tourism will be huge in Europe this year, so you need to make plans,” Neil says. “Some of the best properties we work with are 95% booked through November 2021 at the moment.”
The United Kingdom may have a reputation for pints and pubs but the familiar flavors around the British Isles have expanded to the surprise of many international visitors. It isn’t just celebrity chefs who have changed the food scene across England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Local chefs, restaurants, and accommodations celebrate traditional, local ingredients in places you may have never imagined, giving you a brand new place to explore and brand new experiences to enjoy far beyond your expectations.
“New and exciting local food producers are popping up everywhere,” adds Neil. “From little bakeries to farmers diversifying into food products, everyone is setting up. Demand for local food is so high that people feel empowered, and many talented local people are starting new ventures. The quality of food everywhere in the UK is outstanding right now.”
“There is a myth that British food and wine is bland. Its much more exciting that traditional Fish and chips these days. The quality of produce coming from these isles is brilliant and chefs feel blessed with the breadth of choice from the smallest artisan producers. Just this morning, I am able to walk up the hill from my home to the local dairy for some milk at the farm gate vending machine” shared Alex. “I feel so inspired that everything is so fresh and local.”
Vineyards are also developing at pace across the UK with the South Downs in Sussex, just south of London quickly developing a reputation for some of the best sparkling wine in the world. A wide variety of grapes are now being grown supported by world class modern wine making facilities. “It’s thrilling to see so many vineyards establishing themselves in the south of England and the west country, even Wales is joining the British wine making revolution. Sitting alongside local micro cider, spirit distilleries and beer brewers, eating and drinking product local to a region is now a key part of the traveling experience in these isles.” Neil said. “For our travelers, great food and warm hospitality is at the heart of an exceptional journey.”
Related: Recommended sample tour - The Grand Tour of Great Britain
As a hotelier himself, Neil brings a unique perspective to what is happening with vacation accommodation across the UK. “Availability is absolutely key this year, and so early booking is recommended to ensure you can stay in the best properties whether it’s a 3, 4 or 5 star level,” says Neil. “The quality of your accommodation venue is so important to a great travel experience, and we only want to work with the best quality properties that offer our clients what they want.”
Across the UK, nearly 70% of bookings postpone instead of taking their deposit back leaving bookings at 30-40% ahead of where they would normally be in a non-pandemic year. As travelers continue to postpone their trips in the future, many of the best properties find themselves tightly booked. Your decision to plan your vacation with a well-connected travel specialist may be the only way to secure space in quality properties.
While uncertainty has been our only constant throughout 2020 and into 2021, it is understandable that American travelers hesitate to book international travel. “Travelers are hesitant to give dates--many are thinking about it and not sure--waiting for certainty,” Alex says. For the sake of the traveler, hoteliers and activity operators are working with extraordinary flexibility, with customer service the highest priority.
“We want clients to feel comfortable, and we are flexible with postponement terms. We are all in it together and every hotel and provider have banded together,” Alex says. When you book with any of the boutique travel companies that Zicasso partners with, you will find this comfort across our travel specialists. Given the evolving nature of international travel, you will find reasonable terms, clear guidelines, and genuine hospitality abounding.
For many regions, including the United Kingdom, working through your ideal trip plans can put you in an excellent position to book when the time feels right to book. Selecting your preferred accommodations and hotels, learning more about the many activities and experiences available, and understanding the current travel restrictions and how they may impact your vacation is essential to success. When you work alongside a local expert, they bring their significant experience and expertise to bring your travel dreams to life.
Our Traveler Care team answers this question often. While there are countries open to visit now, most travelers to Europe are looking into 2022. “85-90% of inquiries are for 2022, which is nice to see. Travelers are being realistic about timing,” says Alex.
Over the next few weeks, we do expect some announcements related to the summer travel season from several countries in Europe, and there may be some possibilities for 2021. Whether open to a last-minute trip or looking ahead, when you fill out a Trip Request with Zicasso and are connected to a local destination specialist, you can share what your ideal trip would be and explore what is possible.
“Keep trying to be positive. Keep smiling and be brave,” Neil said to us as our call ended.
Such simple but powerful words to apply as we all continue to experience the effects of the pandemic. Making plans for the future brings us something to look forward to, and as our chance to step back into the world comes closer every day, we at Zicasso are ready to make your next vacation the best one yet.